Italians and Their Gelato: Now That's the Sweet Life
'One gelato al limone, coming up!'
If it’s a scorching, humid 95 degrees and you are in Rome, what are you to do? You have one option, really, and that’s to pick up a gelato at the nearest gelateria. It’s practically medicine. Thanks are due once again to the Italians, this time for having created and perfected the art of gelato.
Italians enjoy their gelato at various times of day, but typically after dinner while taking a walk, a “passeggiata.” As such, gelato’s regularly enjoyed on foot or seated in a piazza. Vendors tend to sell gelato to customers directly on the street, though some gelaterias, like Gelateria Giolitti in Rome, are large enough to have inside and outside seating. Italian coffee bars, too, often sell gelato. Gelato's also wildly popular with tourists; lines regularly stretch around corners for a scoop or two in the summer.
Wait, Is That Gelato, Ice Cream, Sorbetto, or Granita?!
The first thing to get straight is that gelato differs from ice cream. How so? Gelato is produced with a higher proportion of milk to cream than ice cream, resulting in less fat. Second, the churning process for gelato is much slower; less air is whipped into the mixture creating a denser and more intensely flavorful dessert. Gelato is also served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream.
You’ve probably heard of sorbetto, too? What’s the difference? Unlike ice cream and gelato, sorbetto is not made with milk, cream, or egg. Instead, it is made of sugar, frozen water, and fresh fruit (or a substitute, such as liquor). Sorbetto is typically used by Italians to cleanse the palate between courses or dishes in order to appreciate the subtle differences between "pasti," "dishes," whereas gelato (or ice cream) is thought of as a dessert, or the capstone to a meal.
And how about granita? That’s simply a variation on sorbetto, shaved ice quickly flavored using bottled flavors, such as strawberry, lemon, or raspberry. The difference is that granita is enjoyed as a desert, or a mid-day treat, not during the course of a meal.
Famous Gelato Flavors
How about some famous flavors? Many are nut flavored, including “nocciola” (hazelnut), “pistacchio,” and “mandorla” (almond). There are many famous fruit-flavored types, including “lampone” (raspberry), “fragola” (strawberry), and “limone” (lemon) (enjoy the video to the right of the famous Italian singer Paolo Conte singing "Gelato al limon," with an appearance by Roberto Benigni). Of course there’s “cioccolato” and variations of it, but there are also flavors like “zabaione” (an eggy, Marsala wine-flavored gelato) and “stracciatella” (packed with shaved chocolate bits). Last, no doubt, Italians have added coffee into the mix, should you be looking for a pick-me-up.
Where Does the Word "Gelato" Come from?
The word “gelato” derives from the Latin “gelare,” “to freeze.” We actually see this root in the English words “gelid,” “gelatin,” and “jelly.” Simply put, the variant “gelato” means “frozen.” Frozen treats have been around since ancient times, but gelato as we know it today likely originated during the period of the Renaissance. Yep, yet another amazing thing born of that time!
Wait, There's a Gelato University?
No, this isn't Harvard, but the answer is YES. If you have an interest in making gelato, consider enrolling in a course at Carpigiani's Gelato University in Bologna . If you'd like to take a Carpigiani course in the United States, you might not have to go far, for Carpigiani's U.S. headquarters is in Winston-Salem, North Carolina! If that's not an option, there are also online courses at Carpigiani but you may certainly contact your local gelateria (hopefully there's one?) to see if you can learn from them.