This blog post was updated on October 15, 2018.
A few weeks ago, I shared some simple ways to find Italy’s best pizza. Going hand in hand with pizza, you can’t forget about dessert in Italy. While a homemade torta della nonna can seem appealing in Italy, nothing says sweet like a nice cone of gelato.
However, like pizza in Italy, tourists can make mistakes on their selection of this cold summer treat. With a gelateria on nearly every corner of every town, the options might appear endless. And with those endless options, you might think one gelateria is the same as the other.
After spending over a year eating gelato almost every day, I learned the dos and don’ts of gelato in Italy. If you don’t know what you are doing in the gelato department, you might want to follow some of these rules to ensure you don’t wind up with a bad gelato experience:
Avoid mobile stands—These stands usually set up in main piazza’s and on the tourist trail. They appear quick and accessible, right out in the open. However, the gelato might not always taste as it should. In tourist-jammed Taormina, I made the mistake of ordering gelato from a mobile stand. The caffé tasted more like banana, two flavors that are oceans apart. If you are going to do gelato right in Italy, the mobile stands might tarnish your dreams of this cold treat.
Steer clear of the fluff—Some gelato takes on a very artificial look, almost like edible fluffy clouds. This is not the good stuff. A general rule of thumb in terms of gelato in Italy is to not expect the best gelato from places with fluffy looking bins of the cooling dessert. You might find yourself spooning a substance similar to whipped cream and not gelato.
Tour gelato’s birthplace—Of all the gelato I have had in my lifetime in Italy, it is difficult to beat the gelato in Florence, supposedly where it all began when a man by the last name Buontalenti created the cold dessert for the Medici family. Florentines might tell you they have the best gelato as a result. While this is debatable, if you are a gelato purest, you have to try it in the city where it was born, or so they say.
Some flavors are for the kids—I had many Italian professors tell me certain flavors of gelato were for the kids, while others were more suited for adults. Be aware that if you order fragola (strawberry) and you aren’t under 10, you might receive a few smirks. Picking a nice scoop of pistachio, green in color, will prove you are much older than 10 for you will eat something that’s green.
Ask about the kitchen—If you don’t see a kitchen where the gelato is made, it is probably not the freshest of desserts. Many gelaterie will just bring in mass-produced gelato. Part of the gelato experience comes through tasting the freshest of ingredients. Make sure you select a gelateria where the gelato is made onsite. If the establishment is willing, see if you can catch a glimpse of the gelato-making process. One of the most famous gelaterie in Sorrento invited me to do so. Watching someone turn fresh Sorrento lemons into lemon gelato gives a whole new meaning to turning lemons into lemonade after one spoonful of freshly made gelato.
Cones are not always convenient—Enjoying gelato in Italy has a lot to do with your environment. You will see many Italian families strolling through the streets at night for the evening passeggiata while slurping down a nice gelato. To take part in this ritual, a cone might not be the best idea. If you don’t think you can handle walking and eating gelato at the same time, order a cup to avoid sticky hands.
Flickr: James and Winnie
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