The Secrets of Picking the Best Gelato
What's the difference between ice cream and gelato anyway? And how can you make sure you're getting the good stuff?
Here are two hills I will die on: gelato is better than ice cream, and gelato in Italy is better than anywhere else in the world.
The first time I had real Italian gelato, it was on my first trip to Italy, which was only for a couple of days in 2001. I distinctly remember thinking, “This stuff is fantastic! But would it taste as good without Trevi Fountain splashing away in front of me?”
Years later, in 2018, Michael and I lived in Italy for the first time. Naturally, we had gelato almost every day for a month.
And I quickly realized, “Yup! It tastes just as good even apart from the majesty of Rome.”
One night, after a particularly good gelato, I asked Susanna, one of my new Italian friends, "Why does Italian gelato taste so good? I've had lots of gelato in lots of different countries. Ice cream too. But it never tastes this good. What’s the secret?"
Susanna nodded sagely, as if my opinion of Italian gelato was simply objective fact. "You must start with fresh, local ingredients," she told me. "And you must never skimp on the flavors. There are so many more peaches in peach gelato than you might think. But that's as it should be. The point is to make peaches that taste like gelato, not gelato that tastes like peaches."
Don’t you just love the way Italians talk about food?
What is the difference between gelato and ice cream anyway?
Ice cream is made with sugar, cream, and egg yolks, but gelato is generally made with whole milk, or milk and cream, and no egg yolks. Gelato is also churned much slower, so there is less air whipped into it, and is chilled but not frozen solid.
The end result is smoother and denser than ice cream, more intense, and served at a warmer temperature, so the tongue is able to register more of the flavor. A little gelato goes a long way.
Meanwhile, ice cream is colder with more fat and whipped air. The fat and cold tend to overwhelm the taste buds, but along with all that air, they also make ice cream easier to eat in large quantities.
Or, as they said in The Good Place on the subject of frozen yogurt: “There’s something so human about taking something great and ruining it a little so you can have more of it.”
Michael and I are living in Italy again, in the town of Como on Lake Como, and I have obviously become a full-fledged gelato snob. But I’ve also learned a few things — especially that not all Italian gelato is equally good.
Here’s how to know what’s great, what’s good, and what should probably be avoided, even if it’s being sold next to the Trevi fountain in Rome.
Nutshell? The key to good gelato is that it isn’t mass-produced: not delivered in bulk or made from a mix. The more local it is and the better the ingredients, the better the gelato is almost certain to be.
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