Gelato is one of the great mysteries of life. Why is it so thick, rich and creamy? Why does some taste so much better than others? Why does a little cup of gelato not make you feel like you’ve overdone it? Why can’t I have it everyday? Well, of course, I can have it everyday, but I might regret the consequences. A few times a week is good and very satisfying. The way I look at it, we’re moving into cooler temperatures and I probably won’t want to have it when it’s cold, so I better get all I can now. What am I saying? Of course I’ll want to have it when it’s cold!
Gelato and I have been friends since my first trip to Italy 18 years ago. I vowed to have it everyday I was here, and I believe on that first trip I did. Now that I’m here for a while, I don’t have to have it everyday, but feel like I should get to know the best so that when friends visit I’ll know where to take them. I’m doing all this for you, Myra!
Anghiari has at about six places where you can get gelato. All of them are within walking distance of each other. Some are right next to each other. None of them sell only gelato, but other things as well. Most of them are cafes or bars that sell espresso, little snacks and drinks (soft and hard). Some are full-blown restaurants that also have a little gelato area. They’re all good, but my favorite is the Bar Teatro. This is a bar underneath the Anghiari Theater. They have all kinds of events there and we hope to attend some before we depart this place. It’s a beautiful building and is fairly new by Italian standards (late 1700’s).
You can see the bar just under the middle of the building with the umbrellas. It’s a very chic bar with lots of beautiful young Italians hanging out there. And us. They look at us kind of strange and we laugh and continue eating our gelato. I don’t know if it’s because we’re old enough not to care or we’re American and know we’ll never pass for Italian, but it’s never bothered us that we’re way uncool here. It’s actually kind of liberating in a way, not to care what people think of you. My husband is excellent at that and I’ve always admired that about him.
But the gelato. I’ve heard many Italians poo-poo some gelato because it’s made with a “base”. I don’t know what that means. All I know is that gelato is very different from ice cream. Don’t get me wrong – I love ice cream. It’s wonderful and delicious. But gelato is really something else altogether. Gelato is made with whole milk, no cream, and few, if any, egg yolks. So it’s healthier than ice cream! Lower in calories, to be sure, but I’m not sure either are exactly healthy. Except for the mental and emotional enjoyment you get from eating them.
Gelato is also very dense, whereas ice cream is very light and fluffy. From what I understand, the primary differences are the milk vs. cream issue, the egg yolk issue, and the fact that ice cream is churned fast to whip in air and gelato is churned slow to keep the air out. I’m sure there are many other nuances and subtleties, but these are big ones. Anyway, I can tell you that gelato has an almost elastic quality, without being gummy. When you put your spoon into it to eat it, it pulls apart slowly, with just a little resistance. Ice cream doesn’t do this. There’s no elasticity in ice cream. It all goes in your spoon. There’s also something to do with temperature. Ice cream has to be kept very cold, but gelato can be a little warmer because of the composition – it could easily become a brick if kept too cold.
Flavors? There are hundreds. Fruit, savory, sweet, nut, exotic – you name it, they have a flavor for it. Today we went very late in the day, about 2:30. Long after the mid-day crowd had been through. Some of the flavors were gone. Some were only remnants of what they started the day as, some had been been replenished. My favorites (those who know me well will be able to say this without reading it) are those dealing with chocolate, mainly, pure chocolate, cioccolato in Italiano, and chocolate chip, stracciatella in Italiano. I love them all, but it’s chocolate that soothes my soul and makes me happy.
I also love how they serve it from individual metal containers instead of big cardboard drums like ice cream. It makes you think someone is in the back churning it up and when they finish a batch, they put it into the container. It probably comes right out of a machine from the back, but that’s not what you think. And we all know the role perception plays in forming our opinions.
Gelato is a smooth, creamy, cold cup of delight. And as long as I’m here, I’m going to be delighted.