Countless gelaterie boast that they sell “artisanal Italian ice cream,” but few of them actually do. How can you tell the producer of high-quality ice cream from those who pass themselves off as Italian-style? I asked the award-winning chef Ugo Alciati (Guido restaurant in Serralunga d’Alba, Cuneo), who is a consultant for Eataly’s food services (a chain of shops selling high-quality Italian food with restaurant corners and ice-cream shops), to tell me the five key points to understand if the ice cream from the shop around the corner is artisanal or not.
An artisanal gelateria in Italy always has fior di latte (plain milk), custard, hazelnut, pistachio and chocolate, which alone account for nearly 90% of ice-cream sales. Beware of ice-cream shops with 25–30 flavors. There is no way they can be sold and eaten in a single day, so they can’t be fresh (meaning they have chemical additives), meaning that they aren’t traditional or artisanal.
Ice-cream shops are required to display a list of ingredients indicating everything in their pistachio or custard ice cream, and even what’s in the cones they sell. If five ingredients are listed for a single flavor, then it’s artisanal ice cream. If there are 25, then it means there are additives and this is certainly not the “goodness” you were looking for.
Fior di latte—just plain milk ice cream—is the key to it all. It should taste like milk, not water. The milk has to be super-fresh and top-quality. Because you can also have “prized” pistachio ice cream, but if the milk isn’t good, the ice cream won’t be either.
Ice-cream shops that display tubs with mountains of ice cream that rise up to 20 inches over the edge are a no-no. This ice cream is treated chemically with emulsifiers, or it wouldn’t be able to stand up. Pretty to look at, but definitely not “Italian.”
Opt for ice-cream shops with carapine, containers with lids that hide the ice cream. The cooling system is better, so the ice cream is preserved better, as it is covered and can’t oxidize, nor is it exposed to dust, light and so on. Artisanal ice-cream shops—the kind that care about making a high-quality product— do their best to maintain their product, so they usually prefer this system.