5 Tips to Finding the Best Gelato in Italy
Oh, gelato! Is there anything more refreshing after a lovely day spent walking around the Italian countryside? Gelato is often described as having a more intense flavor than ice cream. This isn’t just a perception. It’s actually because ice cream has a lot of air whipped into it, and the ice crystals that form within the air bubbles water down the taste when it hits your tongue. Gelato is also less caloric because it’s made with milk and not cream—another great reason to treat yourself often. And of course, if you’re traveling on a Boundless Journeys Italy walking or hiking tour, you’ll be burning the calories anyway!
But how can you tell the really good stuff from the mediocre?
- Look at the banana and pistachio flavors. They shouldn’t be bright yellow and bright green, respectively! Bananas and pistachios are not that color in real life. Good, natural Banana gelato is tannish and pistachio is yellowish/brownish/green. Even if you aren’t planning on ordering those flavors, the colors will indicate if the shop uses food coloring or artificial ingredients. If any of the fruit flavors look unnaturally bright or colorful, move on.
- In bigger cities, I like gelaterias on the side streets. That’s not to say you won’t find some very good gelato on the main streets, but I prefer the quieter shops. There’s more time to sample and choose, and I often find unique flavors that aren’t sold in the busier locations. Plus, you’ll probably find slightly better prices away from the major attractions and main thoroughfares.
- You may be dazzled by the foot-high piles of gelato in the case, but buy your gelato someplace else. Having so much of it exposed to the air degrades the flavor and texture. Not to mention that in order for it to stay in those giant mounds, it has to be pretty cold—colder than gelato should be served at.
- Eat with the season. At a good gelateria in the summer or fall, the fruit flavors will almost all be made with fresh produce, probably from the Mediterranean region. If it’s outside of those seasons, stick with the nut, chocolate, or vanilla flavors. Fruit flavors out of season will be made from concentrate, which isn’t a bad thing, but they could be artificial, which just isn’t as good.
- Pay attention to the presentation. It’s one thing to have a drizzle of chocolate sauce or a nice fruit garnish. It’s quite another for the whole thing to be drowning in syrup—they may be trying to cover up sub-par gelato or contaminating the true flavor. Some of the best gelato I’ve had has nothing on it at all.
Some recommended places in the larger cities:
FLORENCE – Perché No!, which means “why not,” has dozens of flavors and makes their gelato fresh every morning. They also have a large selection of dairy free options. It’s on Via dei Tavolini, which is off Via dei Calzaiuoli, a main road that connects the Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria (home to the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Museum). And it can sometimes be crowded, but it’s popular for good reason!
SIENA – Gelateria Kopakabana was introduced to me by a local when I was living there several years ago—it’s my favorite in Siena. It is down a side street (Via dei Rossi), off one of the main roads (Via Banchi di Sopra) that leads to the famous Piazza del Campo. Just keep walking down the quiet street, and it will be on your right.
ROME – Just north of the Pantheon on a pedestrian-only street lies the Gelateria della Palma. Despite their massive assortment of over 150 flavors, the quality was very good and someone was bringing out fresh tubs as I stood there. They had some very unique flavors that I’ve never seen anywhere else. I went three times just to try all the interesting options! If you’re at the Pantheon, find the road Via del Pantheon that comes off the piazza, follow across two streets (the road name changes to Via della Maddalena) and Della Palma will be on your left.
MILAN: I haven’t personally been to La Pasqualina, but it was recommended to me by my Roman cousin who travels around the country frequently. It’s a small chain with shops in and around Milan and one on Sardinia, Their website is beautiful, as are the photos of their shops, so if that’s any indication, their gelato should be fantastic!
Some unique flavors to try: fig (fichi), plain hazelnut (nocciola), melon (melone), grapefruit (pompelmo), lemon ginger (limone zenzero), and spicy or Mexican chocolate (cioccolato diavolo/mexicano/piccante).
Remember: you pay first and then order your flavors, and you can usually get at least two flavors in a small (if it’s slow and the server is feeling particularly generous, you might be able to squeeze in a third).