In Italy, particularly in Florence, gelato is as vital a part of the culture as treasures like the Uffizi or Michelangelo’s David. Strolling through the streets, the only thing as ubiquitous as the architectural wonders are the innumerable gelaterias you’ll pass along the way. But not all gelato is made equally, even in the city of its invention. Don’t just put into any place with colorful mounds of attractive scoops – there are some unwritten rules for how to find the best gelato in town.
So how do you know a good spot to grab a cup or cone? If you follow these rules, you’ll be able to spot mediocre gelato from well across any piazza:
Avoid famous piazzas
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You’ll be hard-pressed to find a geleteria that doesn’t take shortcuts in famous squares, like Florence's Piazza dell'Duomo. Prime real estate means most authentic gelaterias are priced out of these areas, and while there are a few exceptions to this rule, you’ll pay a premium to eat there to offset the high rent.
Avoid those towering mounds
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Those perfect, attractive mounds sure look pretty, but they’re not natural. It’s impossible to create those aesthetically pleasing gelato towers without thickening agents. Florentine gelato is different from American ice cream for primarily 2 reasons: temperature and butterfat percentage. Gelato is kept & served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream and this, combined with lower fat solids, makes a softer product. Because of this, you want to stick to gelato shown in flat tubs.
It’s all in the color
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Similarly, look at the color – if it’s not the natural color of the flavor, then you can bet artificial ingredients are being used – pistachios, for example, are not neon green or seafoam green.
Look at the menu
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Menus with items like panini, pizza and pasta are a dead giveaway that this is a place you want to avoid. A true gelato artisan focuses solely on their own craft. Perhaps at most, a good gelateria will sell coffee and convenience goods like old-school Italian candy.
Location. Location. Location
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In Florence, locals know the best spots are found off the little streets, and rarely (if ever) on Ponte Vecchio or along the river. It’s fine if you want that Instagram shot of a cone in front of one of the city’s iconic bridges, but only if you’re OK with eating inferior – often cloying – gelato