Tips for Finding the Good Gelato in Italy

Going to skip ahead a bit, because I was meant to write this to MrFodder’s mum, but forgot about it, and thought if I’m going to write about it, I might as well make it into a post.

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As part of one of the courses we did in Florence, the instructor told us how to pick out the good gelato stores in Florence – or at least, how to avoid the tourist trap stores. All of these are rules of thumb, so your mileage may vary, but here are the general rules we were told:

Bad: Mountains of gelato

This is pretty much the number one sign that the gelato store you are at is a tourist trap. According to the instructor, good gelati is made with just sugar, milk and cream. The kind of stuff that you think would melt if left out in the sun for too long. So when you see giant mountains of gelati like this:

you have to wonder what else is in it in order to keep it frozen even though most of it isn’t even in the freezer part, and has the sun beating down on it all day. The reason for the huge mountains is to attract the eye of tourists. The locals don’t need to be drawn in, because they already know where the good stuff is.

Bad: Unusual colours

Again, see the picture above, you can see a really stark blue flavour. That’s unlikely to have come from a natural source. Another “touristy” thing – the locals can read Italian, they don’t need colours as a guide to which flavour is which. It might also hint to them using artificial flavouring. Note: this one can be a bit tricky. For instance, pistachio isn’t green, but a lot of people expect it to be, as that’s just what we’ve been conditioned to think. So some places will colour certain flavours just to match expectations.

MrFodder’s favourite gelato place we visited (in Milan), you can see how pale the colours are, which have come from the natural colours of the ingredients. (The pictured flavours are top: melon, bottom: honey.

Good: Covers for the tubs

If you’re at a place that has covers for their tubs of gelati, then it’s a sign that they’re pretty serious about it. Some of the really hardcore places will even have each tub temperature controlled differently, as different flavours have different optimum temperatures. The really serious ones will even scoop out your gelati, and replace the lid before anything else, lest the temperature vary too much from having the lid open.

This photo is from a vegan gelato store we found in Rome. She has to reach down into the freezer to pull out the tub of gelato.

Warning Sign: Many, many flavours

This one can go either way. One of the best stores we went to in Florence (Gelateria dei Neri) had maybe 30 different flavours. Our instructor said that it’s probably a sign that they don’t make their gelati fresh every day, because how can they possibly make so many different flavours before opening every morning? So it’s something to be wary of, but having a lot of flavours isn’t a bad thing on its own.

Bad: Expensive

Good gelato shouldn’t cost much. Again, at Gelateria dei Neri, a small cup was €1.80. We actually got scammed in Florence! I asked for a small cup (in Italian), which was about €3. The lady behind the counter got our flavour, and told us the total: €12. Turns out she had grabbed one of the larger cups, and just gave us those, instead. I thought maybe the smaller cups were for something else, and so she had given us the smallest gelati cups, but nope, she purposely gave us a larger cup than we wanted (and it was a lot of gelati). Maybe it was a misunderstanding, it’s hard to tell, but we paid our €12, and left. It was far too much gelati, and it wasn’t very good, so we ended up tossing some out. I went back to that store, and checked the list again. The most expensive cup was €15 (yes, cup, not one of those take-home tubs, they had prices for those as well). Who buys €15 worth of gelati?!

So that’s what we were told about avoiding bad gelati!

One thing I do like about gelati in Italy is that the size of the cup isn’t tied to the number of flavours that you can choose. In Melbourne, at least, if you want more than one flavour, you usually have to go up a cup size. In Milan, Venice, Rome and Florence, it seems that you can order two flavours, even for the smallest cup – we never tried ordering more though, maybe it’s possible?

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