It’s hard to explain what is gelato to those who have not experienced it at its best in Italy. Gelato means “frozen” in Italian and is comparable to ice cream but there are a few key differences
3 Differences between gelato and ice cream
1) Gelato has less cream than ice cream. Typically, gelato has about 10% butterfat, while ice cream has 18%-26% butterfat, because its makers use more heavy cream. More cream masks the flavors of the other ingredients and that’s why gelato, which is less creamy, allows you to taste more flavors with each bite.
2) Gelato has less air than ice cream, which again means that each bite is denser with flavor. The churning process with both desserts allows air to go into the treat so that it is lighter than if it was immediately frozen. Ice cream is churned so that the volume is double, meaning each bite is 50% air! Compare this to gelato which has 20% air, ensuring each spoonful has more flavor.
3) Gelato is served slightly warmer than ice cream. While both treats are served at well below 32ºF, the freezing point, gelato is served slightly warmer by 10º to 15º than ice cream. Because it’s less solidly frozen, when you eat it, you’ll notice how it very smoothly melts in your mouth.
The quality of ingredients play an important part in making great gelato because you now understand that the ingredients matter for everything (and this is true of all Italian cooking).
Gelato begins with a custard base made by combining cream, egg yolks and sugar and bringing it to a near boil before it’s chilled. Next, this base is mixed with fruits, cocoa, mint or any flavor you can think of, as long as it is of the highest quality and at the peak of the season. For example, strawberry or cherry gelato tastes best in summer, and is never as good during the rest of the year.
My favorite gelato flavors include pistachio, stracciatela (chocolate chip), fragola (strawberry), and bacio (which means “kiss” and refers to a chocolate truffle with a hazelnut center). One of my favorite combinations is choosing a chocolately flavor paired with a scoop of mint so the flavors balance each other after each bite.
In Italy, it seems like everyone is walking around with a cup or cone of gelato. It only costs 1-2 Euros (about $1.50-$2.50) for a perfect sized snack on a hot day…or a warm day…or even if it’s freezing outside, you will still crave gelato! When I studied abroad in Italy, I lived for a few months in Trento, a town in North Western Italy by the Dolomite Mountains, and took classes at the local university. Between my studies, my friends and would go to different gelaterias around town until we found the one with the best flavors and served the largest portions. Our favorite shop near the town’s central piazza (meaning plaza) offered two generous scoops in a cone for 1.5 Euros, or about $2.25. What a deal!
(Gelato Taster Secret: ALWAYS go for a cone because a scooper will pack in more gelato than if you choose a cup.)
I apologize if all this reminiscing of Italy makes you want to jump on the next plane to Italy to taste this fantastic dessert. Fortunately, there are a few places where you can experience gelato in Los Angeles in a way that is close to the great stuff I remember in Italy.
Mangia Bene! (Eat Well!)