Ice-cream in Florence!

The best gelaterie in town

When you talk to people born and raised in Florence, sometimes you have the impression that the Florentines have invented literally everything: soccer, opera, linear perspective, crepes, onion soup or even talcum powder. There is always a grain of truth in the stories of these inventions and their link with Florence even if the reality is much more complicated than the legends and it is not always easy to name the inventors of these various things. Similar is the case of ice-cream’s origins. Was ice-cream invented in Florence?

A short history of ice-cream

Many guides in the city will tell you that our modern ice-cream was invented by Bernardo Buontalenti, court architect of Francesco I de’ Medici, great inventor and creator, author of the Tribuna in the Uffizi, scenographer and a true gourmet. The fact is that ice-cream truly had a great fortune on the Medici court and still today we are really spoiled with some great gelaterie in town, but the ice-cream’s origins are a bit more complicated.

Ice-cream originates from various beverages made of fruit juice and ice, known already in the Roman times. In medieval Europe this luxury product disappeared. Fortunately, its production continued in the Arab world and from there it spread across medieval Sicily where the Arabs promoted also the production of brown sugar, a crucial ingredient of sherbeth. The Arab word “sherbeth” means “fresh beverage” and in Italian it changed into “sorbetto”, which today indicates fruit ice-cream or a drink made of ice and fruit juice.

Ice-cream and the Medici family

It seems that Bernardo Buontalenti was the first one to enrich the sorbetto with milk, cream and yolk even if the first recipe for “sorbetti lattiginosi” (milk sorbet, today ice-cream) comes from 1775 and can be found in Filippo Baldini’s volume De’ Sorbetti.

Undoubtedly, various versions of this cold dessert were greatly popular on the Medici court in Florence. Not by chance still today we find two important ice houses in the Boboli Garden, which date back to 1612. The ghiacciaie are circular buildings partially below ground level with an upper room projected as ice deposit and a lower room used as food and wine storage. The ice for the ice houses was brought during the winter from the Apennine mountains.

Ice-cream in France

Sorbets and ice-creams were a true delicacy during the sumptuous Medicean banquets and the Medici contributed also to ice-cream’s success. It was made known in Paris thanks to Ruggeri, Caterina de’ Medici pâtissier and chef, famous for his delicious sorbets. During the seventeenth century cold desserts became a sort of status symbol for the French aristocracy and their popularity continued to increase.

In the seventeenth century Francesco Procopio Cutò, an ice-cream master from Palermo, opened in Paris his Café Le Procope and his success made of ice-cream a dessert accessible not only on courts and during banquets, but a widely spread delicacy, accessible also for urban middle class.

As you can see, Italy and Florence vastly contributed to the popularity of this delicious sweet treat and still today artisan ice cream production in Florence is a true art cultivated by many great gelatieri. During your stay in town you have the possibility to enjoy some really delicious, high quality and healthy ice-cream, produced daily without use of colorants, additives and preservatives. If you want to be sure, you’re in the right place, try one of these gelaterie, which are among my favourites:

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Gelateria della Passera – genuine ice-cream in Florence

Gelateria della Passera, Florence
Gelateria della Passera in Piazza della Passera in Florence.

Very small place at the corner of Piazza della Passera in Oltrarno, few steps from the Pitti PalaceGelateria della Passera proved to be one of the best gelaterie in Florence and it was appreciated by Gambero Rosso, a prestigious gastronomic guide, as one of the best ice-cream producers in whole Italy.

What I love about this ice-cream place, is that their ice cream not only tastes but also smells delicious. Even before trying it, you can smell in it all the fresh ingredients it is made of: fruits, milk, cream, chocolate or nuts. Their ice-cream is produced daily in the laboratory behind the desk. They always create new and interesting flavours, using different spices and curious combinations of tastes like in their “crema ai 7 profumi” or mohito ice-cream. I go crazy about their raspberry ice-cream.

Gelateria della Passera is definitely a must!

Arà – Sicilian ice-cream in Florence

Gelateria Ara, Florence
Arà in Via degli Alfani

Arà è Sicilia – Arà is Sicily – says the name of this place and undoubtedly you can find here a bit of Sicily, its tastes and traditions. Sicilian ice-cream, being strongly influenced by Arabic sorbets, is different than creamy and milky ice-cream from Florence

Arà offers this kind of Sicilian ice-cream produced with ingredients coming the sunny island: Sicilian pistachio, mandarins and chocolate from Modica. Their ice-cream may seem more “watery”, which is a characteristic of ice-cream from Southern Italy. I particularly like their ricotta ice-cream, which is not too sweet, very creamy and seems frozen ricotta cheese.

Another particular flavour is mandarin ice-cream fresh and juicy like shaken mandarins. Arà is also a place where you can stop for a quick lunch as they serve some delicious, Sicilian arancini and calzoni. Don’t miss this piece of Sicily in Florence!

Antica Gelateria Fiorentina – creative ice-cream

Antica Gelateria Fiorentina, Florence
Antica Gelateria Fiorentina in Via Faenza.

If there is a reason why you should visit the Antica Gelateria Fiorentina it is their Talentissimo flavour! Not everybody knows this gelateria but for me it is one of the best in town. They use only fresh ingredients, produce their ice-cream daily with passion and love in their own laboratory.

What I love the most about them is their creativity. Their enriched the Florentine Buontalenti cream with nuts and chocolate and created the Talentissimo flavour, which I go crazy for!

Here you will also find Japanese green tea flavour – MatchaAmbrosia made with yogurt, honey and cinnamon or Cuor di Pardula with Sardinian ricotta cheese, orange, lemon and saffron.

Riva Reno – creamy ice-cream in Florence

Gelateria Riva Reno, Florence
Riva Reno – a must!

If Arà serves very light Sicilian ice-creamRiva Reno does the exact opposite. I think that their ice-cream is the most creamy and milky in all of Florence. A cup of their ice-cream is a true meal! I don’t think there is a better chocolate flavour that the one you can try here. And there is more than one chocolate flavour! You can choose between dark chocolate sorbet, regular chocolatecremino with gianduia and white chocolateGran Torino and chocolate with oranges. A true haven for chocolate lovers!

Another must is Contessa: almond cream with crushed amaretti and caramelized almonds. I could die for it! Riva Reno prepares also fresh ice-cream sticks and ice-cream cakes. A great way to celebrated your birthday with ice-cream in Florence!

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Gelateria dei Neri – so many ice-cream flavours in Florence

Gelateria de' Neri, Florence
Gelateria dei Neri

Gelateria dei Neri is one of the most famous and well established among the Florentine gelaterie. They became a sort of institution in town. Their particularity lies in a vast choice of flavours, from fruit flavours such as mandarin, grapefruit or pear, to delicious creamy flavours like chocolate, moretto di via dei neri – gianduia chocolate, caramel or ricotta and figs.

Moreover, they offer a vast choice of delicious granita, slushes, which are cold, dense drinks made of flavoured syrups poured over crushed ice. Granita is a typically Sicilian product. In Sicily, a croissant with the granita topped with whipped cream is their traditional breakfast. A visit to Gelateria dei Neri can bring you for a moment to Sicily.

Perché no! – why not?

Gelateria Perché no, Florence
Perché no? Why not? It’s always time for an ice-cream

Perché no! is another artisan ice-cream producer located in the centre of the city, few steps from the Orsanmichele church and Piazza della Signoria, in via dei Tavolini. The owners are really passionate about their work and they share their love for ice-cream in their shop, where they sell all the delicacies produced daily. I love their fruit flavours and their slushes, tasty and refreshing during hot, summer days.

In these gelaterie you will always find artisan, natural, fresh and delicious ice-cream, but if you want to try some other places feel free to do so. Before you buy your ice-cream remember these simple rules:

  1. Good, natural ice cream is soft and creamy! Absolutely avoid the mountains of ice cream that stand stiffly in the fridges to attract customers with their abundance. If ice-cream is that rigid it is for sure full of preservatives and thickners.
  2. Ice cream made of natural ingredients has delicate and natural colour! Absolutely avoid flashy blue, green, yellow or pink ice creams, they are full of colorants and additives. Only fruit ice cream made without milk and cream can have a strong colour of the fruit it is made of. Raspberry and strawberry ice creams can be quite red and flashy, but pistachio will never be truly green without a colorant.
  3. Your ice cream has to melt quickly! If you buy an ice cream and there are 30 degrees (86 Farenheit) outside, your ice cream cannot stay cold. If it does not melt quickly there is something wrong with it. Good, artisan ice cream made without additives and preservatives will start to melt quickly and you will have to be careful not to stain your t-shirt!

Enjoy your ice-cream in Florence!

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