Gelato is Heaven in Your Mouth

I've decided to dedicate a page to Italian ice cream, or gelato, because it really plays a major role in Italian culture and it is by far one of my favorite Italian foods!

If you've never traveled to Italy, I am very sorry. Because I have never seen a successful replication of this sweet treat State-side.

But I would love to tell you all about it! (This way when you finally get to make that amazing trip to Italy you will be an expert!)

The main difference between ice cream in the U.S. and in Italy is the ingredients and the way it's made.

Ice cream, is of course, made with a fresh cream base, while gelato on the other hand is made with a milk, water or even a soy base.

gelato in a gelateria

This means two things.

First is that gelato has a naturally lower fat content than ice cream (yay! more all around!) and it allows for the subtle and diverse flavors mixed in to shine through since there is no heavy sweetness like there is in the creamy American version.

Gelato also has a different consistency.

Whenever I try to describe this delicious marvel to anyone that's never tried it, I compare it to being part-way between hard ice cream and soft-serve, but even this comparison doesn't do it justice.

The way it is scooped into a cone makes it look very soft, but it is still hard enough to hold it's shape even in the hot Italian sun.

In any case, what's more important is the taste, and the way it factors into the Italian way of life.

There is no wrong time to eat gelato. It is not a treat simply for children, and it is not only a dessert.

I studied abroad in Rome during college and it was during that time that this concept really cemented itself into my head.

I would see business men, in suits and sunglasses walking down the street mid-afternoon with a cone in hand. Old women sitting by the side of the road in the early evening licking away. And of course tourist upon tourist savouring this fantastic treat in every piazza and on every corner.

gelato, an italian ice cream

Gelaterie (ice cream shops) are everywhere! Some carry dozens of fresh, made-THAT-day flavors. And you really can't go wrong when choosing your poison.

Chocolate (cioccolato), hazelnut (nocciola), pistachio (pistacchio), mixed berry (frutti di bosco), pineapple (ananas) or even coconut (cocco)!

No mix-in's like American ice cream. No nuts or sprinkles or cherry on top. No distractions. Just fresh, delicious flavors of every variety.

So what should you order when you visit Italy?

I tend to try new flavors whenever I can. If you think it looks good or sounds good to you, you will probably like it.

Just a few pointers.

  • It is customary in Italy to pay the cashier before going up to the counter to order. You recieve a little receipt from her and then head over to make your selection.
  • Italians ALWAYS order more than one flavor on their cone. Most tourists don't realize this and only end up picking one. Often times the gelatoio (server) will look at you for a second as if waiting for your other selection, or even ask you if that's all you want.

    If you want to blend in with the Italians try an ice cream combo. You get to sample more flavors and it's twice as tasty that way!
  • To know if a gelateria is authentic and serves GOOD ice cream take a gander at their pistachio and banana flavors. If they are brightly colored (think bright green or bright yellow, run! run away!). The best gelaterias do not color these two flavors of ice cream. Bananas turn brown when they are peeled and left out, no? So should banana flavored ice cream. This trick is sure to land you some delicious gelato, no matter what flavor you end up picking.
  • Remember, any time is the right time for gelato. In the Italian culture it is the perfect accessory during a late evening walk or a cool midday snack at the beach. It is for the old, the young and the foreign.

It's cold and it's sweet. And if it is the only food you try while vacationing in Italy, you will surely NEVER forget it!