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All About Gelato

Pauline Kenny

Gelato is Italian "ice cream", but is different from American-style ice cream. Gelato is made from whole milk, eggs, sugar, and flavoring. Some of the fruit flavors are dairy-free; just fruit and sugar. (None of them are sugar-free, so keep in mind you are getting lots of sugar in gelato.)

Gelato is very popular in Italy with Italians and tourists. There are stores that specialize in gelato (gelaterie). Many caffes sell gelato. Some places make their own gelato, others get it from small Italian gelato factories. Not all homemade gelato is the same; some places use commercial mixes, some places use fresh ingredients.

Look for these signs to designate quality gelato:

  • Produzione Propria (homemade - our own production)
  • Nostra Produzione (our production)
  • Produzione Artigianale (production by craftsmen)

The Gelateria Menu

Gelateria menu in Lerici, June 2000

Here is a menu from a gelateria in Lerici (Liguria). The photo was taken in June 2000 before the conversion to the euro, so prices are listed in both lire and euro.

Gelato Vocabulary

cono - cone (plural: coni, pronounced: KOH-noh, KOH-nee)
coppa - cup (pronounced: KOHP-pah)
gusto - scoop, flavor (plural: gusti, pronounced: GOO-stoh, GOO-stee)
panna - whipped cream (pronounced: PAHN-nah)

This price list is for cones. You can also order your gelato in a paper cup. From this menu you can see that a cone with two scoops (two flavors) costs just over 1 euro.

You can ask for whipped cream (panna) to be added for an extra charge (0.52 euro).

Granite (pronounced: grah-NEE-teh, a flavored iced drink) and Frappe (pronounced: frahp-PEH, a more milky kind of milkshake) are also on the menu.


Many flavors are available. All will be on display in the gelato stand and will be labeled. Some flavors are more creamy: hazelnut, chocolate, coffee, etc. Some are more fruity: lemon, strawberry, melon, etc.

nocciola (pronounced: noht-CHOH-lah) - hazelnut
cioccolato (chohk-koh-LAH-toh) - chocolate
caffe (kahf-FEH) - coffee
limone (lee-MOH-neh) - lemon
fragola (FRAH-goh-lah) - strawberry
melone (meh-LOH-neh) - melon (cantaloupe)

There is a good list of flavors in Faith Willinger's book "Eating in Italy".

How to Order

Prices are for the number of scoops (gusti). You can order in a cone (cono) or paper cup (coppa). The gelato is displayed with all the flavors labeled. Wait in line, or in the crowds in front of the ice cream case, until the server asks you what you would like. Tell them if you want a cup or a cone and how many scoops. Then tell them the flavors you want.

Don't order too many scoops on a hot day; the gelato melts quickly and will become a sticky mess. You can select a flavor for each scoop you order. In many places you can have fresh whipped cream on top (panna). There is an extra charge for this.

Usually you pay at a cashier after you have been given your gelato. Many gelaterie have no tables. The custom is to eat your gelato while strolling along the streets.

Two cones, each with two flavors and topped with whipped cream,
from a gelateria in Pienza, Tuscany

Photos: Gelato and Gelateria

Brivido Gelateria in Siena, San Crispino in Rome, and other shots of gelato and gelateria.

>> Photos of Gelato and Gelateria

>> Palma's Italian Gelato Photos

Recommended Books

Rome, Little Black Book

Erica Firpo and Christel Brenting, Rome Little Black Book, Tram Eight Press, 2005

Food guidebook for Rome with over 100 restaurants, nightspots, pubs and caffes.

Order from Amazon

Click to buy from Amazon

Joe Wolff, Cafe Life Florence: A Guidebook to The Cafes & Bars Of The Renaissance Treasure, photos by Roger Paperno, Interlink Books, 2005

Good book with photos and detailed descriptions of the best caffes in Florence, by neighborhood.

Order from Amazon

Click to buy from Rome

Joe Wolff, Cafe Life in Rome: A Guidebook to the Cafes and Bars of the Eternal City, photos by Roger Paperno, Interlink Books, 2002

Good book with photos and detailed descriptions of the best caffes in Rome, by neighborhood.

Order from Amazon

Click to buy from Amazon

Michael McGarry, Gelato: Finding Italy's Best Gelaterias, Fancy Pants Press, 2004

Excellent book listing, by city, the best places for gelato in Italy. Maps for each city show the locations of all the gelateria reviewed.

Order from Amazon

Click to buy from Amazon

Faith Heller Willinger, Eating in Italy: A traveler's guide to the hidden gastronomic pleasures of Northern Italy, Hearst Books, 1989

Even though it is over 10 years old, this book is still in print and is worth using. Many of the listings have not changed.

Order from Amazon


Slow Travel Italy - Restaurant Reviews: Recommendations for gelato places are included by region.

Slow Travel Italy - Grinisa's Gelato List: Recommendations for Rome, Florence, Venice, and the Island of Lipari.

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