Gelato - Italian Ice Cream

What to Know about Ordering Gelato in Italy

Choices! A Selection of Gelato in a Gelato shop
••• Christine Wehrmeier/Getty Images

When your friends come home from a trip to Italy, what do they rave about the most? Most likely it will be gelato, Italian ice cream, acknowledged by many experts in the subject to be the best ice cream in the world. Gelato is not really the same as ice cream, however, because it has a lower percentage of fat than ice cream and has less air in it since it's churned more slowly, giving it a richer texture.

Where to Find Gelato in Italy

No tourist destination in Italy lacks for the cheerful, refrigerated gelato case, often found gleaming on the sidewalk in good weather.

In Italy you can buy gelato in some bars or in an ice cream shop, called a gelateria, where they often make a variety of special ice cream dishes, like sundaes. Remember, you will usually pay more to sit down and eat your ice cream, especially in larger cities.

You'll want to look for signs proclaiming gelato fatto en casa (homemade), produzione propia (our own production), or artiginale (artisan). If you can't find those, the mass produced gelato is pretty darn good, too.

Here's a tip for finding a good gelato shop - look at the pistachio flavor. If the color looks like a very fake bright green, it's probably not a good place to go. Flavors should resemble the actual food from which they are made, so avoid brightly colored gelato that's piled high to impress you.

How To Order Gelato

Don't speak Italian? Don't worry. Often the placards naming the gelato include pictures of the main ingredients, so you should be able to figure out what they are. Point to what you want if you have to. If you can't decide what flavor to try, try several; even on a small cone you can usually choose 2 flavors.

The fruit flavors, made with real fruit, are especially refreshing in summer. My favorites are limone (lemon) and frutti di bosco (berries). These days you'll also find more creative flavors in some shops, especially in big cities, using ingredients such as basil, ginger, or cinnamon. Some gelato shops also offer soy milk gelato or yogurt, too.

Gelato Vocabulary:

  • gelato - ice cream
  • gelateria - ice cream shop
  • cono - cone
  • coppa - cup
  • gusti - flavors (thus 3 gusti=three flavors)
  • sorbetto - sorbet or sherbert

Gelato Tours and Classes:

Do you want to learn more about gelato while you're in Italy? In Florence you can take a Pizza and Gelato Class or Gelato and Vino Tasting, both available to book through Select Italy. Near Venice, Mama Isa offers an Artisan Gelato Making Class. Or if you're really serious, you can go to Gelato University for 150 hours of complete training or the Italian School of Gelato.

Food tours, such as Eating Italy Food Tours in Rome or the Trastevere Evening Food Tour with The Roman Foodie, include a stop at a favorite gelateria.