Inspired by the glorious gelato festival that I ate my way round last weekend, I thought it was about time to write a post on my absolute favourite food ever - gelato. And I don’t mean just any old ice cream or sorbet; no Ben and Jerry’s or Haagen-Dazs, no soft-serve or frozen yogurt, I mean real, unadulterated, proper Italian gelato.
But isn’t it all the same thing, I hear you cry – is there really that much of a difference between ice cream and gelato? My goodness, YES - there is:
- First, gelato typically contains less fat than ice cream. While ice cream is normally heavy on the cream and has a fat content of at least 10%, gelato classically uses more milk than cream. The gelato-making process allows for certain flavours to be created with no dairy at all when there is enough ‘fat’ in the base ingredients i.e. pure chocolate. This is why you’ll see ‘cioccolato puro’ in real gelaterie as a gelato rather than a sorbet (amazing!)
- The texture is distinctly different: ice cream is churned faster and harder than gelato and typically increases in volume (with air, through churning) by at least 25-90%. Gelato is churned at a much slower pace, keeping it dense and therefore more flavorful, and silkier in texture.
- The temperature at which the two are served also different: Gelato is normally served 15 degrees warmer than ice cream. If ice cream were served at the same temperature as gelato, it would melt due to its higher water (ice) content.
Delving deeper into this wondrous phenomenon of gelato, I discovered that just outside of Bologna, there is a Gelato Museum where 1,000sqm is dedicated to the history, culture, and technology of gelato! The visit to the Gelato Museum can be aptly concluded with either a “gelato tasting” or the chance to become gelatiere for a day, guided by the instructors of the Carpigiani Gelato University (definitely worth checking out the extensive range of courses they offer!)
Apparently the origins of gelato date back 12,000 years when, in Mesopotamia, slave runners traveled up to 100 km to collect ice and snow used to cool drinks served during royal banquets and religious ceremonies. During the 11th century, the Arabs developed shrb, ‘sugar syrup’ which was used as a base for making fruit sorbets, medical herbs, spices and flowers. Shrb was the predecessor of sorbet, which became very popular in Sicily when it was under Arab rule; the Arabs grew in fact as many as 400 different types of flowers to flavor their sorbets. But then some claim that gelato was actually created at the court of the Medici family in Florence by the alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri, who developed the first flavour, fior di latte.
However it was only during the 1940s that it became an international sensation - Bruto Carpigiani from Bologna created a new gelato machine that was cleaner, faster and more efficient than anything else available – facilitating gelato production and massively increasing its popularity. Still today, Carpigiani is one of the biggest producers of gelato-making machines worldwide. This better technology also meant that gelato-makers were able to concentrate on the creative side of their trade, with more and more flavours being invented. At the festival we sampled such wonders as wild strawberry and kaffir lime, Brie and lavender, pear, white chocolate & hazelnut, and rose water and raspberry.
But how to pick the best gelateria when bombarded with so much choice in Italy? My advice is stick to the places that keep their flavours in metal cylinders, rather than those which overflowing tubs covered in fruit or pieces of cookie on display – these will typically have much more additives and preservatives.
And if you find yourself in Rome, all these gelaterie are worth visiting, as they all offer something truly unique, are made with organic ingredients and are far from tourist-traps:
§ La Gourmandise (Monteverde Vecchio)
§ Fatta Morgana (Trastevere, Monti, Centro Storico)
§ Il Gelato di San Crispino (Centro Storico)
§ Gelateria del Teatro (Centro Storico)
§ Ciampini (Centro Storico)
§ Il Gelato (Aventino)
§ Fassi (Centro Storico)
§ Della Palma (Centro Storico)
§ Da Quinto (Centro Storico)
§ Fior di Luna (Trastevere)
§ Gracchi (Prati)
§ Gelarmony (Prati)
§ Panna&Co (Testaccio)
§ Brivido (Testaccio)
§ La Romana (Ostiense)
N.B. All have gluten-free and vegan options :)