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The festival of gelato: the Italian ice-cream festival

Speaking about gelato is truly speaking about Italy, isn’t it?

A typically Italian frame: children enjoying gelato in the street in a not so far past (Flavio Ronco/flickr)

Italian ice-cream has made the history of desserts and set standards for all types of ice-creams around the world.

Now, I personally also love the type of ice creams you have on the other side of the pond: I am known to be, when I am in the US, a fixture at the local Cold Stone Creamery, where I usually get some cake batter/peanut butter flavor concoction, topped with any type of sugary, colorful sprinkles. This in spite of having been brought up on a strict diet of Italian, handmade gelato.

The main difference between ice cream and gelato is in the amount of certain ingredients, namely cream (higher in quantity in American ice cream), milk (we use more milk in gelato) and eggs (always present in ice cream, not always, or at least in smaller percentage, in gelato). Some differences are also to be found in the choice of flavors, certainly more colorful and decadent (in my humble opinion) in the US: true, we have elegant limoncello and gold leaved chocolate, but you have peanut butter crunch, caramel core and cookie dough, which are all heaven to me…

Enough with technicalities, though: if you want to know more we have an article about the history of gelato ready to satisfy your curiosity.

But flavors are not technicalities, am I right?

When it comes to flavors, once again, gelato is up there in the heaven of desserts (with the extra considerations made just a couple of lines above being entirely personal…): we have the gusti classici, old time favorites such as chocolate, cream, stracciatella and strawberry, but also interesting creations, such as peperoncino, limoncello, nutella and the ubiquitous puffo and puffetta flavors, staple of 1980s’ kids (me included) Summer gelato galore throughout the country.  Truth is that, whichever flavor you like, or wherever you like to eat it (with or without whipped cream? In a cialda, a cone or a cup?), gelato is one of those things everyone loves. Check the list of shops for the best gelato in Rome.

I don’t know how common this is in the US, but in Italy, gelato is also, especially in the hottest Summer days, a very popular alternative to full meals: when it’s hot, a nice bowl of gelato doesn’t only provide relief, but also helps lowering body temperature and makes you feel better. It’s easy to digest, which is important, because heat doesn’t make digestion any easier, and it’s packed with vitamins. In fact, eating gelato as a meal is not only an Italian Summer habit, but has been adviced by doctors in more than one occasion, for the reasons mentioned.

Of course, not all gelato is “healthy” gelato: your ice-cold meal should comprise fruit based flavors, which are often made only with water, fruit juices and pieces and very little – if any – milk. No cream, fiordilatte and chocolate then, let alone whipped cream. At the same time, a nice bowl of melon, strawberry and peach gelato would make my sweet tooth happy any time of the year, and especially in the Summer heat.

So Italy invented gelato, eats it in huge quantities, loves it. And as if thousands of gelaterias around the country weren’t enough, we’ve also in recent years created a Gelato Festival, celebration of all that is gelato and gelato-related. What’s this event about? And what can we, gelato lovers, gain from it (why… isn’t pounds and pounds of delicious gelato enough?!)? A bit of history first, then an overview of what you can expect if you decide to fly over to Italy and enjoy a couple of days in one of the cities hosting the Gelato Festival this year.

The Gelato Festival is the right place to experience a wide variety of flavors, both classic and more
adventurous (Ashley Wang/flickr)

Gelato Festival: its History and Evolution

This festival entirely dedicated to gelato has been around since 2010, when its first edition was hosted in Florence, hometown to Bernardo Buontalenti, universally considered the “father of gelato.” Needless to say, the event is an immediate hit and its success is easily repeated in 2011 and 2012, always in Florence. If the first edition was a very much Italian affair, soon the festival attracted not only the interest of international visitors, but also of gelato and ice cream makers worldwide.

In 2013, a big change: the Gelato Festival was transformed into an itinerant event, touching upon, beside Florence, Milan, Rome and Turin, three of Italy’s “capitali del gusto”.  An itinerant gelato laboratory, named after Buontalenti, was created and moved between the cities, creating in each a gelato festival.

The itinerant format of the Gelato Festival proved to organizers the event had even more potential than thought, and was more than ready to be brought to more Italian and European locations. 2014 is the year of the Gelato Festival internationalization, eased by the creation of two more itinerant gelato labs, one dedicated to Caterina de’ Medici, the other to Ruggeri, another father of Italian ice cream.

The aim is to get more and more people to know about true artisanal gelato and how it’s made: from learning its history, to witnessing first hand production techniques, the Gelato Festival brings this fabulous product to the streets also by making its “behind the scenes” a centre of attention.

Gelato Festival is not only a haven of pleasure for all its sweet toothed visitors, though. It proposes games and competitions for producers, whose inventive and creativity are showcased to the public and rewarded by festival’s organizers. Truly, Gelato Festival should be seen as the equivalent of, let’s say, Milan Fashion Week for ice cream and ice cream makers, with loads of gelato lovers showing up to see what’s up in the business and try the best recipes of the year.

Gelato is too good and wholesome to be sinful! (Henrik Berger Jørgensen/flickr)

Gelato Festival 2015


Is your mind made up (mine sort of is)? If it isnt’ t yet, maybe some more info about what’s going to happen this year at the Gelato Festival will help you book that plane ticket.

First of all, the festival this year will meet its visitors throughout the country. It will, as tradition wants, start and end in Florence (30th of April and 4th of October), but the show will also travel around the country, from North to South. It’ll be in Rome from the 18th to the 21st of June and again from the 17th to the 20th of September; at the Expo in Milan from the 28th of May to the 7th of June and once more from the 3rd to the 13th of Semptember.

August will be the month of Versilia and Riviera Romagnola, whereas July will see the festival go international and touch upon Valencia (Spain), London (UK) and Berlin (Germany). Other destinations’ll be Palermo, Turin, Parma, Catania, Naples and Bari.

What will You Find? 

Loads of delicious gelato, of course, but even more than that.

First of all, you should get yourself a Gelato Card for the day you visit: it’ll cost you 5 euro (about 5.5 USD),  it’ll allow you to have 5 ice creams of your choice and  to vote for the “Ice Cream Makers” competition. This year is also the year of the Expo and the Gelato Festival (which will be at the Expo twice, for a overall stay of three weeks) is celebrating the event by creating a brand new flavor in each city it’ll touch. These new gelato tasties’ll be made with people’s health in mind, as their recipes are entirely lactose and gluten free.

Of even more interest is, probably, the possibilty to watch “gelatai” at work in their labs and witness for yourself how gelato is made artisanally. And if you want to take it a step further, you could join one of the gelato making and cooking classes available in situ, where the secrets of gelato making will be finally disclosed to you. To access these courses, you’ll need a Gelato Card: another good reason to dish out that fiver and enjoy an incredible experience.

At the Gelato Festival you’ll be able to taste the best gelati in Italy, all artisanally produced
(Robyn Lee/flickr)

The Gelato Festival is about to start and will last, running up and down the country, as well as touching upon some major European cities, until October. You can get details about dates and locations of the Gelato Festival on their Facebook page.

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Flavio Ronco
3 years ago

Just FYI, the cover photo is by my great friend (RIP) Gino Torello, not by me. I am the kid at the left side.


Flavio Ronco