Gelato in Florence & Fior di Latte al Rosmarino
There are many rituals closely associated with Italian eating habits – the morning espresso or pre-dinner aperitivo, for instance, the post-dinner digestivo or post-dinner, post-coffee ammazzacaffè, ‘coffee killer’. But one of my favourites is the post-meal passeggiata, gelato in hand.
It’s a ritual that’s hard to keep up living outside of Italy, unfortunately. For one, there’s not enough strolling that goes on these days on a regular basis like the passeggiata; two, gelaterie aren’t open until midnight like you find in Florence and three, I hate to say it, but the gelato is just not the same.
Generally speaking, artisan Italian gelato is smoother, softer and silkier than its counterparts found abroad and I also find it less sugary, with simple fruit or nut flavours that really sing.
But we’re talking about a place that has had centuries of practice – gelato is a true Florentine tradition that can be traced back to the Renaissance (take a look at my article here, tracing this secret recipe from a Renaissance poultry vendor to the courts of Catherine de’ Medici and seventeenth century Paris). Other places have had time to perfect the art of gelateria too – in 1660 a Sicilian began selling gelato to fashionable Parisians; America saw its first gelateria in 1770, opened by a Genovese in New York city. But I think what might have made a difference is that not long after this first gelateria opened in New York, America found a way to begin industralising gelato and gelato makers, bringing ice-cream to every household.
In Tuscany, even up until the 1800s the ancient traditions of gelato making were still being practised using snow, pressed into tight, compact blocks and stored in holes carved into the rocky hills, protected from the sun and kept cool, even in the summer. Incredibly, Italy only began to industralise gelato 50 years ago.
It might just be that the connection to artisan-made gelato and its texture and pure flavours is still a close one; something like a sun-soaked memory of eating gelato as a child, still lingering on people’s minds, perhaps. My mother-in-law recalls the Sunday afternoon ritual as a little girl in Tuscany in the 1950s when her father would take her to the local gelateria to choose from one of the only two flavours that used to be on offer: crema or chocolate.
It’s unthinkable now to walk into a gelateria and have only a choice of two flavours, but saying that, there is something about the classics – my husband Marco still only ever asks for the flavour he liked best as a little boy: fior di latte. Made from just three ingredients (milk, cream and sugar), it’s as wholesome and simple as can be. It used to infuriate me that he never ordered any other flavour but now I’ve come to realise the goodness in the simplicity of this milk gelato.
Even in Italy, there is good gelato and bad gelato and knowing where to go makes all the difference. I’ve had my fair share of gelato in Florence (there are entire summers that call for a gelato a day, this is what happens when you live next door to a gelateria in a city with no respite from the heat) to be able to contribute a shortlist for good gelato in Florence. Life is too short to eat less than decent gelato. Here are some of our favourite artisan gelaterie:
- Carabè on via Ricasoli next to the Accademia Gallery for Sicilian style gelato and granita – for those who love fruit flavours, this is the place to come. You can also find their gelato served at Volume café in Piazza Santo Spirito
- Vestri at the corner of Borgo degli Albizi and Piazza Salvemini – it’s a chocolate shop and the gelato buckets are hidden underneath a crafty countertop so it’s not easy to tell they do some of the best gelato in Florence. Their chocolate flavours are obviously outstanding but I do also love the white peach they do when it’s season.
- Perchè No on via Tavolini near Orsanmichele – if you can fight off the crowds of tourists, or just come at a time when it’s not too busy, this is a great one in the centre of Florence with a slightly icier texture but beautiful flavours like sesame and honey or rose (in season).
- Gelateria dei Neri on via dei Neri – for those searching for Vivoli and not finding it, this is where you should go (less hype, better gelato if you ask me). The gelato is generally a little on the sweet side here, but silky smooth and flavourful. The ricotta and fig gelato is a favourite.
- Grom near the Duomo on via delle Oche – this gelateria from Torino is a little pricier than the others and it’s a chain and it’s not Florentine, but they do certainly know what they’re doing. They probably do the best fior di latte, but the salted caramel also merits the long line out the door just to taste it.
And if you happen to find yourself in Rome in need of a cooling gelato, check out my friend Katie Parla’s guide to gelato in Rome.
This recipe below gives the wholesome fior di latte a little ‘grown up’ touch by infusing it with rosemary. Initially, I made this rosemary fior di latte to balance the intensity and the salty kick of sanguinaccio dolce, a rich dessert of pig’s blood and dark chocolate, part of a feast that you’ll hear about this week in a series of guest posts for food52.
It was so surprising and so delicious on its own that I’ve made it again and again. Pure white, silky and creamy with the flavour of whole milk and the savoury aroma of rosemary, it’s addictive and so easy to eat. If you want to try the classic fior di latte, just leave out the rosemary.
Gelato di fior di latte al rosmarino
Serves 6-8 people
- 500 ml whole milk
- 250 ml cream
- 150 gr sugar
- 2 sprigs of rosemary (whole)
It goes without saying here that because of the simplicity of this recipe, you should seek out the best quality ingredients you can: the sweetest, most aromatic rosemary and milk that really tastes of milk – my pick would be organic and unhomogenised, and as fresh as possible.
Combine the milk and sugar together in a saucepan and heat gently with the rosemary. Watch the mixture carefully to make sure it does not boil, but just reaches the point where tiny bubbles (and perhaps even a little foam) appear around the edges of the pan, then take the pan off the heat.
Cover and allow to cool to room temperature, add the cream, then remove the rosemary and strain (in case any leaves are floating about). Place in your ice-cream machine according to its instructions.
Homemade gelato usually benefits from a rest in the freezer for about an hour before serving if you have just made it, or if it’s been in the freezer for overnight or longer, about 15 minutes out of the freezer before serving!
Without an ice-cream machine, it’s more difficult to obtain that perfectly silky texture but I have attempted it with diligent and regular mixing with a fork in between rests in the freezer with fair results.