Italy is incredible for more reasons than one. Studying abroad in Florence has been one of the greatest things I have ever experienced. Italy is known around the world for their amazing food. I feel like the past three weeks I have eaten more pasta than I have in my entire life. Before I came to Italy, everyone told me that I was going to love the gelato. After all, ice cream is one one of my main food groups in the States.
I’ve been in Italy for three weeks now, and I can count on one hand the number of times I haven’t had gelato. It is incredibly rare that I go a full 24 hours without eating gelato. It’s so good I decided to write an article about it so that everyone will be fully prepared for whenever the time comes to consume the best food in the world.
The word gelato means “frozen” in Italian. A gelateria (plural=gelaterie) is the name for a place that sells in gelato in Italy. One can find a gelateria in Italy as often as one can find a coffee shop or a gas station in the United States. Italians understand that gelato is a staple and thus, you will never walk more than 3 blocks before coming across a gelateria.
So what is gelato and how is it different from ice cream?
Gelato is made from a base of milk, cream and sugar, and is flavored usually with chocolate, fruit, nut purees and other flavors. Ice cream, as its name suggests, has a lot more cream than gelato does. Rather than cream, most gelato is made with whole milk, less cream and usually no egg yolks. By Italian law, gelato must have at least 3.5% butterfat. Ice cream in the United States is required to have at least 10% butterfat.
As an avid consumer of ice cream, I can confidently say that gelato is far better than any ice cream I have ever tasted. Gelato is churned with less air than other frozen desserts, and contains more flavoring – which accounts for the density and richness of gelato. Also, gelato is typically stored in warmer temperatures than ice cream, anywhere form 7 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to ice cream, which is stored anywhere from 0 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The soft, silky taste of gelato is due in part to the higher storage temperatures. Gelato also has a lower fat content than ice cream, which is always a bonus!
Ordering gelato in Italy is slightly different than how one would order ice cream in the United States. The biggest difference is that it is common-practice to pay for your gelato at the cash register first and then present your receipt to the person who is serving the gelato. It is imperative that you tell the person the number of flavors, or “gusti,” you would like. The more flavors, the smaller portions of each one, but it will still be the same amount of gelato. This is a wonderful benefit for individuals who may be indecisive or wanting a taste of more than one flavor.
Below are some of the most common flavors found in gelaterie, with the English translation:
Bacio (chocolate hazelnut)
Nocciola (plain hazelnut, not combined with chocolate)
Zabione or Crema (egg custard)
Stracciatella (vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips)
As a self-proclaimed professional gelato connoisseur, I have a few final pieces of advice. First and foremost, it is completely acceptable (and even recommended) to have gelato more than once a day. Compared to the United States, things in Italy are much smaller in scale. That being said, the smallest size is actually small. If you make the (excellent) choice of having gelato after lunch and dinner, or even as an afternoon snack, you can plan your flavors according to the time of day. Personally, I love fruit flavors in the afternoon. The summer heat in Florence is unforgiving; you step outside, take 3 steps and you’re sweating profusely. Fresh, fruity gelato is the perfect way to cool down and feel refreshed. In the evenings, I generally choose a more decadent flavor. My personal favorite is Nutella, but bacio and nocciola are amazing too. If you happen to be in Florence, do yourself a favor and hit up Gelateria de Neri, also known as my heaven on Earth.