In looking through our 2008 Italy photos, we realised we don’t have a single photograph of gelato. As you probably know, we love taking pictures of food; plus, we ate gelato nearly every day that month, so we’re not sure how it escaped my lens.
But I assure you, we ate (probably more than) our fair share of gelato in Italy. Even if you’re not a dessert person, gelato is a must-try in Italy and a perfectly satisfying quencher in the heat.
You’ve probably heard that gelato is about as (if not more) ubiquitous than a Starbucks or a Tim Hortons – and many of them are inauthentic tourist traps. Plenty of people have written helpful tips on spotting the real thing, particularly this article on Traveldudes. I’ll distill the most important points by saying to avoid mountains of neon goop and look for the flatter tubs of naturally-coloured gelato that list their ingredients clearly. And real gelaterias will probably serve their gelato with a paddle, not an ice cream scoop (but if all the other factors look good, don’t let a scoop deter you).
A lot of people have absolutely no problem indulging every single day. but if you only have a couple days in Italy to spare, here are a few flavours that you absolutely must try.
Commonly cited as the favourite amongst gelato-lovers, pistachio is arguably the quintessential Italian gelato. It’s my favourite, and in my opinion it’s the perfect compromise between the richness and creaminess you might get from more decadent options, and the light refreshment of fruit gelatos. While lemon, for example, lends itself to hot afternoons and hazlenut-chocolate to an evening stroll, there is no time that isn’t pistachio gelato time (for me, anyway).
Did you know that in Sicily, which is famed for its pistachio production and Bronte Pistachio paste often used in gelato, they serve it in a Brioche-like bun? Weird. Personally, I think it’s perfect just with a spoon for that pure pistachio taste.
How to spot the real thing: Pistachio gelato should not be the colour of kryptonite. It should be a dull green and of course, list real pistachios as an ingredient.
pronounced: pee-stA-kio | photo + gelato recipe from David Lebovitz
Though I did say any time is pistachio gelato time, there is nothing quite as thirst-quenching on a hot Italian summer’s day like lemon gelato. Good lemon gelato shouldn’t be too sweet. It shouldn’t taste like lemon meringue pie like many “lemon”-flavoured things, but like lemon – snappy and sour. This was our go-to on particularly hot afternoons (though I usually couldn’t resist adding a side of pistachio).
How to spot the real thing: It should be white and silky.
pronounced: lee-mOH-nee | photo + gelato recipe from Saveur.com
3. Frutti di bosco
Frutti di bosco literally translates to “fruits of the forest,” and is equivalent to what would probably be labelled “mixed berry” in the English-speaking world. A good scoop is refreshing but rich with true berry flavours. Though WB wouldn’t give me a direct answer on what was his favourite flavour (he said it depending on the weather, his mood, and what the gelato looked like), I think this is the one he got most often.
WB says: Lemon is the flavour to get if you’re going to get just one (but who gets just one?!), and it was really refreshing. But when I saw a gelateria with a really good-looking frutti di bosco I had to get it. Most gelaterias will do a nice limoni, but a good, authentic frutti di bosco can be harder to find – so take the opportunity to try it when you see a good one.
How to spot the real thing: As with lemon and pistachio, it shouldn’t be neon, but a rich purplish pink dervied only from the natural colours of the berries. A clean ingredient list and specks of real berries are markers of an authentic frutti di bosco.
pronounced: frOO-tee dee bAW-scoh | photo + gelato recipe from Il Pasticcione
Chocolate and hazelnut is a popular Italian flavour combination: think Nutella and Baci. L’inimitabile is their frozen cousin – a chocoalte-hazelnut gelato, often drizzled with more chocolate. This probably doesn’t fall into the “healthier than ice cream” category. It’s silky smooth, deep, and rich and was definitely our favourite out of the more decadent, less refreshing flavours. A perfect treat for spending a balmy night people-watching in an Italian square.
How to spot the real thing: It shouldn’t be piled up in great, air-filled domes, but should be dense and rich, but silky. Check the ingredients list for real hazelnuts.
pronounced: lee-nee-mee-tAH-bee-lay | photo from Foodspotting
Stracciatella is Italy’s response to chocolate chip ice cream. Admittedly, this one wasn’t our favourite and I had it only once. It was still delicious, but it was hard to pick over creamy pistachio, fresh lemon, and decadent chocolate-hazelnut. Stracciatella is vanilla gelato with bits of chocolate. Remember that magical chocolate sauce that hardened over ice cream? It’s like that, but then broken up and stirred into the whole batch (and it’s better chocolate, obviously).
How to spot the real thing: It should be pieces of chocolate – almost like shards – not chocolate chips. Many have a drizzling of the chocolate over top, which can be a good indicator that it is the hardened drizzle – not chocolate chips – that are stirred in.
pronounced: strAH-cha-tel-la | photo from The Student Room
There are, of course, many other delicious flavours. Chocolate anything is always delicious, and the melon gelato is almost exactly like biting into a juicy cantaloupe on a hot day – but better. We had many favourites, but these five are what seemed the most typical and ubiquitous of all flavours, and many of them we kept turning back to even after loads of gelato experimentation.
What is your favourite gelato flavour?