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The Story of Gelato: Italy’s Famous Ice Cream


With all that Italy has to offer—religion, art, history—there is one other thing in which everyone should partake. That is Gelato: Italy’s famous mouth-watering treat.

The chocolate Gelato doesn’t just taste like chocolateit is chocolate! Likewise for the many flavors you will find. This is because the ingredients are fresh and most gelaterias make their Gelato right on premises.

Gelato is not made the way traditional ice cream is made. It is similar to ice cream, but has a higher proportion of milk and a lower proportion of cream and eggs (in some cases no eggs at all). And for those who are health-conscious, a typical Gelato has about 5% milk fat versus around 17% for a premium brand of ice cream.

Why such a fuss?

Well, if you are going to Italy (and someday you probably will), then you need to sample some of the lifestyle. Learn how to relax a bit—something many of us are, unfortunately, just not used to. For Italians, Gelato is more than a sweet treat. It’s a moment for them to get together. Italians are loyal to their Gelato shops in the same way they grow up with lifetime loyalties to family and their local soccer teams.

A couple of recommended gelaterias in Rome are Il Gelato di San Crispino, near the Trevi fountain (Via della Panetteria 42,  +39 06 679 3924), perhaps the most famous gelateria in the city and Giolitti’s near the forum(40 via Uffici del Vicario).

A personal favorite in Rome is the Old Bridge Gelateria located next to the Vatican Walls near the entrance to the Vatican Museums (Viale Dei Bastioni di Michelangelo 5,+39 328 411 9478.  The long lines that form are the only thing you need to know about the taste. After touring the museum it is a great place to take a break.

And finally there is Gelateria el Teatro, Via Dei Coronari 65/66,    +39 06 4547 4880

In Florence, we recommend Vivoli and also Festival del Gelato. But there are many to choose from.

In Bologna, we suggest you try Gelateria Gianni or Gelateria Delle Moline. But the list could go on indefinitely for any city in Italy.

Each region of Italy has its own unique flavors of Gelato. And each city will tell you that theirs is the best in all of Italy!

But be careful: Found mainly near tourist attractions, some gelaterias feature gelatos that have bright, vivid colors.

What real gelato should look like
What real gelato should look like

These are not handmade artisan gelatos. Don’t be fooled by the bright colors, for these are the chemicals and artificial flavors and are the result of chemicals being added. When searching for an authentic Gelato experience, look for the subdued earthy colored gelatos. These are the true flavors of Italy that you want to experience. The dull, boring-looking gelatos are handmade, fresh, and contain all natural ingredients and flavors, real fruits and nuts. There are no chemicals preserving them.

The easiest way to be sure is to check the banana Gelato: if it is bright yellow, move on to another gelateria. If it is a grayish hue, it was likely made with real bananas—a good sign.

Also, look to see if there is a sign saying “fatta in casa”. That means that the Gelato was made in-house. Only shops that produce their Gelato onsite can hang these signs legally. Shops without these signs most likely purchased their Gelato from elsewhere and are best avoided. If you think you’ve found a good place, make sure its Gelato is stored in metal containers, rather than plastic ones—another sign of mass production. Check to see if the locals are eating there. Long lines are usually a good sign. If not, move on. There are plenty more to choose from.

When buying at a Gelateria, you order according to the size you want and pay first (presumably after standing in line) and then get a receipt. You present the receipt to the attendant who will give you whatever flavors you wish. All this sounds like a bit of work, but it is pretty simple and the reward for your efforts is a treat unlike any other.

Buon Appetito!

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