(original post in 2015, updated in June 2017. Not including a significant % of other respectable gelaterie but these are my top 10 in the historical center of Florence)
Where oh where does one find the best gelato in Florence?
Anywhere, right? It’s Italy! It’s Florence- the birthplace of gelato! You can’t go wrong! No- WRONG! Finding quality gelato in Florence is more difficult than you think. A large % of gelaterie in the historical center sell gunk full of 95% crap, albeit having the means/resources for making great gelato easily. Italy has a plethora of quality raw ingredients- yet establishments continue to favor business/profit margins over preserving gelato’s integrity. You may be wondering “Why is there so much gelato in Florence?” While I wonder, “why would anyone in their right mind allow bad/subpar gelato to be born?”
In general, there is a lot of gelato in Italy. However I must say that Florence has a particular fondness of gelato because it is said to be the birthplace of gelato. On my food tours in Florence i, we chat about the key figures of gelato’s beginnings: Cosimo Ruggieri, Bernardo Buontalenti and Francesco Procopio (Francesco was actually from Sicily and this is where the gelato origin wars start to ensue). As one of my guests said recently “basically we’ve learned that Florence invented everything.” Exactly. I mean, how can you not boast a city that gave the world the (standard) Italian language, gelato and the negroni?
Unfortunately, because Florence has gained popularity for fabulous gelato there are some really pathetic gelato pushers out on the cobblestone streets. I often ask myself: Aren’t they embarrassed of themselves knowingly selling such trash? Don’t they have any pride for their products? Fear no more! The curious appetite, food blogging gelatoholic, is here to help! Read up on my tips for avoiding bad gelato in Florence. What do I determine as bad gelato? A gelato that is made using pre-made mixes, with a long list of ingredients, poor balance of sugar/raw ingredient/ratio, crappy service and anything artificial. Once you read up, I provided a top 10 list on where I think you should be stuffing your face with gelato in Florence every damn hot day. Or warm day. Oh, hell- any day.
How to spot quality and trashy gelato in Italy (especially Florence)
1. NO: Flat, almost ribbon/wavy gelato, not big neon-colored mounds. Please avoid the big mounds! 2. NO: Bright colors. There are not bright colors where bright colors do not exist in nature. 3. YES: stainless steel tins with covers cradling them, keeping them cool. 4. Usually a wholly artisanal gelato is not found in a major historical site square, along the arno/at the bridges– as they usually serve industrial gunk. Read the ingredient lists- it may taste good but is it truly artisanal? However, what you compromise in quality, you gain in location and an instagrammable gelato with the Ponte Vecchio as your background. 5. The best gelato can be found on my blog or on my instagram feed. 6. Edible gelato is not at a “self-service” cafeteria. Pizza is good, but a decent gelateria will never sell gelato and pizza, or any other food for that matter, side by side. The exception being Ara’ the Sicilian street food joint near the Accademia who sells mega arancine rice & ragu balls. 7. Anything with a label indicating a name brand is nasty. I.e. I see some gelato cases with a grocery store brand gelato logo on the flavor tag, like Cinque Stelle. This is very obvious that the place is NOT making their own gelato and they are in fact, scooping it pre-made from one bucket to another. 8. Gelato sold at a coffee and/or bakery shop. Coffee served at a gelateria is O.K. Coffee shops I guarantee 95% of the time are not making gelato from scratch. 9. Look for “Produzione Propria/ Gelato Artigianale.” This SHOULD mean gelato made in-house, in the artisanal fashion. This does not always guarantee utmost quality, by the way. They could still be using pre-made mixes for their “house-made” gelato…it’s still technically made in house. A tale-tell sign is if they have a big, corny ice-cream cone cut-outs advertising in big letters “homemade production.” in English or Italian. 10. If everything is in English, not a good sign.
I eat gelato almost everyday. Whenever people ask me those “what would you eat for the rest of your life if it could only be 3 things” kinda trivia, the answer is always gelato. If you think about it, that means 150 gelato a year. I do this for my readers, you know. I sacrifice my insulin sensitivity and insulin pancreas machine…for you. So you know where the best gelato in Florence is at.
It is possible to have bad gelato in Florence. But it is also possible to avoid it by being proactive and planning a bit ahead by doing a little research. I have picked these based on the holy trinity of: service, quality and location. If they have mind-blowing gelato but give bad service- no. Quality- obvious. Location: there are great gelaterie outside the Florence city walls, but if you are visiting or live in the center, trekking there in the heat may not be fun. This is not to say a bike ride is not merited to reach such sweet bliss! In any case- enjoy!
1. Cantina del Gelato- There are a couple locations (Borgo La Croce in Sant’Ambrogio but also on Via De’ Bardi near Ponte Vecchio) and what I like about them is that they play with international flavors like passion fruit, tumeric & fig (pictured above), black rice, acai berry, mango and even avocado. They have something called a baby cone which is great when you just want a tiny portion of gelato.
2. Perche’ No- Mind you this list isn’t ordered by best, but Perche’ No is probably the #1 best gelateria in the smack dab of the historical center. They’ve been opened since 1939 so they must be doing something right! I’m constantly amazed by the quality, creativity and the genial service offered from this tiny gelato hole in the wall, now plowed by tourists hours on end daily. Even if you have to wade through the tourists, it’s worth it if you can get your hands on their Tuscan rose, Sicilian Pistachio, Sesame & Honey and their watermelon granita in the summer. Address: Via dei Tavolini, 19R
3. Gelateria de’ Medici- This classic Florentine gelato institution, has been around for years and they have a myriad of classic gourmet combinations in a 80’s style chandelier grand salon style setting. They are popular for their fig and ricotta, and chocolate rum flavors. Everything is made truly from scratch and 100% whole natural raw ingredients. They follow the same secret family recipes the gelateria opened with. The good news is if you can’t make it over to the Statuto zone where the original location lies, you can stuff your face in Piazza Beccaria which is close to Sant’Ambrogio/Santa Croce area. Locations: Via dello Statuto 3/5r (near the Horticulture Garden- worth a visit!) Tel (+39) 055 475156 Piazza Beccaria 7r Tel (+39) 055 3860008
5. Carapina- If a gelateria for purists existed, it would be Carapina. This is where gelato is supposed to be made is made. Only seasonal fruit, only the highest quality of cacao employed, heritage variety of nuts and no nasty thickeners or excessive sugar needed. The genius behind the bucket is Simone Bonini and does everything in his might to procure truly artisan gelato made with whole ingredients, and only a few of them. Their watermelon is so fresh and true to the fruit that you feel like you’re biting into a slice but without the pesky seeds. I suggest his mint, watermelon and vin santo flavors. Not necessarily combined! The location in the center has closed but I believe the Oberdan location is still open, and is slightly out of the city center. Address: Piazza Guglielmo Oberdan, 2/red
6. My Sugar- This gelateria was just opened (on Via Ginori 49R) in the San Lorenzo district by a couple of young foodpreneurs, friends through Georgette of Girl in Florence. They pride themselves in seasonal flavors, sourcing fruit from the nearby historical San Lorenzo Market and even has mastery certification from a local gelato maker’s guild if I am not mistaken. San Lorenzo generally sucks for gelato, in terms of quality and service. Finally, a place to get good gelato and a sunny disposition.
7. Bondi/Triangolo delle Bermude- This gelateria is off Via Nazionale near the train station and Mercato centrale, don’t be fooled by the kitschy design it’s a valid gelateria. The owner is Vetulio Bondi, a legend in the Florentine gelato scene. Tulio trains aspiring gelato makers, writes books, travels the world to teach, works with high level chefs like Simone Cipriani and developed the very delightful extra virgin olive oil gelato and whips his ultra simple gelato up at events and dinners around the country. His gelato is more focused on simplicity and gluttony, rather than purity or heritage sourcing (i.e. oreo gelato or pistachios sourced abroad or limone sorbetto with a base which is made in the Spring, frozen and used over the summer from hand-juiced organic Siciian lemons because they have the best juice rather than using out-of-season lemons in the summer) but the base itself is fantastic and free from artificial additives. Address: Via Nazionale, 61/red
8. Il Procopio- Most Florentine gelato is primarily milk-based with little cream. I fancy Procopio because they don’t seem shy with the cream (or are very good at churning it with creamy texture) nor do they miss fantasy. As a result, their creations are chock full of flavor and slightly creamier than most. A great example being their award-winning toasted almond, fig, orange peel and pistachio paste “La Follia” (translation: madness). Apart from their dairy-based gelati, they have a serious sorbetti game. Memorable examples include thick dark chocolate and hazelnut sorbet, seasonal fruit & nut granite (coffee & almond are divine), a splendid selection of fruit sorbetti (like the cherry, forest berries, melon) which are too good to seem milk-free. Family-run and full of passion by the mom & pop ownership. Their pistachio is fabulous and ties with Perche’ No’s pistachio. Address: Via Pietrapiana, 60/R
9. Vivoli- 80 years of gelato making is not an easy feat, Vivoli is a legend and I’m certain you all have heard of them. There is currently 4 generations churning out this love in gelato form. They are busy, they are popular, but I couldn’t make a gelato list and leave out one of the most iconic purveyors and crucial figures in Florence’s gelato history. Here you may not find fringe inventions, but you’ll find classic, old fashioned gelato made from hand-cracked eggs and seasonal fruit, my favorite is their persimmon when around. It tastes like pie.
10. Ara’- For Sicilian-style gelati come here and others which I’ll tell you all about if you take my gelato crawl🙂 I simply adore their sheep milk ricotta, pistachio (in case you haven’t noticed- this is both my benchmark and favorite flavor) and modica chocolate. They have done fragoline (little strawberries) and it blew my mind, as I’m normally not a huge fan of fragoline. Address: Via degli Alfani, 127 (near Accademia)
There you have it! I hope this will be of good use to you in your travels in Florence. Did you know Curious Appetite curates gelato tours in Florence? Curious? Book here!
In your gelatoholism,
The Curious Appetite
Stay tuned for future bytes by scrolling up and subscribing to my food blog! Follow me on Instagram (@curiousappetite) and Facebook for live food and travel tips. Buon appetito!