Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Best Gelato in Florence

I have a confession:  I have eaten a lot of gelato in Italy.  A lot.  And while this doesn't make me an expert, I certainly have figured out what I like.

There is an art to making gelato, and those who make it beautifully do so because they are making it from the freshest ingredients and in small, artful batches.  It is that simple. And unlike American ice cream, the best gelato is not necessarily the most expensive.  It just may be a few blocks off of the main thoroughfare (and when we are talking about great gelato, walking a few blocks is not out of the question).

So, what makes a good gelateria?

  • Small Batches: Those enormous piles of gelato in the tourist traps are never a good sign. They may be photogenic, but I always have to ask myself: how long has that gelato been sitting there?  And then I walk away.  I look for small batches in small containers.  
  • Produzione Artiginale or Produzione Propria: many gelato stores buy their gelato from a distributor. But those who say they have "produzione artiginale" or "produzione propria" are making it from scratch.  What's the difference?  "Artiginale" means that they are making it, but the ingredients aren't necessarily local.  "Propria" means that they are making it completely from scratch and with fresh, local ingredients.  Look for a sticker on the door or window of the shop or ask inside.  
  • Color: gelato shouldn't be bright or crazy colors. Do you see bright blue gelato? Pistachio that's green, not avocado-colored? Walk away quickly. Just like blue ice cream, that color is only achieved by using tons of food coloring.  Go for the real stuff.  
  • Locals: when the shop is buzzing with Italians, you know you are in the right place. 

So, where do you find the best gelato in Florence?  These are my three favorite shops:
Gelateria Carabe

Gelateria Carabe (via Ricasoli 60/r): this little spot serves Sicilian-style gelato as well as hand-filled cannoli that will make your head swim.  And in the summer their granitas hit the spot, too.  The shop is just down the street about a block and a half from the Accademia, so visit the David and then grab a cone.

Gelateria Grom (via delle Oche right by the Duomo): granted, Grom is a chain, but it is a chain devoted to producing gelato the slow food way.  They even have their own farm where they raise the fruits for their flavors.  And their pear gelato is to die for!  They have a chart on their website for Celiacs and other people with food intolerances -- most people can find a flavor that will agree with their sensitive tummies.
Gelateria dei Neri

Gelateria dei Neri (via dei Neri -- between the Uffizi and Santa Croce): here you will find gelato made by true artisans.  The owners of the shop love gelato and all of the goodness that goes into it, and they have developed some recipes that will knock your socks off.  On a summer day look for some unusual flavors, too, and try them!  I had gorganzola which, when coupled with riso (rice), was an incredible and refreshing treat.

Those are my favorites, but I am always open for suggestions.  After all, there's a lot of gelato in this world to be eaten!  Where's your favorite gelato shop in Italy?


Jeff said...

I have to say that my favorite gelataria is Giolitti in Roma. It's not just the amazing flavors, or the fact that the same 4 or 5 guys have been serving me gelato nearly every year for the last 20 years, or even the turn-of-the-century ambiance of the place... it's also the stunning Roman free-for-all that takes place in front of the counter as customers jockey for position and the favor of the counterman.

Make mine "con panna" per favore.

Anonymous said...

I love Carabè!!

Terra said...

You're bringing me right back to our days together traipsing through the streets of Florence searching for bargains and gelato. Mmmm.....

Andrea said...

Yum! I had my biggest, best cone of gelato ever in Florence. It was my first time in Europe twelve years ago and my father bought me a giant (like 6-8 scoops) cone with biscuits and chocolate stuck into it. It cost like 20 euros but I'll always remember it!

Gelatino said...

I'm from Florence, and I somehow work in the gelato business, I would like to clarify some things:
"Artigianale" and "Produzione propria" means both "we make it from scratch" but has no connection with the provenience of the ingredients... all gelaterias use "non-local" ingredients, otherwise you could have just 5 or 6 types of gelato in each city! :)
Pistacchio only in Sicily, Nocciola IGP only in Piedmont ecc...
Anyway the basic ingredients like milk, cream and eggs are always local, because they are more easily available and cost less, that doesn't mean they are the best (maybe in another region they make a more tasty milk, who knows).
There are many very good (very, very good) gelaterias with "enormous piles" of photogenic gelato, and many with small "carapine" that make tasteless and "hyper-creamy" gelato (one is in your list), sometimes you have to prepare massive quantities of gelato because it disappears fast!
Gelato shouldn't be bright or crazy colors, I agree, but it's just a matter of choice, sometimes gelaterias use small amounts (not tons) of food coloring to make their ice cream more funny for kids, I don't fancy the electric blue gelato but it has to be said: the colors they use are 100% safe and harmless.
Locals: it hurts to say that... but it's not completely true, there are many bad gelaterias "buzzing with italians", because they are famous or make good marketing, regardless the quality of their gelato.

My advice is: use your tongue! I think there's no other way to know if a gelateria is good or not :)

P.S. One of the gelaterias in your list is absolutely NOT Artigianale, gues which one! ;)

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