All About Gelato: A Tour of Rome’s Best Gelaterias

The wonderful world of gelato

Tracing the history of gelato can be a complex task. Why? Well, gelato knowledge is not as common as you may think. The history of gelato goes back as far as 500 BC to Alexander the Great who often combined a cup of snow with honey. There is also evidence of Chinese communities keeping frozen ice year-round. As well as Egyptian Pharaohs offering guests silver goblets of ice and fruit juice. But let’s look a little deeper into the origins of gelato shall we?

The road to modern Italian gelato is a winding one. Gelato as we know it today was of course conceived by the Ancient Romans. However, after the fall of the Empire, gelato disappeared in Rome and the links between gelato in the city stops there. Where it did begin to develop however, is east of Italy, before being exported to Sicily. While this Italian island is commonly considered one of the places of origin of gelato,  it’s really just one of the many points of entry to understanding its roots.

From Arabian Sicily to Caterina de’ Medici

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After the Romans, the first people to bring gelato back to prominence were the Sicilian Arabs. The name of the new product was Italianised into ‘sorbetto’, from ‘sherbet’ (meaning ‘sweet snow’). This new delicacy was closer to what we now call gelato than it was to frozen ice with fruit. Due to its increasing popularity, this exciting new product was swiftly carried north.

The figure who really boosted the popularity of gelato in Italy was actually not Sicilian, but rather came from Florence. According to legend, Ruggeri was a chicken farmer who created new recipes in his spare time. He also participated in a cooking contest at the Medici Court. Florentine’s loved the ‘sugary, scented water‘ he created. So delighted in fact, that Queen-to-be Caterina de’Medici invited Ruggeri on her journey to marry the Duke of Orléans in France. Thus, spreading this new delight even further.

However, debate is still prevalent about what really happened. Many believe that Ruggeri was Cosimo Ruggeri – an astrologer and alchemist who accompanied Caterina as a counselor and spy on behalf of the Medici family.

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A royal treat

Research conducted by The Museum Carpigiani in Anzola Emilia has found that gelato was a delicacy reserved for the most affluent members of high society. Despite the fact that many believed it spread across Europe rapidly.

The reason for that is very simple. Refrigeration was centuries away, and cooling methods were nowhere near as sophisticated or accessible as they are today. However, some in high society did manage to get their hands on gelato. Francesco Procopio was a Sicilian who moved to Paris and opened the café: Le Procope. Considered to be Europe’s oldest café, Le Procope opened in 1686 and was one of the first places to produce gelato in its modern form. It was so beloved by Louis XIV, the Sun King, that he decreed Le Procope was the only place licenced to sell gelato.

All roads lead to… gelato

More than 400 years after Catherine arrived in France and over 300 after Le Procope opened, gelato is one of Italy’s best known culinary exports. And it’s more popular than ever. However, as is often the case, to have a taste of true gelato, one has to go to Italy. Many praise Sicily for its rich gelato traditions, but there is another place where gelato is so much more than just a refreshing sweet treat: Rome.

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Italy’s chaotic capital is packed with gelaterias, so it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth. One of the most popular gelaterias is Giolitti, opposite the Italian Chamber of Deputies in Piazza Montecitorio. Though it’s line is interminable. Another tourist icon is of cours, Fassi. This is a high-end parlour, though it’s arguably popular due to its appearance in Roman Holiday rather than quality gelato.

But Rome offers so much more beyond these tourist hotspots. For those keen to experience where Roman locals go for gelato, Gourmetaly organises special tours to discover the hidden gems of the Roman gelato scene… from ornate single scoops to terrific tiramisu.

Chasing real gelato

In order to find out more, Quisine spoke with Daniela Cassoni, the founder of Gourmetaly. Since the very beginning, her drive is based on an unconditional love for real Italian cuisine and a passion for wanting to share it with visitors.

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What is the difference between gelato and ice cream?

Many tourists we meet – especially the native English speakers – think the word ‘gelato’ is an Italian synonym for ‘ice cream’, but nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a big difference between packaged popsicles and handmade, fresh gelato. Which is why, during the Gelato & Espresso Tour, we try to make people understand both the taste and customs attached to gelato.

Which gelaterias are included in the tour?

We choose according to only one criteria: quality. The gelaterias on the tour are very diverse. Since we want our guests to experience the very best, we always head to Tazza d’Oro (so they can try its legendary coffee and cream slush), Gelateria del Teatro (for artisanal original flavours) and we finish with Zum or Pompi for a life-changing tiramisu. We also break up the gelato guzzling with one of the best espressos in town at Sant’Eustachio Caffè.

How did you select these gelaterias?

Very simple: we go there and try them one by one! There are many places in Rome that would justify a visit for their heritage alone, but we give top priority to the quality of the ingredients. Real gelato has to be artisanal; it has to respect tradition and it has to taste good… really good.

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Gelaterias you can’t miss

The Gelato Tour from Gourmetaly includes some seriously top-shelf Roman gelaterias, but no two of them are the same. Let’s take a closer look at three of the best then, shall we?

A coffee granita at Tazza d’oro

A few steps from the Pantheon, Tazza d’oro has been one of the most famous bars in Rome since 1944. Here you can taste one of the very best espressos in Rome, or Tazza d’oro’s pièce de résistance: a coffee and cream combination that Roman locals call ‘granita’. It’s a must for gelato fans!

Indulge at Gelateria del Teatro

Gelateria del Teatro is close to Rome’s most famous square, Piazza Navona. This central location was chosen by the owner because of its vibrant buzz and unique charm. The Gelato Tour will allow you to have free tastings from among the artisanal, homemade and seasonal flavours of this gelateria. Many of the flavours you find here are exclusive to this laboratory and it’s worth more than one visit!

An unforgettable tiramisu

When locals hear the word ‘Pompi’, they hear the word ‘tiramisu’. This name is associated with some of the tastiest tiramisu in town, as well as some of the most delicious gelato Rome has to offer. On the Gelato Tour you can taste both the classic mascarpone and chocolate, and the very special strawberry tiramisu.

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When in Rome, do as the Romans do

Rome is famous for astonishing architecture and history, but also for good food. And the number of of gourmet gelaterias in the Eternal City is extensive and impressive. Gelato here is a lifestyle, which is something we are all about here at Quisine. While, it can be easy to fall for tourist traps, if you follow the locals you’ll be in for the best gelato of your life. So use Gourmetaly as your guide to the best gelaterias in Rome. You’ll discover the history of gelato through passionate local Romans and taste seriously excellent gelato along the way. If you want to uncover the real deal when it comes to gelato in Rome, you’re in safe hands with Gourmetaly. In the lead up to your gelato tour, why not take a look here, here, or even here.