Gelato. This has to be one of the most beautiful words in the beautiful Italian language. It was love at first taste when I sampled my first spoonful of the Italian version of ice cream almost 20 years ago, and during my time in Italy it’s not uncommon for me to have a “3 gelato day”, with a scoop or two in the late morning, again as a late afternoon pick me up, and finally as a late night, after dinner treat. Most people I know who have been to Italy cite gelato as one of their favorite things, though I have occasionally encountered the odd, misguided person who shrugs and dismisses it with, “It’s just ice cream.” No, poor misguided one, it is not “just” ice cream.
As I understand it, the main difference between ice cream and gelato is that gelato is made with less cream and more milk than ice cream and does not typically contain eggs. The result is that it is denser and of a creamier consistency than ice cream, and for whatever reason, the flavors of gelato seem to be far stronger. Sometimes with American ice cream I feel that if my eyes were closed I couldn’t guess the flavor I’m eating with great confidence. Not so with gelato. The wide variety of fruit flavors like mirtillo (blueberry), pere (pear), albiccoca (apricot), mela verde (green apple) or lampone (raspberry) are intense and instantly recognizable. There are also several decadent variations of chocolate: just simple cioccolato, bacio (chocolate-hazelnut), cioccolato all’arancia (chocolate -orange), and my personal favorite cioccolato fondente or cioccolato extra noir (a very deep, dark, intense chocolate bordering on sorbet but still with a creamy texture to it). And of course there are a variety of other flavors to tempt you, like vaniglia, caffe’, menta, cannella and pistacchio (vanilla, coffee, mint, cinnamon, and pistachio).
Aside from the painful decision of which flavors you want (usually even in a medium-sized serving you can mix two or three flavors), you will be asked if you want a cone or a cup (un cono o una copetta?), whether you want your ice cream with a dollop of whipped cream (con panna?), and which size you want: small, medium or large (piccolo, media, o grande?). Do yourself a favor… just say “grande” and enjoy!
A helpful hint in differentiating between a really good gelato shop or gelateria and a poor one is the pistacchio. If it’s a brilliant, neon green color, move on. An authentic pistacchio should be a subdued shade of greenish-tan. You also should search for gelato shops with the term “artigianale” which indicates that the product is hand made in small batches on the premises vs. mass produced. It’s not hard to find decent gelato in almost any town in Italy (though many close or have reduced hours in winter, which is a concept I just can’t fathom; gelato is every bit as delicious on a cold winter day as in the heat of summer!) But here is a list of some of my very favorite places to indulge in one of Italy’s greatest gifts to the world.
Chain Stores with Multiple Locations Across Italy
Being the chocoholic that I am, this chocolate shop, which has been in business since 1878 and also sells gelato, is my favorite place to get my fix of deep, dark chocolate gelato, complimented by some vanilla or coffee to really contrast with and showcase the chocolate. Venchi has multiple locations across Italy: Venezia, Roma, Firenze, Milano, Verona, Siena, Bologna and more. They are even starting to spread internationally and have opened shops in New York and Chicago. Check their website for the store closest to you! And after you finish your gelato, shop for some of their amazing chocolate candy confections…
#2 Grom http://www.grom.it/en/
Like Venchi, Grom is a chain with shops in all of Italy’s major cities, and has also spread its wings internationally, with locations in Paris, Hong Kong, Osaka, New York, and Los Angeles. My Italian friends tell me that there was a scandal concerning the fact that contrary to their claims, Grom was found to be making their gelato in large batches and delivering it to their stores rather than producing it at the individual shops. Nevertheless, no matter where it’s made, Grom uses only organic ingredients from all over the world like Amalfi lemons, Sicilian pistachio, and Madagascar vanilla, and Peruvian chocolate and its flavors are rich and intense.
#3 Gelateria La Romana http://www.gelateriaromana.com
I have been visiting the Verona location of this gelateria for quite some time now, and have found that they serve what has to be among the very best gelato that Italy has to offer. Happily, I recently discovered that this is a chain of gelaterie that began in Rimini in 1947 and has since spread across Italy and is now even making its way into other European nations. I can only hope it someday comes across the Atlantic so that Americans can experience it on their home turf!
#1 Il Gelato di San Crispino http://www.ilgelatodisancrispino.com/en/parlours/
According to many of my Italian friends, t this is the best gelato in Rome. San Crispino is a small chain of gelaterie with several locations throughout Rome (as well as a location in both Milan and Bologna). While I am intrigued by their unusual flavors, like ginger, whiskey, and walnut-fig, I find the consistency to be a bit less creamy than other places and it’s not my first choice when in Rome, but give them a try and cast your vote!
#2 Giolitti Gelateria www.giolitti.it
One of the most famous and oldest gelato shops in Roma, Giolitti is a short walk from the Pantheon. En route you will pass several gelato shops, including Grom, but keep going! When you get there, expect a big crowd, as this is is stop for many bus tours. I prefer to go late at night when it’s quieter. Here you pay for your gelato at the cashier, get your receipt and proceed to the back to get your gelato. They have about 50 flavors… all are amazing. My favorite flavors here are mirtillo (blueberry) and cannella (cinnamon), which made a great combination!
#3 Gelateria Fassi http://www.gelateriafassi.com/?lang=en
A bit removed from the touristy parts of the city and close to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, Fassi is the oldest gelateria in the Rome, and you will see far more locals than tourists here. Prices are almost half of those at Giolitti or San Crispino. Like Giolitti, pay first and then take your receipt to the counter, which features about 50 flavors.
#4 Freddo https://www.freddogelato.it/
This has become my favorite gelato shop in Rome, but it is in a more residential area near the church of San Giovanno Laterano and the Re di Rome Metro stop. The address is Piazza Tuscolo #7/8/9 and you will find the variety of flavors and the quality among the best in Italy.
#5 Gelateria dell’Angeletto https://www.facebook.com/Gelateria-dellAngeletto-1510531659225365/
Located in a picturesque area of Rome near the Piazza della Madonna dei Monti, this small gelateria should be on your radar if you are anywhere in the area. Get your gelato and go sit by the nearby fountain and watch the world go by on a warm summer evening.
#6 Antica Gelateria dei Matteis http://www.antica-gelateria-dematteis.it
After fighting the crowds and having your picture taken with a “gladiator” at the Colosseo, head to the adjacent neighborhood along Via dei Santi Quattro and Via Capo d’Africa and find this small gelato shop that features delicious, reasonably priced servings of excellent gelato on a quiet back street.
#1 Carraia http://www.lacarraiagroup.eu/
Located across the Carraia Bridge over the Arno River and just two bridges away from the famous Ponte Vecchio is my favorite gelato shop in all of Florence. The service is friendly, the selection is good without being overwhelming, but most importantly, the texture and flavor are perfetto! Get away from the crowds and take a stroll along the Arno to find this gem.
#2 Vivoli http://vivoli.it/
This small gelateria is always on the “best of” lists and is indeed a place to visit on your next gelato pilgrimage to Firenze. It’s close to Piazza Santa Croce and is a very small, non-descript little place that looks like a bar, but go in anyway! You will not regret it!
Gelateria Nico http://www.gelaterianico.com/
While I frequently visit the Venice locations of Venchi and Grom, Gelateria Nico is my favorie local shop. Located at the Zattere vaporetto (the water bus) stop, about a 5 minute walk from the Accademia Bridge, Nico offers great gelato, iced coffees, hot chocolate, and a beautiful setting directly on the Venetian Lagoon.