Anthony Bourdain, in his latest book “Medium Raw”, writes that given the hard choice of giving up pork or taking a cholesterol drug due to ridiculous cholesterol levels, he chose the drug.  “Give up pork???” he writes.  I think many of us feel the same about ice cream.  “Give up ice cream?  Are you mental?”  Haagan Daz, Ben and Jerry’s, Baskin Robbins, Cold Stone are just a few of the madness we have about ice cream.  But in Italy, ice cream is something so familiar and yet, so entirely different.

During our trip to Italy a couple of years ago, I certainly had my fair share of gelato.  Every day, to be exactly.  All 14 glorious days of gelato.  And some days, more than once.  There is nothing, let me repeat, nothing like it here in the States.  There are these phoney ice cream places that tell you it’s gelato, but…it’s not.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the “gelato” at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, but it’s still not gelato.  What’s the difference between gelato and ice cream?  First, it’s the butterfat.  You would think gelato, being so creamy and smooth would contain higher butterfat.  Well, it doesn’t.  Gelato contains 4%-8% butterfat as compared to 14% butterfat in regular ice cream.  You would think because it’s so damn good, it would have higher sugar content.  It doesn’t either.  Gelato contains 16%-22% sugar compared to 21% of most ice creams.  Wikipedia suggests that “The sugar content in gelato is precisely balanced with the water content to act as an anti-freeze to prevent the gelato from freezing solid.” So how can gelato taste better when it has less fat and less sugar.  Does that go against all laws of taste buds?  One lasting memory is how creamy and smooth it is compared to ice cream.  After you lick your way past one scoop, you almost want another one.  Then another one.  Then another.  It’s like crack for adults and kids.

Not all gelateria’s in Italy are like the picture above.  There are thousands of gelaterias all over Italy and many claim to be the best.  I don’t know which is the best, but I know the flavors I like.  Pistachio, amaretto, hazelnut, and the ever elusive biscotti.  Let me tell you about the biscotti gelato.  Think of the best ice cream flavor ever and you will scratch the surface of the biscotti gelato.  We had it at an Ice gelateria [one of many franchises in Rome] near the Vatican and yet, we never saw it again in any other Ice locations.  It’s that ONE near the Vatican that has this damn flavor and it’s like they’re holding it hostage.  We searched high and low near the Campo Di Fiori, Trastevere, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, all to no avail.  I even looked for it when we went back to Milan and Venice, but came away empty handed.

It certainly brings me back to Italy.  If I ever taste an ice cream that comes close to gelato, I get sent right back to Italy.  Milan, Florence, Rome, and Venice.  Alton Brown, on “Good Eats”, said that while the Americans were busy inventing and building the atomic bomb in the 1930s and 40s, the Italians perfected gelato.  While that is clearly one man’s opinion, it certainly captures the essence of this dessert.  And if you’ve never gone to Italy, you know that when/if you do, all your friends and families will remind you to eat gelato.  And they would be right.  Have your fill, because when you return, no matter how much you love Haagan Daz and Ben and Jerry’s, it won’t ever be the same.  And sometimes, that’s a good thing.