(original post in 2015, updated in September 2018)
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. Italy has a plethora of quality raw ingredients- yet establishments in touristic cities like Florence continue to favor business/profit margins over preserving gelato’s integrity. Finding a worthy cone in the historical center is tough but not impossible.
Florence has a particular fondness of gelato because it is said to be its the birthplace. On my gelato tours in Florence, 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 once said “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?
Partly because Florence is literally flooded with more tourists than the floods of 1966 there are some disgraceful gelato cases full of scary mystery mounds perched on the cobblestone streets.
Fear no more! The curious appetite, food blogging gelatoholic, is here to help! Read up on my tips for spotting genuine gelato below and also here on Eat Sip Trip (USA Today).
What do I determine as unworthy gelato? Simply, a gelato that is made using pre-made mixes which arrive to a chain’s shop pre-made (ahem, Grom), with a long list of ingredients, poor balance of sugar/raw ingredient/ratio, wack presentation, “why are you in my shop you’re lucky I’m here” service and anything artificial.
Once you read up, a top(ish) list ensues 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.
Quick tips for spotting quality and trashy gelato in Italy (especially Florence)
1. NO: 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 river/along the bridges– as they usually serve industrial gelato with mediocre raw ingredients or full of sugar. Read the ingredient lists- it may taste good but is it truly artisanal? How much sugar are they using as filler? Or even butter in lieu of panna? I’m sure many are extremely content with a gelato shop whose location is along the river, for *that* instagram shot gelato with the Ponte Vecchio as your background. But are we eating for vanity or because we give a damn? Pardon my gelato righteousness.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
Don’t see one of your favorites listed? Instead of spiraling into a stage 4 fit of rage, let me know which one you think I missed in the comments section.
My picks are based on the holy trinity of: service, quality and convenient location. If they have mind-blowing gelato but give bad service- no. Quality- obvious. Location: there are great gelaterie outside the Florence city walls (like Badiani), but if you are visiting or live in the center, trekking there (and 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!
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
La Sorbettiera- I’ve avoided listing this spot, mainly because it’s a bit “fuori mano” out of the way in Piazza Tasso. But we should be hanging out more in Tasso- it’s full of edible gems like La Sorbettiera. Very much worth the trek, a family passed down enterprise which started in 1934 in Verona and with a shop by Antonio’s brother also in Germany (Koblenz). Here you have the classic flavors made with fresh local milk and top shelf ingredients like single-origin Peruvian cacao. The fruit flavors change with the season (i.e. figs in the summer, pears in the fall) with gourmet options like greek yogurt with pistachio and local acacia honey and off-beat curveballs like turmeric and almond. It’s a little hole in the wall and a few benches on the sidewalk, and locals-revered. Antonio is one of the owners and chefs, who you will regularly find kindly behind the counter, a sign of a blood, sweat and tears kinda small biz. Address: Piazza Torquato Tasso, 11 (p.s. feelin lazy? You can have them delivered via Foodora. Now all my delivery will be gelato THANKS A LOT!)
Sbrino Gelatificio Contadino- This is a new kid on the gelato block opening in Summer 2018 but every single time I’ve been, the service sweet, flavors tasty and I dig their whole ethos. They source their milk from an organic dairy farm in Tuscany’s Volterra, which happens to belong to the mother of one of the owners. So farm-to-gelato! The milk based flavors are out of this world (clearly) I recommend their pistachio cremino which is mostly their fior di latte (like sweet dairy cream) and a drizzle of naturally made pistachio “nutella”, I also recommend their fruit flavors and sorbets, like their cacao intense Modica dark chocolate and citrusy Bergamot. All of the nuts and raw ingredients (like almonds, pistachios, sea salt and hazelnuts) come from heritage varieties of lesser sung gastronomic hotspots of Italy like Trapani (salt), Hazelnuts (usually touted from Piedmont) from Nebrodi (usually known from sheep’s milk) and Pistachios from Stigliano (Tuscany- not Bronte;) Address: Via dei Serragli, 32r
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, turmeric & 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.
Gelateria De’ Neri- Since 1989 this gelateria has been satisfying sweet tooths of locals and travelers world over. I like Gelateria De’ Neri for several reasons: They are consistent. They offer interesting flavors. They are open late. And the staff never looses their cool amidst the mound of crowds lining up to stuff their face with their goods. My picks are matcha green tea, salted caramel as well as rose gelato and grezzo di modica (Sicilian chocolate which is a cold processed, gritty chocolate with centuries of history.) I’m pretty sure Gelateria dei Neri uses some artificial flavors and I question the quality of their raw materials, but they have a decent ratio of other acceptable flavors. Plus, dei Neri is the only place in town that does matcha and (delicious) salted caramel, and pistachio ricotta cremino (essentially pistachio nutella) so I will give them a pass for the sake of the taste-favoring glutton in all of us who could care less about “all-natural/organic.”
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My Sugar- This gelateria is located (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.
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.
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 lack creativity. 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
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
Ara’- For Sicilian-style gelati and street-food snacks, Ara’ is a must-taste (like 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 (cold-processed) chocolate. They have done fragoline (little strawberries) and it blew my mind, as I’m normally not a huge fan of fragoline. If you’re interested in a carb-load, start with their cannoli and dessert with a big scoop of pistachio and fragoline. Address: Via degli Alfani, 127 (near Accademia)
Carabe’- Another Sicilian gelato shop with lots of fresh granite (love the almond and Sicilian spirit/citrus blend) and lots of milk-based and fruit-based sorbets. Their Bronte Pistachio is granular and naturally humble in distinctness, punctuated sheep ricotta and chocolate a winner, and their fruit sorbets potent, like their passionfruit, citrus, nespole and fig. I suggest a base of their almond granite, a dollop of Bronte Pistachio gelato and a scoop of fig sorbet- yum. Address: Via Ricasoli, 60/R (near Accademia)
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 indeed a valid gelateria. The owner is Vetulio Bondi, a legend in the Florentine gelato scene. Tulio trains aspiring gelato makers, appears on TV like on the Nat Geo segment, travels the world to teach, works with high level chefs like Simone Cipriani and developed the very delightful extra virgin olive oil gelato and creates tasty gelato at events and dinners around the country. His gelato is more focused on technique, creativity simplicity and gluttony, rather than allowing one ingredient to be the solo show. He has a limone sorbetto with a base which is made in the Spring, frozen and used over the summer from hand-juiced organic Sicilian 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
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
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