YOUR GUIDE TO ITALY’S AUTHENTIC GELATO
Legend has it that gelato was invented in Florence in the 16th century — the predominant account being that alchemist Bernardo Buontalenti presented his creation to the court of Caterina Dei Medici, and the rest is history. Today, many Italian towns have a certain soft spot for this dessert, with gelato holding the acclaim of a national treasure.
There’s plenty to see and do when you visit Italy, but coming here without sampling gelato would be utter madness. We’ve compiled a list of ways you can tell if the gelato is the real deal, and we’ll reveal how to find some of the tried-and-true spots for the best gelato in the country. But truly, the only way to know for sure is to try them all yourself!
What to Look For
We probably all picture the same image when envisioning gelato: heaping, colorful mounds of frigid cream, tastefully drizzled with toppings like crushed pistachio and chocolate shavings, lined up one after another like a dessert mountain range. Truthfully, this is the telltale sign that you’re in the wrong gelateria. Those heaping mounds are near guaranteed to be mass-produced; those colors all but certain to be artificial. Additionally, if everything within the gelateria is in English, that’s not a good sign. All in all — if it sports all of the above — it’s the tourist-trap-McDonald’s equivalent of the authentic delicacy.
Look instead for a shop a little off the beaten path: Places with high tourist foot traffic are perfectly primed to cut quality for higher profits. Also look for shops where the gelato is stored in covered steel tins — this is the telltale sign that the dessert is artisanal and freshness is a priority.
If your discovering of Florence dictates a little more direction and a little less meandering, fear not: We’ve compiled a medley of shops known for serving the best gelato in Florence, Naples and Rome. Any of the following is certain to be a treat for your taste buds.
The oldest gelateria in all of Florence, the fabled Vivoli is more of an institution than a gelateria. Dating back to approximately 1926, it has survived wars, floods and the test of time to still stand today — a living artifact of Florence’s gelato. The interior is unchanged, as is the menu. Every choice of gelato is a classic — be it the amarena, the lime and mint, the saffron or the zabaione — as well as the fresh pastries or the semifreddo desserts. Typically, you’d be advised to steer clear of a gelateria that also sold x (pizza, pastries, etc.) but Vivoli outdates that wisdom by several decades. Everything is made fresh daily — the exceptions to the rule being pistachios and hazelnuts. Of the best gelato in Florence, this is arguably the most famous.
Gelateria Perché No
One of the few gelato shops that can challenge Vivoli’s historical acclaim, Perché No is a (comparatively) tiny gelateria nestled into the middle of the historical center. Open since 1939, they’ve been family-run for all these years, adding a certain charm to their authenticity. While they got their start with semifreddo offerings, today you can expect droves of people patiently waiting all hours of the day for the chance to sample the likes of their gelato — Tuscan rose, Sicilian pistachio and sesame & honey to name just a few.
Il Procopio earns its acclaim for a different reason. Most gelato is primarily milk-based, and thus has little cream. Il Procopio’s gelato is predominantly cream-based, with the end result being richer than what any collection of words could ever describe. We’ll try anyway: Imagine a cup of deep, dark amethyst in a world comprised of shades of gray. That’s what tasting gelato here is like — especially with flavors like black forest cake and “madness” (toasted almond, fig, orange peel and homemade pistachio paste). Skip the pasta or pizza, and just have a savory dinner of gelato here — it’s your vacation, after all.
Mennella Il Gelato
As a Naples institution for over 50 years, Mennella Il Gelato attracts long queues of locals at several locations, regardless of weather or temperature. With skilled artisans utilizing local milk and Italian ingredients in their modern laboratory, the result is a menu of sumptuous flavors providing the perfect pick-me-up for any time and any day of the week. If there is one flavor you have to try, it’s cassata. Based on the traditional cake from Sicily, the gelato version is a creamy concoction packed full of candied fruit and nuts that proves to be delightful.
While they only branched into gelato in 2008, Gay-Odin Antica Cioccolateria is no stranger to satisfying sugar cravings. As a Neapolitan chocolate pioneer since 1894, it tracks that they would shy away from the more adventurous flavors to instead hone the classics — specifically, chocolate. Whether it’s chocolate with rum, chocolate with orange peel, dark chocolate with cocoa nibs or another iteration of the flavor, it’s bound to be decadent.
With roots stretching back to 1940, Casa Infante has been a family-owned local institution since Leopoldo Infante opened his doors as an acclaimed bakery. In the time since, Casa Infante has spread to 10 locations in Naples, meaning you’re never too far from a sweet treat. While their gelato is exquisite — fresh ingredients like Sicilian pistachios, Alchermes liqueur and Amarena cherries will do that — forsake the extra scoop to instead enjoy a pastry. Pairing your gelato with one of their famous tarallos or sfogliatellas is life-changing.
Thanks to its open-view workshop, Otaleg! (that’s gelato spelled backwards) proves to be dessert and a show. Different flavors and combinations are served daily, partly based on the season and partly based on imagination, resulting some of the zaniest flavors you’ll ever encounter. Prickly pear, mustard, gorgonzola with blond chocolate and hazelnut, Madagascar bourbon vanilla and ginger, mango and licorice are all potential flavors you might find when you visit. If you’re unsure what to try, the only real solution is to try several.
Run by a former ski instructor from the Alps, Punto Gelato draws inspiration from all things alpine: pure alpine water, microfiltered cow’s milk, house-made fruit jams and best-origin cocoa are all ingredients utilized in gelato-making here. Subsequently, Alp-specific flavors take center stage, with variations such as buffalo milk with pink pepper, Amalfi lemon, and tiramisu scented with pine, all shining with a star power that plain chocolate or vanilla just can’t match.