Please don’t call it ice cream!
You may scream for ice cream, but I go for gelato!
“It’s so sublime, it’ a wonder it’s not illegal.”
Although “gelato” is loosely translated as being Italian for ice cream, in fact, it is derived from the Latin for “frozen” which is glacialis.
Once upon a time…
Gelato was a symbol of power! Why? Because acquiring and storing ice during the warm season was reserved for the only the rich and privileged. At one time only the very rich had ice cellars to store ice in warm months, hence gelato was a status symbol.
Its exact origins? Well, it depends on who you read. What we do know is that it dates back thousands (yes thousands!) of years. These early versions were more like what we would describe as sorbet where ice was covered with honey or fruit juice.
Some sources say its roots in Mesopotamia where mountain snow was mixed with fruit and beer for refreshment. Apparently there’s a medieval document which recounts a recipe for “shrb” , an Arabic word, from which sherbert originated. We also know that versions were enjoyed by the well-to-do in ancient Rome and Egypt.
When the powerful Medici family of Florence announced a contest for the best frozen dessert, it was won by a chicken farmer named Ruggeri. His creation was then taken to France by Catherine de Medici when she married into the French royal family.
It was, however, famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti who wears the title of inventor of gelato. In 1565 he was commissioned by the Medici family to create a feast for visiting dignitaries and who presented what we know today as creamy gelato.
It wasn’t until 1686 that the first gelato machine was invented in Sicily by a famous restauranteur, Procopio dei Coltelli. When he moved from Palermo to Paris, opened a cafe and served gelato in small cups, that gelato’s popularity flourished…and still does to this day.
In the U.S. we can thank Giovanni Basiolo who brought it to New York City in 1770. Over time, methods and machines (such as the hand crank freezer) were refined and perfected.
Grazie!… and today, we can all enjoy the joys of gelato!
You say ice cream, I say gelato…what’s the difference?
Why it’s NOT ice cream and what you want to look for…
- Since it’s made with milk and not cream, there is less butterfat (4-8% vs/ 14% for ice cream) – why it’s so creamy-melt-in-your-mouth yummy!
- No increasing volume with added water or “fluffing with air” (aka “overrun”) which is prohibited by E.U. regulations and why you can really taste the flavors.
- Gelato is made daily in small quantities and frozen quickly – why it is so creamy and delish!
- “Eye appeal” can be deceptive – the best gelato is NOT fluffy or too colorful.
- Artigianale or not artigianale – does it matter? But, of course! True artigianale is proudly made:
- on a smaller scale
- with high quality, fresh ingredients
- by hand
- Gelato – no definition needed I hope!
- Gelateria – where you go to get your gelato
- Gelaterie – when you visit several gelateria
- Gelataio – who you thank for your gelato
- Gelatiere – a professional gelataio (plural is gelatieri)
When in a Gelateria: Gelato protocol
How to order like an expert & impress the gelataio!
- Get the lay of the land…take a look at the gelato flavors, find what you want then proceed…
- Cone or cup? “cono” or “coppa” (not all gelaterie offer both but if they do, you need to choose).
- Decide what size cone or cup you want? (there may be choices).
- How many scoops? This is determined by the size of the cone or cup you choose.
- Find & pay the cashier for your gelato (look for cassiere or cassa – it’s usually fairly obvious).
- Pay and get your receipt or chit aka scontrino.
- If you still haven’t decided what flavors you want, decide first, then wait your turn.
- When it’s your turn, give the gelatiao your receipt/scrontino and tell him/her what flavors you have chosen. If you are unable to pronounce them in Italian, just smile and point!
- Repeat steps 2 – 9!
- Observe the protocol – when in doubt, watch someone who knows what they’re doing & follow their example.
- Become familiar with some of the names of flavors (gusti) – it’s not hard (see a few below).
- Smile and compliment the server(s) – it’s ok to let them know you love it.
- Ask locals for their favorite gelato spots.
- Ask for samples – you’re not at Baskin-Robbins, ok?
- Wait until it’s your turn to decide what flavors you want (see gelato protocol above).
- Dilly dally & make the server wait for you when the line is 5 deep.
- Ask 50 questions about every flavor (e.g., what’s nocciola? what does it taste like? Really????).
Bottom line or the Last Lick!
It’s all a matter of taste!
Many gelaterie have 50-60 flavors, called gusti! OMG! So many flavors, so little time! And you will see flavors that defy description and are beyond your wildest imagination!
Be adventurous – don’t turn up your nose and deny your taste buds just because a flavor sounds outrageous or illogical. Think about it, would they serve you something atrocious in Italy? Besides what is logical about loving gelato! If you don’t like it, there are lots more to choose from! Perfect!
A Few Favorite Flavors
apricot – albicocca
apple (green) – melee verde
cherry+ vanilla – amarene
chestnut – castagna
chocolate – cioccolata
grapefruit – pompelmo
hazelnut – nocciola
lemon – limone
melon – melone
mint – menta
peach – pesca
pineapple – ananas
pistachio – pistacchio
strawberry – fragola
Read My Gelato Diaries & 5-Spoon Ratings from My Recent Travels!
Best Gelato in Rome, Elizabeth Minchelli
Sylvia Poggioli for NPR
Walks of Italy.com