Americans might be excused for thinking that gelato is simply the Italian word for ice cream. After all, in a land with a severe shortage of real, quality gelato, American companies have for decades been using the label on products called gelato that are merely ice cream.
But disabuse yourself of that misconception. True gelato, relying solely on natural flavors, is an elegant frozen expression that is creamier and more intense than commercial ice cream can hope to be.
While gelato has far less butterfat and uses more milk and less cream, the foremost differentials are air and temperature. The real McCoy has about 70 percent less air than ice cream, making it denser. And, served at 10° to 15° F warmer than the hard, frozen stuff you get at the supermarket, gelato has a silky, elastic texture somewhere between soft serve and regular ice cream.
To experience gelato properly, go to its birthplace: Italy. In Milan, make your way to Il Massimo del Gelato, probably the best you’ll find in this fashion capital. They serve 10 different types of chocolate gelato alone, and the coffee flavored variety will give you an astounding arabica buzz.
When in Rome, travel off the beaten path to Neve di Latte (meaning milk snow). It’s a true standout in a city saturated with gelato. Sample the Straciatella, a simple standard made from fior di latte (unflavored cow’s milk) and speckled with chocolate fragments and shavings.
In Sicily, pistachios are a matter of pride, and in the city of Palermo, Cappadonia Gelateria has converted the island’s regional nuts into a pistachio gelato so absurdly nutty and rich, it eats more like peanut butter than ice cream.
Yet there’s hope for America. Grom gelateria, originally of Turin, now has three New York City locations as well as three more in the Los Angeles area. Grom’s gelato base is made in Italy, shipped over in liquid form and faithfully churned into a frosty confection with very little lost in translation.