When we arrived in Italy, everyone wanted gelato. Within a couple of days, or for some, hours, we had tried both the gelaterias in Panzano. Then, when we went to Florence on our first Tuesday, Professor Borghini wanted to make sure we tasted two specific gelaterias so we walked all around the city together. At the time, we questioned why he was dragging us to these gelaterias when there was one every couple of feet. Soon after trying these memorable gelatos, we knew his reasoning. We were introduced to quality gelato. Gelato in its simplest form is sugar, milk, cream, air and sometimes eggs. It is hard to believe that any gelateria can steer far enough away from these ingredients to produce a poor quality, or high quality, gelato. However, we soon began to learn the difference and finding gelato to eat on our second trip to Florence was much more difficult. We must have gone into ten different gelaterias before we finally found one that was close to par. Unfortunately, not every tourists can have a Philosophy of Food professor to show them which gelatos to eat and which to not. I question how tourists are able to have the true gelato experience. I want to share the experiences and insights that I have gained here in Tuscany, especially with gelato, to all other tourists who travel to Italy. They too, should taste a quality gelato.
A Tourist’s Experience
As Americans, we are used to ice cream and its rich and creamy taste. Most of us can easily tell apart a good ice cream from a bad one. Eating gelato is a completely new experience and therefore required us to adjust our food pallets. After a few tastings, especially the one at Gelateria De’ Coltelli, we became well-versed consumers of gelato. Most tourists, however, do not have the same opportunities to gain this insight and are therefore are at a loss. It is easy for a tourist to try a gelato from a gelateria that prefers quantity to quality. These gelaterias are everywhere. I remember walking by one particular shop with a guy standing out front yelling deals at us tourists. This shop was so desperate to have tourists eat their gelato that they were willing to offer a lesser price if we bought two gelatos. I worry that some tourists fall victim to these tactics and leave Italy without ever having the true gelato experience.
Our Trip to Gelateria De’ Coltelli
In my opinion, the true gelato experience was at De’ Coltelli’s. While I am aware that every tourist cannot personally try this gelato, I know that there are many places that would provide a similar experience. I found Grom, for instance, comparable to De’ Coltelli’s. Gelateria De’ Coltelli, located in Pisa and Lucca, is one of the best for several reasons; most involving it’s ingredients. The ingredients are both simple and natural. First, they use only fresh, seasonal fruit. While most gelaterias will always have strawberry flavored gelato, De’ Coltelli only has it when the strawberries are in season. Since strawberries are currently in season, we were able to try both strawberry and strawberry with sage. Next, in order to achieve the best flavors De’ Coltelli selects the best raw materials. The owner of De’ Coltelli, Gianfrancesco Cutelli, uses raw pistachios rather than roasted ones, a change that causes quite the difference in taste. Also, all of their ingredients are organic. This includes fresh whole milk and fresh eggs. Unlike most typically touristy gelaterias, De’ Coltelli uses no dyes, chemical stabilizers or synthetic flavorings.
Our experience at De’ Coltelli’s was remarkable. When we first arrived at the Pisa location, the line was out the door and around the corner. After some plan adjustments we came back later and we were able to pile into the gelateria and learn everything there was to learn and try everything there was to try. It must have been a sight to see because nineteen spoons were digging into communal cups of endless flavors. One of the first flavors we tried was strawberry and sage. Most would not expect this flavor to be so good, but this flavor and all the flavors that followed were delicious. We tried many other flavors including pistachio, kiwi, almond, hazelnut, and the overall favorite, vanilla. Along with trying these flavors, we also had the opportunity to see a lot of the raw ingredients. We saw the pistachios and also the pine nuts, licorice and hazelnuts. As I said before, this experience shaped the way we all ate gelato for the rest of the trip.
Tips to Consider
At Gelateria De’ Coltelli and through my experience, I learned the following tips to look for when trying to find a decent gelateria to try in Italy.
- Food coloring. Gelato that is made from real fruit should be the color of the fruit when crushed and not a bright artificial color. For example, crushed banana is a shade of gray and therefore banana gelato should be that color. If it is yellow then it contains artificial flavoring. In a similar sense berry-flavored gelato should not be light, instead it should look almost black. Quality pistachio flavored gelato can also be determined this way. It should resemble the color of crush nuts, not a rich green color.
- Container. In order for gelaterias to have the tall mounds of gelato seen in most gelaterias, they would need to 1) freeze it solid or 2) add chemicals to make it solid. Since gelato is supposed to be soft and fluid, it is best to store gelato in containers where it does not go above the rim. Be mindful, however, some gelaterias that serve gelato in flat tins get their gelato shipped in instead of making it fresh. You are most likely guaranteed quality when the gelato is kept in tins, like De’ Coltelli’s. The tins, to me, mean that a gelateria is so confident in their quality of gelato that there is no need to display and show it off.
- Flavors offered. In most gelaterias, one will find the same flavors all year round. A high quality gelateria will sell certain flavors only if they are in season. You might find watermelon in the summer, fig in the fall, citrus in the winter and berries in the spring.
- Particular flavors. Look for fior di latte and/ or fior di panna. Both of these gelatos are the most basic form of gelato because they are made only from pure milk and pure cream. If a gelateria did not use pure ingredients they would not offer these flavors. It would be easiest to taste artificial flavoring in these two particular flavors. Also look for Hazelnut. Hazelnut would be the most expensive gelato to produce so very few places would make a pure hazelnut flavor. Most do not make it at all or they will add chocolate chips and/or cover it in chocolate syrup.
For more information and recommendations of gelaterias, visit De’ Coltelli’s website. http://www.decoltelli.it/index.php