The Scoop on Gelato!

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.”
– Voltaire


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.

Gelato 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
    • locally
    • with high quality, fresh ingredients
    • by hand


Gelato speak/vocabulary:

  • 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)

Spacer-LaDolceVitaWhen in a Gelateria: Gelato protocol

How to order like an expert & impress the gelataio!

  1. Get the lay of the land…take a look at the gelato flavors, find what you want then proceed…
  2. Cone or cup? “cono” or “coppa” (not all gelaterie offer both but if they do, you need to choose).
  3. Decide what size cone or cup you want? (there may be choices).
  4. How many scoops? This is determined by the size of the cone or cup you choose.
  5. Find & pay the cashier for your gelato (look for cassiere  or cassa – it’s usually fairly obvious).
  6. Pay and get your receipt or chit aka scontrino.
  7. If you still haven’t decided what flavors you want, decide first, then wait your turn.
  8. 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!
  9. Enjoy!
  10. Repeat steps 2 – 9!

Please do:

  • 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.

Please don’t:

  • 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????).Spacer-LaDolceVita

Bottom line or  the Last Lick!
It’s all a matter of taste!

The Scoop on GelatoMany 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!Spacer-LaDolceVita

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
pear –pera
peach – pesca
pineapple – ananas
pistachio – pistacchio
strawberry – fragolaSpacer-LaDolceVita

Read My Gelato Diaries & 5-Spoon Ratings from My Recent Travels!

Umbria, Puglia & Campania

Lazio (Rome) & Tuscany (Florence)

Best Gelato in Rome, Elizabeth Minchelli
Sylvia Poggioli for NPR
Walks of

13 Responses to The Scoop on Gelato!

  1. antoniog2013 says:

    Thank you for all the delicious information on this Italian delight!

  2. Great post Victoria! And grazie for having several for me!!!

  3. Penny says:

    I love this! It’s amazing how there can be so much new information on this one food which has been around for so long. I had a completely different spin on it.

    • Grazie Penny! Isn’t it fun to learn something new about something that was so familiar, or so e thought? Will be learning a lot by sampling over the next weeks, too!
      I appreciate you taking the time to read & comment!

  4. ishitasood says:

    Thank you for this post! Have boomarked it 😀 Enjoy Gelato and ur trip!

  5. bonnie melielo says:

    Wow, 11 trips to Italy and countless cups of gelato eaten and I still am learning about the history of this wonderful treat! Thank you for the in depth coverage!! 😉

  6. Pingback: The Gelato Detective Gets the Scoop! | Postcards from Travel PiZazz

  7. Neringa says:

    Great post, I can only agree on every single point you made. Sadly enough it’s hard to find some good gelato outside of Italy. If you are ever in London, try Gelupo gelato in Soho, it was my absolute favourite in a long run! You can read a post about it in my blog

    • Grazie, Neringa!
      I appreciate your comments and gather you’re another gelato aficionado? And, I do agree, Italy spoils us and very very hard to find the real thing elsewhere. Ages since I’ve been to London, but I’ll head right for Gelupo in Soho if and when I get there! Will check out your blog, too.
      Enjoy your fav flavors!

I'd Love to Hear From You!