In addition to being the birthplace of Dante, Leonardo, and Michelangelo, Florence is also home to one very special treat: GELATO! Gelato, meaning “frozen” in Italian is one of my absolute favorite Florentine foods. Although it is often referred to as “Italian ice cream,” I think it would be better to call it “ice cream’s cool Italian cousin” as it is generally lower in fat and sugars than its counterpart. More specifically, ice cream must contain at least 10% milkfat, while gelato must only contain 3.5%. In addition to boasting a *generally* lower fat content, gelato also is served at a higher temperature, meaning that there will be less brain freezes coming your way. If you’re interested in a much more detailed analysis of the differences between gelato and ice cream, I recommend checking out this 2012 blog post from Serious Eats.
Historically, gelato is thought to have been created by a 16th century court architect and “master-of-spectacle” named Bernardo Buontalenti. According to various accounts, the duke of Florence wanted to whip up a delicious delicacy for visiting Spanish dignitaries and entrusted Buontalenti with the task. Using a combination of ice, milk, sugar, honey, egg, and a bit of wine, Buontalenti created the creamy, frozen forerunner to our modern-day gelato. In honor of his invention, many gelaterie around Florence offer a “Buontalenti” flavor, made with eggs and heavy cream.
Now that we know a bit more about what makes gelato gelato, let’s discuss the good vs. bad gelato in Florence. While it’s difficult to say that any gelato is really bad, you should definitely stay away from any gelateria where there are mounds of the stuff piled high behind a freezer window–particularly within heavily touristed areas. Instead, look for places where the gelato is served in deep metal canisters or containers and buzz words such as “artiginale,” which lets you know that the gelato was crafted using traditional methods. These are good indicators that the gelato was made in-house and is fresh.
Most gelaterie will offer a large selection of different flavors from your classic chocolate and caffe to the more exotic such as champagne or rose. And if you find that you can’t make the decision between the salted caramel or stracciatella (a chocolate chip flavor), don’t worry, Italian tradition actually lets you have two! You’ll never again have to make the tough decisions at the gelato counter, but might find yourself daydreaming about the endless flavor combinations you can try.
Below I have listed some of my favorite gelaterie around Florence:
- Perché No? Via dei Tavolini 19: Just steps away from Piazza della Signoria, this gelateria offers an amazing selection of organic gelati in both milk and fruit-based flavors. In the summertime, I especially love stopping in for a granita, the Italian equivalent of a slushie.
- Vivoli. Via dell’Isola delle Stinche 7r: This gelateria in the Santa Croce neighborhood is one of the most beloved in the city. Serving gelato in the traditional coppetta (no cones here), Vivoli offers a rich selection of flavors including riso (rice), my personal favorite.
- Gelateria Santa Trinita. Piazza Frescobaldi, 11-12/r: If you find yourself on the Oltrarno, this is a great place to stop. Located just off of the Ponte Santa Trinita, this gelateria offers lots of yummy flavors such as black sesame seed and yogurt with strawberries and honey.
- Grom. Via delle Oche, 24r: Although Grom has now become an international franchise, this Torino-based gelateria still produces a quality product. You can enjoy a great selection of flavors including salted caramel and pear. And best of all, it’s just a stone’s throw away from the Duomo meaning that you can enjoy a tasty treat while gazing up at Brunelleschi’s incredible cupola.