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How to spot good Italian Ice Cream

The gelato (ice-cream) season starts in Italy by the end of May and finishes by the end of September. Unlike the British, Italians don’t eat ice-cream in winter. Ice-cream shops are usually open only during the summer but supermarkets will always provide the packaged ice-cream.

In Italy during the summer, there are ice-cream shops at every corner, but how do you spot good Italian Gelato?

There are some tricks anyone can use to spot real gelato.

Starting from its container, good gelato should be kept in flat metal tins, which may have lids on them, to keep it at the right temperature. The height of an ice cream in the container is also relevant. Ice-cream shouldn’t be piled up too high because real gelato would melt and if it doesn't, it means it is rich in vegetable fats and emulsifiers. How it is served can also give a hint: flat, metal spades are better tools than curved ice cream scoops, because good gelato is supposed to have a dense texture.

As far as ingredients are concerned, the list of them should be visible in the shop. Natural ingredients are to be preferred. The base should be made up of milk, “panna” sugar and eggs. The list of ingredients shouldn’t be long unless is a very complex taste. Study the list, and if you see ingredients like vegetable oil (olio vegetale) or artificial colours and flavours (usually shown as a number and letter code) choose another shop. The same applies if the ingredients list itself is hard to track down: most ice-cream shops are proud to show you what goes into their creations. Additives and thickeners can be carob, guar and Tara flour, they should be all vegetal ingredients in order not to modifying the taste of the ice-cream or the caloric intake. Natural ingredients mean also no (or very little) added colouring. A quality gelato will never have very vibrant colours, but natural ones. For example, pistacchio should never be green, but brownish. Gelato should never look shiny, in that case there are too many sugars, or it's oxidized, which means it's old.

Fruit flavours which are out of season show that the ingredients aren't fresh. Seasonal fruit flavours are a good sign, and if possible, taste “fior di panna/latte”, the basic plain flavour of pure milk or cream, to tell if artificial flavours have been added or if it tastes natural enough. It’s not a good sign to find vanilla flavoured gelato.

If you perceive crystals it is a badly made or badly stored ice-cream.

Gelato should give you an emotion, like all food. If that is not the case, something has gone wrong.

Giulia Lombardo

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