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What is a European holiday without gelato? It’s the perfect treat after a morning of exploring, the ideal palate cleanser after a Mediterranean meal and a refreshing alternative to ice cream. But what exactly is gelato, and where did it come from? In this post, we’re exploring the history of this delicious frozen treat – and letting you in on where you find the most delicious varieties.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact origins of gelato, but many believe that its conception goes back 12,000 years. It's said that in the historical region of Mesopotamia, slave runners hiked 100km to collect snow and ice with which to create cooling drinks at royal banquets. This concoction may have been the inspiration for shrb, a kind of sugar syrup, and which eventually lead to the creation of sorbet in Sicily when it was under Arabian rule.
Gelato, as we know it today, may have started in the royal courts of Florence. Credit for creating the world’s first ever gelato goes to alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri, and he called it fior di latte. Apparently, he made his gelato for a cooking competition at the famed Medici court. Others believe gelato may have been created by an architect named Bernardo Buontalenti. A flavour named after the architect, called crema Bountalenti, has been popular since 1565.
The first café dedicated to gelato was opened in Paris in 1686 by Francesco Procopio Cutò, bringing gelato to the awareness of the wider public. Before this, it had been the preserve of the rich, due to the high prices of sugar and salt.
Both hit the spot in warm weather, but how exactly does gelato differ from ice cream? Gelato uses more milk rather than cream and is also stored at warmer temperatures, creating a softer scoop. As natural sugar is used and less air added, gelato is smoother than ice cream and more densely flavoured. Gelato is also generally healthier, as the ingredients used are fresh and natural. Healthy dessert? Count us in.
The growing popularity of gelato has meant that Europe is teeming with places to try a new flavour. For the most authentic gelato, look out for signs reading "artigianale", which often means artisan flavours made in the shop itself. They tend to be made with fresh and natural ingredients, while the colours may not be as eye-popping, the taste will be better.
Here are our recommendations of where to get the best gelato in Europe...
Begin in the home of gelato, Florence. Vivoli opened back in 1930, and the business has since been passed down four generations. Many believe it to be the oldest gelateria in the city – and it’s definitely the most famous. Emphasis is on traditional techniques and classic flavours like cassata, which features dried nuts and fruits.
If you need another gelato fix, make your next stop Gelateria La Carraia, whose gelato is some of the softest and creamiest you’ll ever taste. Try the Delizia Carraia, which features sweet nuggets of white chocolate and a nutty pistachio glaze. Prices are reasonable, and the portions are heaped – perfect for scorching afternoons in the city.
In the Eternal City, you're spoilt for choice when it comes to food, especially gelato. To try it at its best, head to Neve di Latte. Simple flavours are executed to perfection, and there's also a working kitchen on site so you can watch the gelato being made. Head gelato maker Simone Romano may even fill you in on how they make their super-smooth and satisfying treats.
For a taste of this Italian speciality in France’s capital, try Pozetto. You’ll even be able to find the original gelato flavour, fior di latte, here – which combines milk cream and sugar to dazzling (and mouth-watering) effect. There are plenty of zesty and fruity flavours to try, too, perfect for when you need a pick me up after a day of shopping. Tuck into pear, orange or berry, all made with fresh fruits.
If your taste-buds are already tingling, you can taste some of Europe’s finest gelato for yourself by checking out some of our European cruises.
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