Eating gelato seems to be a national pastime in Italy. Three girls enjoy gelato in San Gimignano. Stroll through the streets and cobbled alleys of any city in Italy, and you will find gelateria displaying vibrant colors and tasty flavors of gelato in freezer cases in the front windows. The displays look like entries in a showcase competition. You can almost hear the shopkeepers’ unspoken challenges to each other:
“My mountain of gelato is so much prettier than your mountain of gelato!” But there are rules for eating gelato, as Michael Tucker says in Living in a Foreign Language: A Memoir of Food, Wine, and Love in Italy: “Italians follow a very strict code when it comes to eating, and one hard and fast rule is gelato at four o’clock.” Carol, my sister-in-law, and I managed to get gelato in Rome just about every day. We didn’t quite follow the four o’clock rule, but no matter. Gelato is good any time of the day. My favorites: frutta di bosco (mixed berry-“fruits of the forest”), fragola (strawberry), and limone (lemon). Carol liked coco (coconut) and cioccolato (chocolate). Of course, we tried many other flavors: caffe (coffee), melone (melon), mango, creme caramel, straciatella (vanilla with chocolate flakes), and pistachio. You can have your gelato in a cono (cone), a coppa (cup), gusto (double-dip), or any other outrageous way. Photo by Laura Griffin as seen on her blog post, “Roman Holiday.” You can even have gelato on a brioche (sweet bun). Read about that gourmet treat here. But purists will never get gelato in a cone or on a bun. Heavens, no. That would contaminate this icy confection’s pure flavor and texture! A cup with a teeny plastic spoon is the only acceptable way to eat gelato.
Gelato is made a little differently than our American ice cream. It is made with whole milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring, but it has a lower butterfat content than our ice cream. It has a creamy, smooth texture, and it is not frozen hard, so you can eat it faster without getting an ice cream headache!
If you go to Italy, just remember the rule: Gelato at 4 p.m. (and any other time you want it). I promise, you will love it.