Rich, creamy gelato is one of the small, everyday delights
of traveling in Italy. You can find this delicious Italian version of ice cream
on nearly every street corner, in dozens of flavors and combinations.
Not all gelato is equal however, and to truly appreciate the
dessert it's important to know a little bit about this famous dessert and how
it's made, as well as where to find the best quality.
Gelato vs. Ice Cream
First let's get some terminology straight. What is gelato and
how is it different from ice cream?
The biggest difference is fat content. Your typical ice
cream has a minimum of 10% fat composition. Gelato on the other hand is made
with more milk than cream, so the fat content is usually around 4 or 5%. In
addition to making gelato arguably healthier, this lower fat content leads to a
more vibrant flavor because the fat doesn't coat your mouth the same way it
does with standard ice cream.
There are other differences too. Gelato is denser than ice cream,
which is usually about 50% air. This makes gelato thicker and less creamy but
softer and smoother. While ice cream is usually frozen, gelato is optimally
served at a warmer temperature, which means less chance of brain freeze!
Classic Gelato Flavors
Gelato can be found in hundreds of different flavors ranging
from simple chocolate to dozens of fruit or even coffee flavors. A few classics
to try are pistachio, stracciatella (milk flavored gelato with chocolate
chunks), hazelnut and amarena (cherry). Fruit flavors like lemon, banana and
orange have become more popular over time. Water-based flavors (as opposed to
cream based) are known as sorbetto.
Most gelato shops will let you pick up to three flavors at a
time, which means a nearly endless combination of flavor profiles.
Where to Find Good Gelato
Finding gelato in Italy is easy: it is hard to walk more
than a few blocks without passing a gelato shop. Finding exceptionally good
gelato however, that is another story. Many cheap gelato shops are now selling
“fake gelato,” mass-produced stuff made from bagged mixes and chemicals. Tourist
areas in particular are crowded with profit-based gelato parlors selling
low-quality gelato. The difference in taste is significant, so it's worth
seeking out an authentic gelato parlor that uses quality ingredients.
Here are some factors you can use to determine if a gelato
shop is authentic:
- The color of gelato. Naturally flavored gelato should at the
very least resemble colors found in nature. Steer clear of any gelato with
bright neon coloring.
- Look for the word artiginale which signifies artisan, hand
- The arrangement of the gelato. Be suspicious of gelato which
is piled very high, as that signifies the product has been pumped full of air.
The very best gelato is stored in metal tureens with round tops which protect
the gelato from outside contamination.
Once you've found a legitimate, honest gelato shop, be
prepared to enjoy one of Italy's greatest treats.