A scoop-sized guide to the best gelato in Florence
I think we can all agree on something: to have a gelato goes far beyond a culinary delight. It also means to preserve and nourish interaction, conviviality, cultural and social exchange as well as bringing joy, comfort to the soul and freshness to the palate. I vividly remember when my Dad used to take me to the shopping mall’s ice cream parlor during wintertime just because, according to him, a good gelato is meant to be tasted regardless of the weather.
Happily, decades after that I was taught to nurture this blissful eating habit, I see myself living at the source: based on references, the first ones to produce the creamy, frozen gelato were the florentines in the 16th century. More precisely in the realms of Cosimo I de’ Medici’s court. However, thanks to Caterina de’ Medici – at that time also Queen of France - gelato was spread all over Europe. What a wise, connoisseur she must have been!
History class aside, I feel compelled to clarify something intrinsic to anyone who wishes to capture what a good gelato means. First things first: gelato may be considered the Italian word for ice cream, but they are completely different entities. Even the less accurate palate can perceive specific nuances right away after having a scoop of both. But what are they exactly?
Primarily, what sets them apart is the proportion of two main ingredients: as the name ice cream implies, cream is predominant here whereas a gelato is prepared with more milk which, in turn, makes it way lower in fat (a healthier choice, you may think!).
Moreover, the way in which they are churned influences their consistency, that is, a much slower speed for gelato, imparting more richness, density and smoothness as opposed to the airy aspect of an ice cream. Also, gelato doesn’t usually contain egg yolks unlike ice cream and it is served slightly warmer, say, not completely frozen which results in a silkier texture. What a beautiful scene to picture, isn’t it?
Last but not least, have you ever noticed how more flavorsome a gelato is? That’s because fat and temperature affect the taste buds. Hmm... who else is in the mood for a gelato?! Now, let me cut to the chase and spare you, dear reader, from more fascinating – or boring - chemistry and share my list of favorite spots for chilled goods in Florence!
Before that, may I just point out one detail: according to my better-half, one of the keys to longevity is to never stop delighting yourself with a scoop of gelato. Well, judging by the very good shape of elderly Italians who queue basically every day at our fave gelateria – even in the depths of winter -, this really must be a thing to age well. For the avoidance of doubt, stick to my guide for a fresh, sweet and longer life!
Apart from the fact that its owners are delightful people to be around – the patriarch Mr. Silvano along with his lovely daughter, Cristina, and husband, Aldo, who are also an experienced couple of restaurateurs –, this is my go-to spot come rain or shine. Their artisanal gelato is spectacular! For a pistachio lover like me, it’s difficult to try something different. Yet, when I’m feeling adventurous, the flawless combination of fig and ricotta is such a blast! For chocolate fans, however, don’t miss mamma’s cookies, cremino or bacio. Oh, during festive seasons, like Easter, there’s the divine flavor Colomba Pascal or the Panettone for Xmas time... If only the world could come to this humble, neighborhood gelateria, the famous medieval city of San Gimignano might then lose its credit as the world’s capital of gelato!!
In precisely 10 years this prestigious gelateria will turn 100! During the decades it has evolved into a sophisticated patisserie becoming a reference point when it comes to pastries, coffee and gelato. Since the 1990’s it belongs to a different family from the original founders; however tradition and prestige remain the same. Although it’s an off the beaten track spot in the residential neighborhood of Le Cure (close by the Campo di Marte train station), it attracts foreigners who care about high-quality and fame. The best-seller, Buontalenti – a simple recipe made with cream, milk, sugar and eggs - is an homage to the former florentine architect, Bernardo Buontalenti, who was responsible for presenting to the court of Cosimo I de’ Medici an exquisite frozen delicacy during one of their many sumptuous feasts. Well, the rest is history!
P.S. If you’ve never been to this gelateria, all I can say is don’t waste any more time!
GELATERIA DEI NERI
My third choice is an always packed gelateria located in the heart of the city center on the same street that gave its name. But what I like about this place the most is not their delicious, good quality produce but the touching past of its founder: a former bus-driver who in the late 1980’s was just tired of driving miles away, non-stop, and decided to take risks and venture himself into something new. Bravo! As the years went by, the precious word of mouth from tourists – especially Americans – has given this place a notorious dose of free publicity and, voilà, it’s become a well-known must-visit spot for gelato in Florence. The array of flavors – a bit more extensive than most traditional places in town - cater to classic as well as more exotic palates.
GELATERIA LA CARRAIA
This has the awe factor of being right in front of the bridge that inspired its name, Ponte alla Carraia, one of the oldest in the city. Just like many good quality gelaterias in Italy, this is also a family-owned operation and practically all members work or have worked in the place. The whole line-up of flavors is all round so go for the one that appeals to you the most; you can’t go wrong there. But if I may suggest something to you: stop by for a scoop in the late afternoon while watching the gorgeous sunset kiss the horizon across the river.