Brief History of Gelato in Italy and What Flavors to Try
One cannot be in Italy without having gelato at least once per day – although some of the extremists among us might push for once per meal. While there is as yet no official accord dictating this, it is, in my opinion a gross oversight of international law. In all seriousness, as a historical culinary tradition, gelato has a firmly cemented – or perhaps frozen – place in the nation’s identity.
Universally acknowledged as the origin point of this frozen delicacy in the 16th century, Italy has helped spread the art of gelato making around the world. And despite the absence of international statute demanding tourist consumption – frankly unnecessary when all is said and done – there is actual law dictating how gelato must be made in Italy. A minimum of 3.5% butterfat must be used. According to a Bloomberg study of gelato production, Italy leads the rest of Europe in its production and consumption of gelato, beating out Germany by a significant margin.
Venice and Rome both are home to numerous specialty gelaterias, and being two of the more common destinations, I’ll talk about some great gelato options within each, and a rudimentary guide to navigating the language barrier with regards to flavor. Raspberry, whether said in English, French, or Italian is equally delicious, but color isn’t always a guarantee you’ll guess right!
Firstly, let’s consider your option in Rome in the heat of summer. If you want to sit down somewhere air-conditioned and rest your feet, it’s not hard to find a shop within walking distance of major sights. It can be sweltering in certain months with the way the city is constructed, and the entire day is more pleasant if you wander around with something cold – or take a sweet break from the many museums and churches you’re likely to be visiting. You should at the very least stop in at one legitimate gelateria. Everyone will differ on the “best” one to visit, so my recommendation is to map out a well reviewed location that serves as a nice midday break; a stopping point between destinations.
True connoisseurs may scream sacrilege at this next comment, but my personal recommendation for cost, quality, and experience while in Venice is to stop in at little stalls along the streets and waterways. The price of gelato can get steep at fancier shops, and while street carts usually offer a more limited choice of flavors, you’re able to try out a wider selection of them when the price is more manageable. There are many guides online and in travel books to Italian food vocabulary, but the most common options you’ll see include vaniglia (vanilla), bacio (hazelnut), caffe (coffe), pistacchio (pistachio), cioccolato (chocolate), and fragola (strawberry). Grab a cone and a couple scoops to take on a walk across one of the city’s small islands. On the other hand, if you’re on the mainland, a sit down shop may be a better option for you, simply because the layout is more spread out and cart aren’t as plentiful.
Unlike skydiving or performing heart surgery, there really is no wrong way to do this, because almost by requirement with so many competitors to draw tourist away, it’s hard to find a place that sells bad gelato, even at the cheaper prices!