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A Cup of Gelato History, Per Favore! A Tour of Italy’s Oldest Gelaterie

This blog post was updated on October 4, 2018.

Tell someone you have found the best gelateria in Italy and you might find yourself in some sort of spoon fight. The best is almost always an ongoing debate. Gelato is not something Italians take lightly. It is not just a cold treat on a hot summer day. Gelato is a way of life, an accessory in your hand as you take your evening passeggiata. One man’s best gelato could be another woman’s worst.

Those in search of Italy’s best gelato will no doubt find their own favorites. And for that reason and to avoid any spoon fights, I have dug up some of Italy’s oldest gelaterie. Being an elderly gelateria means several things. Tourists love you because you’re “old.” Italians love you because they probably know the family behind the counter and trust the product is the best. And you have perfected the scoop after 100 or so years. Don’t miss these gelato old timers on your next tour of Italy.

The city where gelato was born, or so the Florentines claim, has several old-timer gelaterie worth testing out, just for good measure of course. Step into Vivoli, the city’s most famous for gelato, and you are probably not going to be greeted warmly. Vivoli swarms in tourists as many make the mistake of trying to order before paying. That isn’t how it goes when you are one of the cities’ oldest gelaterie. Vivoli does turn out a decent product, as it has been since 1930, but expect to pay a bit more. Perché No is also one of Florence’s founding fathers of gelato. Began in 1939, the gelato is unquestionably made on site, right in the heart of the city.

Rome: The saying for many who travel around Italy is that best gelato doesn’t come from the cities. However when you are the Eternal City, you have to boast some of the oldest gelaterie in the country. Fassi or Palazzo del Freddo claims ties to gelato back to its founding in 1880. Giacomo Fassi started a small kiosk selling ice and beer by the end of the 19th century. His son Giovanni would take over the business, turning it into Palazzo del Freddo, a full-blown gelateria, a palace of cold if you will. It is still all in the family and gives any visitor a taste of old world charm.

Rome’s other ancient gelateria is much more well known to the masses, Giolitti. Its history harks back to 1890 when Giuseppe and Bernadina Giolitti opened up a creamery in Rome. After World War I, Giolitti was already famous for its gelato. While touristy and priced for the tourists, Giolitti is a right of passage for anyone on an ancient gelato search through Rome.

Naples: Pizza is a greedy meal in Naples. Most come just for a sampling of the pie and get out of town. Spend a little longer and you will discover Naples has its own ancient gelaterie. Since 1931, the same family has run Polo Nord Gelateria for generations. Be sure to have a scoop, or two, of bacio in between all those pizza pies.

Sicily: While Florence has long said it was the birthplace of gelato, a Sicilian might disagree. Supposedly the ancients on the island would take snow off of nearby Mount Etna and flavor it with nuts, fruits and the like to create early forms of gelato. The baroque beauty of Noto is just one of the gelato hot spots on the island for ancient gelati. Caffé Sicilia was founded in Noto in 1892. It competes for being the best in town for gelato with Corrado Costanzo. Either choice is a safe bet for authentic, ancient gelato.


Have you been to one of Italy’s old time gelaterie? What’s your favorite?

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photo: evanblaser

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