Gelato in Italy – A Real Scoop of Goodness

When you’re driving through Italy, the whole point is to enjoy what the country has to offer. And one of the most incredible things Italy has to offer – is FOOD.

Some people may think “it’s just ice cream,” but let’s face it – there is something different about an icy cold, melt-in-the-mouth scoop of gelato. A lot of people have asked the right way to buy gelato in Italy, since there are so many flavors, colors and methods used to make it. For the novice making a decision at the gelateria (the gelato parlor) it can be a mind-boggling choice.

Here are some tips which will make buying gelato a piece of cake…or rather, a scoop of ice cream.

Step 1: What is Gelato? Start with knowing how gelato is made and what methods are employed. This means knowing what goes into gelato – like milk, fruit puree, sugar, cream and nuts. In order to stabilize the gelato egg yolks are added and fat-free milk solids are used to add stability to the base. Using a hot process, the sugars are dissolved and then the base is pasteurized. To ensure that ice crystals don’t form, the pasteurized mix is allowed to age. Then they flavor the gelato with nut and fruit purees along with cocoa, choco flakes, biscuits, cookies or wafers.

Step 2: Know how to order a gelato – In Italy, cups are called coppa and cones cono, so make up your mind as to what you want your gelato served in. The hint is you can eat the cone not the cup! Head to the cash counter, ask for cup or cone, the number of scoops you want and pay. Collect the receipt and proceed to the guy who serves the gelato. To order scoops of different flavors ask for the gusti (flavor) that you find interesting from the menu or freezer display. You can get upto three flavors in a cup or cone. Pick a unique combination of gusti and voila! you are ready to tuck into an authentic Italian gelato.

Now for the secrets. How to know if the gelaterie and the gelato they serve therein are any good at all. Here are my tried and tested methods.

  • Secret 1: Look at the gelato, not at the appearance of the shop. A fancy gelateria doesn’t mean great gelato. If the various flavors of gelato look neon, fluorescent or rather incredibly bright in color I’m pretty sure they are made with artificial additives and not real fruits and nuts. Trust your common sense, if the apple gelato is red and not pale cream or grey and the pistachio flavor is neon green not the real grey-olive color, you would realize they are not the real deal. Try to eat gelato made from 100% natural ingredients as this does make a significant effect on taste, texture and appearance.
  • Secret 2: Freshly made gelato (from scratch) or made from pre-mix (as is rampant) can make or break the gelato. Produzione propria and artigianale are Italian for ‘made on-site’ and free from artificial ingredients’ and these words would be displayed in the gelaterie and will tell you that here is the old-fashioned gelato not made with commercial mixes. If you are still not sure, ask the shop staff. Try your best, to avoid the pre-mix gelato.
  • Secret 3: Most of the quality conscious and authentic gelaterie will not be very fussy about presentation and fancy decorations. They would rather scoop out traditional, wholesome, natural gelato and skip the window-dressing (like fancy cups or gravity-defying, towering formations of gelato scoops heaped into a pretty serving dish). When it comes to gelato, the modest gelateria, in my estimate are the good ones.
  • Secret 4: The best gelato is sold from huge metal tubs. Now because of the commercial influx of mass-produced gelato into Italy, some of the smart gelato marketers have started selling it in metal tubs, but not many bother and stick to reusable plastic containers. From experience 9 out of 10 gelaterie who have gelato in metal tubs are the authentic makers.
  • Secret 5: Avoid gelato which contains preservatives as this negates the basic principle of making ice-cream from fresh ingredients on a daily basis. If you are eating gelato with preservatives it just means that this is not freshly made, is stored in a freezer for God-only-knows-how-long and the flavors and colors are perhaps not natural too.
  • Secret 6:  There are about 5 types of gelato flavor groups – chocolates, fruits, nuts, creams and the miscellaneous. Almost all gelato flavors will fall in any one of these categories and the number of flavors available in Italy today is countless. The best way to get to taste as many as possible flavors is to go for two or three scoop on a cone and mix and match flavors. And yes, eat as much gelato every day of your stay in Italy. Trust me, they are less fattening than ice-cream, will take you to gastronomical dessert-heaven unfailingly and are surprisingly cheap on the pocket.

Lastly though many travelers to Italy swear by the gelato in Florence, this seems to be an urban myth and to be honest every village and city in Italy offers some traditional, freshly made and utterly delicious gelato. In fact the more places you eat gelato, the further local flavors and combinations you can taste.

Though you can’t actually take back gelato as a souvenir from Italy back to your home you can take back the satisfaction of having eaten as many different flavors as you could along with some very sweet memories of gelato. I do hope these secrets would make buying that perfect gelato scoop simpler experience and a more informed one. Ciao and Buon appetito!

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