As a child growing up in Italy the arrival of summer meant gelato.
If we behaved our parents would treat us, after dinner, to a gelato in the piazza. We would sit under the shadow of the bell tower and slowly savor the soft creamy coolness of Nocciola and Cioccolato scoops topped with the fluffiest and lightest handmade whipped cream I can remember. We loved summers for all the gelato we got to eat.
It wasn't until I came to this country that I realized I could have it every day of the year no matter what the season was. Supermarkets were stocked with banks of my favorite dessert. Alas, it was not the gelato I remembered but its American cousin. Fortunately in the last several years the Italian high-class alternative to ice cream is beginning to take off in the U.S.
Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, derived from the Latin word "gel?tus." (meaning frozen). Gelato is defined in English as a soft ice cream containing little or no air.
The history of gelato dates back to frozen desserts in Sicily, ancient Rome and Egypt made from snow and ice brought down from mountain tops and preserved below ground. Later, frozen desserts appeared during banquets at the Medici court in Renaissance Florence. In 1686 the Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli perfected the first ice cream machine. The popularity of gelato among larger shares of the population, however, only increased in the 1920s–1930s in the northern Italian city of Varese, where the first gelato cart was developed. Italy is the only country where the market share of handmade gelato versus industrial is over 55 percent.
What is Gelato and how does it differ from Ice Cream?
Gelato is churned at a slower speed and uses more milk than cream.
It should be dense and rich and have an elastic texture.
Air content of ice cream (referred to as “overrun”) is usually much higher than that of good artisan gelato, which is around 20 percent. Less air equals more intense flavor.
Generally fat content of ice cream is much higher than artisan gelato. This is usually due to the much higher cream content.
By statute, gelato in Italy must have at least 3.5 percent butterfat, with no upper limit established.
Premium ice cream contains butterfat far exceeding the minimums set forth in Italy. Gelato includes dairy flavors, with around 7-8 percent fat content, as well as non-dairy flavors (generally referred to as “sorbets”), with zero fat content. Texture of good artisan gelato will always be much softer and smoother than traditional ice cream. The serving temperature of gelato is generally around -15°C or +5°F whereas the serving temperature of traditional ice cream is generally around -20°C or -4°F.
Currently, over 5,000 Italian gelaterie, or gelato shops, all over the world occupy more than 15,000 gelatai, or gelato makers. I have been searching for the Gelato Holy Grail for years. It has been a fun ride albeit elusive. Nobody has really mastered the art as of yet. Many have come close but the real thing is still a chimera. So I am settling for the next best thing. I am glad to say that after going all over South Florida I found my favorite gelato/ice cream hybrid smacked in the middle of my own neighborhood.
Alice's Ice Cream Emporium located at 3000 E. Commercial Blvd in Fort Lauderdale is a whimsical Parlor and Café, decorated with flair and a sense of fun, gay friendly, with lively mix and match colors and funky furniture where ice cream/gelato is made fresh daily, on site, by Wendy and Mike Spector.
My partner and I go to Alice's in the evening, after dinner, to stroke our taste buds.
Each time it is a different experience since the flavors change daily.
It is a cornucopia extravaganza of original creations. An incestuous mix of ice cream and gelato. The "Pineapple Chili Lime" explodes in your mouth first with sweetness followed by the tangy lime and finally the kick of the chili. A masterpiece. The "Strawberry Basil" might sound odd but when it hits the palate the sweetness of the strawberry is followed by the coolness of the basil and if you close your eyes the texture will carry you to St Mark's Square in Venice.
If you like toffee try the English Toffee Caramel and pretend to be a kid all over again. Be extravagant and try the Chocolate Cabernet, or the Berry Merlot, if you prefer white wines then the Strawberry Chardonnay is the one for you. I love the Peach Bellini, followed by the Chocolate Raspberry Chili. There is also a wide selection of Sorbets. For a perfect modern summer flavor binge on the Mango or try the Avocado Sorbet. Be adventurous.
And of course there are all the more traditional flavors for those who are scared of trying new things. Go for them. They are delightful. Trust me.
I will continue my quest for the real gelato vs. ice cream but for the time being I am happy to just enjoy the two indiscriminately wherever I can find them. I will keep you posted. Ciao for now.