Gelato is one of the best things about Italy and has become part of the Italian lifestyle of today. Credit is given to the Sicilian, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, from Palermo for being the first to sell gelato to the public. The Florentines however lay claim to having two of their native sons discovering this sweet refreshing dessert, so it will always be an unanswered question, depending on where in Italy your allegiance lies I guess.
Italians call gelato their ice cream and it really is much different from what we know as ice cream in America. The four main differences are in fat content, texture, taste and ingredients. Gelato has about half as much butterfat as ice cream, usually staying between five and eight per cent, where ice cream, according to FDA standards must contain a minimum of 10% fat and frequently has up to 15 and 18% fat content.
The texture of gelato is different in that it is much softer and melts more easily. It is partially frozen and intended to be eaten the same day, and in fact, that it why it is stored in the forced-air types of freezers seen in the gelaterie in Italy.
The taste of gelato is more intense because it has less air and usually less sugar, particularly in the sorbetti, which are not really technically gelati. Sorbetto is popular in southern Italy, especially Sicily and is made without milk, using water and fresh fruit.
Lastly the ingredients are fresh and include whole milk, sugar, fruit and flavorings. Of course other ingredients are sometimes added, especially nuts and occasionally cream and eggs.
You cannot go to Italy without having gelato and once you have had some, you will undoubtedly want more. There are countless varieties of gelato but some of my favorites are pistachio, amarena, and stracciatella. Maybe this is why, despite walking miles every day, I did not lose any weight in Italy.