Summer is here, a time for gelato, especially when it’s Italian artisanal gelato. The creamy and silky frozen treat, Made in Italy, is taking over New York City and new gelaterie are popping up all around the city, multiplying by the dozen. But when we talk about Italian artisanal gelato there is no translating it into the American ice cream, it’s gelato, period.
Although the two products look similar, they are very different, in texture, taste and ingredients.
To explain the difference between gelato and ice cream, we have asked some of the best authentic Italian gelaterie the Big Apple can offer.
“There are three key differences” says Michele Sbarigia, Retail Operations Manager at Venchi USA, “fat, volume and temperature. Gelato mainly contains fat derived from vegetables, nuts or animal fat, which in most of the milk-based gelato is just milk. The percentage of heavy cream is very low and only present in some specific flavors. On the other hand, ice cream, as the name suggests, contains a higher quantity of heavy cream. Therefore, ice cream has more fat than gelato”
“When ice cream and gelato increase volume during the cooling phase,” he adds, “we call that volume increase overrun. The more the overrun increases, and more air gets into the ice cream or gelato in production, the more the product will be softer and workable at very low temperatures”.
Michele also explains that the artisanal gelato is produced in small batches and made to be consumed in a few days, therefore it’s not suitable for a long shelf life.
“When producing gelato, the overrun is just 20-30%, therefore the air in the product is minimal. This keeps the gelato very compact and dense, the temperature at which the gelato reaches its optimal structure, and can be better enjoyed by consumers, is between the -10 and -12 degrees Celsius (around 10 degrees F), depending on the recipe. Ice-cream, being an industrial product, is intended for a long storage period at colder temperatures, -18 / -20 Celsius (-1 F), the temperature of households freezers. To achieve this result, a high amount of air is incorporated (up to 100%) doubling its initial volume”
After opening its first flagship store in 2018 on Broadway, a few steps away from Union Square, Venchi now has four locations in Manhattan and one in New Jersey. Recently the Italian chocolatier and gelato maker has introduced a new gourmet item, “Triple Pistachio Cone”, made of Bronte Pistachio Gelato, Ground Bronte Pistachios, Bronte Pistachio Spread. In honor of national Ice Cream day on July 17th, on Tuesday July 12th everybody is invited to Venchi’s flagship boutique at 861 Broadway to sample this month’s flavors.
According to Monia Solighetto, owner of L’Albero dei Gelati, in Brooklyn, the only thing that gelato and ice cream have in common is the category that defines them as ‘frozen desserts’. Monia also points out that apart from this it’s like two different worlds.
L’Albero dei Gelati, (The Gelato Tree) was first born in 1985 in Lombardy, Italy, where Monia’s parents began making gelato by hand, using only fresh ingredients of the highest quality: seasonal fruit, organic milk, and cream, cocoa and sugar.
With that vision, in 2013 Monia, her husband Alessandro, and their friend, Mauro, a pastry chef, opened a location in Brooklyn.
“Our gelato” says Monia, “is ‘farm fresh’ because we source from small producers close to us that share our values and commitment to the environment, also has no artificial colors or flavors and no preservative. Each season has its fruit, each season has its vegetable, each season, these fruits and vegetables are turned into gelato! Each week at L’Albero our master gelato maker, in accordance with what nature is giving us that week, creates new flavors. Some will be sweet, some savory. L’Albero is not your traditional gelateria. If eggplant is in season, expect a savory eggplant gelato; if lavender is in season, the master is likely to make a special lavender gelato. Last but not least, we believe the most beautiful colors are those that come from nature. The rainbow red of a strawberry, the yellow of a lemon, the white of milk. Nature gives us all what we need.” She continues, “We do not use thickeners in our gelato, eggs are natural thickeners and many plants produce other natural thickeners. We also do not use hydrogenated vegetable fats, mono and diglycerides of fatty acids, carboxymethyl cellulose or other synthetic products harmful to health”.
The popularity of Italian artisanal gelato and gelaterie has also increased the number of copycat, phony places, and Francesco Cataldo, co-founder of Gelateria Gentile with four locations in New York City, three in Manhattan and one in Williamsburg, has a warning for all consumers: be wary of some of the so called ‘new Italian gelaterie’ “They use Italian names but don’t offer an Italian product”, he says.
He also explains that Gelateria Gentile has a tradition that dates back to 1880 in Bari, Italy, and that their gelato is made with simple and natural ingredients such as fresh milk and cream to which they add fresh fruit or other fresh ingredients according to the different flavors.
“Our ingredients” he adds, “are low in fat and sugar so our gelato is very creamy, highly digestible and very delicate”. Francesco explains that Gentile has a variety of fifty rotating flavors, with about 20 each day. “Some of our signature flavors are stracciatella, crema antica, nocciola beneventana, pistacchio di Bronte, Mandorla di Toritto [Slow Food Presidia], from the Bari province, cioccolato fondente which is also vegan and dairy, sorbetto al Chinotto di Savona [Presidia Slow Food]”.
Even though the average price of a gelato cone or a cup is 8 dollars, the growth of gelato consumption and the emergence of new gelaterie suggest that consumers are not complaining and are appreciating one of Italy’s most popular food products. Francesco adds that, “New Yorkers are travelers and above all they love Italy, many of them have tasted gelato in our country and they have become familiar with the product. So it’s no surprise that they’re happy to find the same quality and taste in New York”.