Gelato, or Italian ice cream, is a treat that is ingrained in Italian culture and that Americans adopted for our own ice cream parlors in the past couple of decades. The Italian frozen dessert does differ a bit from American ice cream; for example, gelato contains 3-8% milkfat and 25-30% air, while American ice cream has around 50% air thanks to its extensive churning process. The basic fat/cream/air composition of American-made gelato remains relatively the same as authentic Italian-made gelato, but here are a few classic Italian touches that more American gelato places should adopt for top-quality marks.
Attention to Natural ColorsWhat color does pistachio gelato bring to mind? Soft, spring green? An experienced Italian gelataio would scoff at such artificial coloring. A pistachio gelato with little or no artificial coloring would actually be more of a brown color. Perhaps it's less exciting to look at, but at least you know you're getting a higher quantity of natural ingredients. Similarly, berries shouldn't be bright, vivid pinks but rather muted reds, and lemon flavors should err on white, not yellow.
Using a Hot Mixing Process Instead of Cold-Setting ItA lot of U.S. gelato shops set their mix the same way most U.S. ice creams are set: cold. This is sometimes due to using pre-mixed ingredients instead of making a custard base from scratch. In Italy, they process the initial custard-like mix at a high temperature and let it sit overnight, which facilitates hydration of the milk proteins in the mix resulting in smoother and richer textures.
Embracing Lighter, Spicier, or More Savory FlavorsMany American gelatos tend to be adaptions of popular American ice cream flavors. Taking a page from the sophisticated desserts produced in Italy and Europe, U.S. gelaterias may be surprised at how tasty and popular some Italian flavors would be. Trendy foods are in right now. Gelato shops could draw curious customers in with Ricotta Stregata, or "bewitched ricotta" that has a base of fresh ricotta cheese with touches of hazelnut, lemon, orange peel, and Strega liqueur. Gelato infused with warm and sweet cinnamon is another great choice, or the Italian take on a classic chocolate chip, stracciatella.
The U.S. has done dessert-lovers a great service by adopting gelato, but there's still a lot of progress to be made for top-notch dessert nirvana to be achieved. With the gelato market growing, and quality-conscious Millennials at the forefront of that growth trend, gelaterias would do well to up their game and emulate the little authentic shops of Italy.