How does one explain, in a few short paragraphs, something that’s such a critical part of Italian life, like gelato? If you’ve spent any time in Italy, especially in the summer, it’s hard to look anywhere and not see an Italian balancing a cono di gelato, often while balancing the omnipresent cell phone at the same time.
But everyone, from suave businessmen in Armani suits to grandmothers chatting on a stroll with friends—they all eat gelato. And like the tiny shots of espresso taken from morning ’til night, it’s a part of Italian life and consumed everywhere, all-day long. Granita di espresso on a roll for breakfast anyone?
‘Gelato‘ means ‘frozen‘ in Italian, so it embraces the various kinds of ice cream made in Italy, and that’s the best definition one can offer.
More than most countries, food in Italy is fiercely regional: in the north, near Torino (Piedmonte), the food is very earthy with white truffles and hazelnuts appearing in various dishes. At the other end of the boot is Sicily, where the climate is far warmer so the flavors lean towards citrus and seafood. And in between are lots of villages and regions, including the Emilia-Romagna, Umbria, Campania, Tuscany, and Puglia, among others.
The gelato made in the north of Italy, where it’s cooler up near the mountains, the gelato is richer, often made with egg yolks, chocolate, and most famously, with gianduja, the silky-smooth hazelnut and milk chocolate paste. In the south, ice creams tend to be lighter, and flavored with lemons and oranges. In Sicily, granite are prevalent; slushy shaved ices that are almost served like a drink, with a spoon and a straw to slurp them up, as well as fruit-flavored sorbetti.
But getting back to gelato…as mentioned, gelato means Italian ice cream. But what makes it different?