Ode to Gelato (Part 1) – Lover of My Tastebuds (not ice cream, and I will tell you why)

Aaah, gelato, my first love in Italy. Oops…I mean, that handsome Italian prince charming of mine is first. But then, gelato. Sweet, sweet gelato, which I happily embrace on an almost daily basis. I adore it so much, I’m hereby dedicating my very first blog post to it. Besides, you would be surprised (or not) how many people ask me about this topic now that I live in Italy! All this to say, gelato is kinda a big deal.

I love myself some vino, but I care WAY more about gelato. I’m progressively becoming a self-proclaimed gelato connoisseur. Wine is thankfully abundant (and generally inexpensive!) here too, but I’d definitely say I’m less than a wino, and more of a…gelato..o. gelato cart Luckily I don’t always have to differentiate between the two! There is even wine flavoured gelato (well, sorbetto)! One of my favourite gelaterias is right smack in the city centre, Edoardo, where they serve organic goddness…including…Chianti wine (red) and Moscato wine (white) flavours. I have been known to get my wine and chocolate fix all in one little cup at this location. I’ll tell you more about where you can get the best of the best in Florence in a second-part post.

Speaking of infamous Italian delicacies integrated into gelato, olive oil gelato exists. I know this because the first time I tried it was at our wedding celebration party here in Tuscany, in a castle. With a gelato cart. Dreams DO come true. 🙂 Seriously though, olive oil gelato.  It’s….interesting. Not one I love, nor one I hate. Not really sure how I felt about it, but that day was also a mad rush of emotions, so I will just have to give it another chance! Unfortunately it was apparently pretty exclusive to our fancy wedding party, because I have yet to find it in a gelateria around town. Have you? I wish I could just throw another castle party with rows and rows of gelato carts and invite you all! Wouldn’t that just be grandissimo?!

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But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

Let’s get to basics and facts. 

FACT: Gelato was invented where I live, Florence. Another reason we were meant to be

People have been sweetening up ice for centuries in attempts to make something gelato-like, but leave it to the Renaissance geniuses to master it. You might think of all the Ninja Turtles when you think names of Renaissance men, but you need to add this name to your canon: Bernardo Bountalenti. As his name translates, he was a man of “good talents,” one of which was creating gelato as we know it (hear the angels sing!). Like the others, Buontalenti was also an artist and architect. He was commissioned by the Medici family to make a culinary masterpiece to impress the King of Spain when he came to visit. Bountalenti flavoured a cream and egg icy base with sugar, salt (to lower temperature), honey, citrus fruit, bergamot, and (of course) a splash of wine. To try this flavour today, you can head to a gelateria called Badiani, which I tell you about in part 2 of this “Ode to Gelato!”

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FACT: There’s ice cream. And then there’s gelato. “Gelato is like ice cream, but just tastes better for some reason.” – Winston Churchill

Actually Signore Churchill, there are reasons! It all comes down to fat, air, and temperature. Let’s break it down.

FAT:  Gelato is indeed better FOR you in most cases because it has a lot less fat that ice cream has (there you have it, permission to be a gelato glutton!). Ice cream  has a minimum 10% fat, usually more. Gelato has a milk base instead of its ice cream relative, which has a cream base and uses less, if any, egg yolks. You know that phrase “fat equals flavour?” So not the case with gelato. The fat levels in ice cream will actually coat your mouth, blocking your poor taste buds from the true deliciousness! Because gelato is less fatty, that gives your buds freedom to enjoy the true flavour of your tasty treat.  But what about the “crema” flavour of gelato, you ask? Well guess what, it’s a milk-based custard, not cream! So grab that little spoon and dig in.

AIR:  Air content is another big difference between gelato and ice cream. So yes, next time you buy a tub of ice cream, know that you’re paying for air! Depending on what mad speed ice cream is mixed, it can actually increase in volume by as much as 90% due to the air! Gelato is churned more slowly and for less time than ice cream (you know those Italians love to take their sweet time). The texture of gelato is more dense because it is! Give me lush, rich gelato over fluffy ice cream any day.

TEMPERATURE:  Gelato is served at a higher temperature than ice cream, giving it that silky, smooth texture. If you put gelato in a real cold freezer, you’ll have to wait extra long for it to thaw out a little. With less air and fat, it will harden up even more than ice cream will. Gelato is meant to be served about 15 degrees warmer than ice cream. If ice cream were kept at the same temperature, you would have ice cream soup because the high fat would melt too quickly with water emulsion.

Lastly I’ll add: “Don’t gimmie some sugar, baby…” – OK, so obviously gelato does typically have sugar in it still. But definitely less than ice cream. Gelato, like most food in Italy, prides itself on being simple but classy. It IMG_6104celebrates quality ingredients, allowing you to taste the actual flavours.

My sister visited this summer and her absolute favourite flavour was “Cookies” because it had cookie pieces and chocolate swirled throughout the creamy gelato. She asked me why there aren’t many flavours with more “stuff” in it. Great question and a wise observation there, sis. I suppose the whole idea of keeping it classy and simple is the appropriate response. If only Italy could master this technique in her bureaucracy the way she does with her cuisine!

So there you have it. A crash course in gelato. Like many other things in Italy, gelato is an art form to be appreciated to the fullest! If you’re educated in gelato culture, I would love to learn from you. But let’s be honest here, everyone – that’s TUTTI – has a calling to at least EAT this art whether they know much about it or not. Tried, tested (many times), and true, I will share with you in a sequel post where you can find the best gelato spots in Florence, Italy. The best from, at least, my humble “self-proclaimed gelato connoisseur” opinion! 😉

What gelato knowledge can you share with me to enlighten my inquiring mind and senses? Are you now screaming for gelato instead of ice cream after learning this little bit I have shared with you here? 

Ready to read on to Part 2 of Ode to Gelato? Learn how to detect the good stuff and find top spots in Florence here! 

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