Why Italian gelato is so good

By Go! Go! Italia staff
21 Mar 2024
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Photo of why Italian gelato is so good

Artisanal gelato, that quintessential frozen treat, has lately joined the ranks of Ligurian pesto and Neapolitan pizza as an Italian cultural treasure. But this wasn’t always the case.

After World War II, industrially made ice cream threatened to wipe out small family-run gelaterie (gelato shops). However, a few iconic moments in film (aka, Roman Holiday) and literature helped elevate gelato’s profile globally.

But why Italian gelato is so good? Let’s have a look.

Photo of Why Italian gelato is so good in Florence

Gelato’s origins

In the 16th century, during the Renaissance period, two contemporaries are credited with the invention of gelato as we know it today. Cosimo Ruggeri is said to have created one of the first gelato flavors called fior di latte at the court of Caterina de’ Medici in Florence. This creation emerged from a culinary competition with the theme of presenting the most unique dish ever seen.

Meanwhile, Bernardo Buontalenti, an architect also at the court of Caterina de’ Medici, played a pivotal role. Around 1565, he produced a prototype of gelato by adding salt to ice, lowering the temperature of the ingredients below freezing. Buontalenti is specifically credited with inventing gelato alla crema (cream gelato), which is akin to modern Florentine gelato.

In 1686, Francesco Procopio, a Sicilian, moved from Palermo to Paris and opened Café Procope. He brought his grandfather Francesco’s gelato-making machine with him and introduced gelato to the French capital.

Procopio obtained French citizenship and a royal license from Louis XIV, making him the sole producer of this frozen dessert in the kingdom. His pioneering efforts made gelato accessible to the public, as it was previously reserved only for nobles. Procopio is often referred to as “The Father of Italian gelato”.

Photo of why Italian gelato is so good

The gelato difference

So, what sets gelato apart from regular ice cream and why Italian gelato is so good? Mainly the fresh ingredients, but let’s have a look at the delicious details:

  1. Ingredients: Gelato is made with a lower fat content compared to ice cream. It’s also denser, packing more flavor into each scoop.
  2. Serving Temperature: Gelato is best served at -12°C (10.4°F), while ice cream is stored at -18°C (0°F).
  3. Air Content: Gelato incorporates less air (up to 30%) compared to industrial ice cream (which can be up to 80% air-pumped). This density intensifies the flavor experience.
Photo of Why Italian gelato is so good.

Gelato artigianale

Artigianale in Italian means handcrafted. Therefore gelato artigianale, is the next level and definitely one of the main reasons why Italian gelato is so good. It is always made by hand, with skilled artisans blending fresh, high-quality ingredients to create a creamy, velvety texture that dances on the taste buds. Forget artificial additives and preservatives, gelato in general, but especially the gelato artigianale, relies on local and seasonal ingredients. 

The colors may not be as vibrant, but that’s because they’re derived from real ingredients. With a lower fat content than traditional ice cream, gelato artigianale achieves its silky texture through a slow churning process that incorporates less air. 

Spotting authentic gelato

When in Italy, discerning the real deal from the tourist traps is essential. Here are some expert tips:

  1. Color clues: Brightly colored gelato may contain artificial additives. Pistachio gelato, for instance, should be on the brown side, not neon green. Real banana gelato appears greyish-white, not overly yellow.
  2. Display case: If you see gelato piled high in mounds, beware. Properly made gelato will melt if it overflows the metal containers.
  3. Texture test: Ask for a small spoon to taste it. Let it dissolve rather than chewing. An artisanal gelato is evanescent, it melts quickly but leaves a persistent flavor.
  4. Scent check: Good gelato, despite the low temperature, releases intense scents of milk and eggs, cocoa, and fruit.
Image of why Italian gelato is so good

Where to find the best gelato in Italy

During your study abroad experience in Italy you will most likely see tons of gelaterie everywhere. With approximately 39,000 gelato shops in Italy, it’s easy to get lost in the choices. Here are some must-visit spots:

  1. La mela verde (Venice): Known for its innovative creations featuring seasonal fruits and locally inspired ingredients.
  2. Gelato Pavé (Milan): This shop focuses on intriguing combinations such as pineapple and hay or coffee and cardamom. The sweetness is excellently balanced.
  3. Artico (Milan): Run by a highly acclaimed gelato master with 35 years of experience, has left an indelible mark on the world of frozen delights. Among his delectable creations, don’t miss out on the salted pistachio gelato, which is a true gem.
  4. Gelateria Savoia 1939 (Verona): Just a stone’s throw away from the Arena of Verona, you have the opportunity to choose from classic delicacies. Chocolate gelato or a serving of semifreddo with crunchy bits are options you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
  5. Antica Gelateria Amedeo (Genoa): Sit on the seashore and enjoy their signature Crema Amedeo with caramelized hazelnuts.
  6. Giolitti (Rome): Audrey Hepburn’s Roman Holiday moment put this venerable parlor on the map. Savor a cone on the Spanish Steps.
  7. San Crispino (Rome): Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir made pilgrims flock to this shop near the Trevi Fountain.
  8. Gelato D’Essai (Rome): A “gelato bistro” where each course pairs with a different scoop.
  9. I Pititti Di Stefania (Taormina): Discover this dessert haven with homemade gelato and Sicilian desserts. Their seasonal fruit flavors are a must-try.
  10. Gelatissimo (Taormina): Sample their cheese gelato, a unique treat for curious palates.

Gelato is a passion and a tradition woven into the fabric of Italy. So, next time you’re strolling through cobblestone streets, follow your nose to the nearest gelateria and savor a scoop of this sweet symphony. 

Want to know more about Italian culture and life in Italy? Follow us on our social media and our blog!

Share this article

Go! Go! Italia

Search articles

Popular posts

Go! Go! Italia

Ready to live and Study in Italy?

Go! Go! Italia Blog

Related articles

Contact us

Any questions? We are here to help