It looks like ice cream, smells like ice cream and will cool you down like ice cream can, but don’t, for goodness sake, call it ice cream. As connoisseurs will tell you, gelato is a cut above.
“Gelato originated in Italy during the 1600s and from there it spread everywhere,” explains Eugenio Morrone, the Italian winner of this year’s Gelato World Cup – an event that has celebrated the best of the best since 2003. “It contains half as much fat and sugar compared with ice cream, has fewer ingredients, and because it is churned rather than beaten, it contains less air. Therefore, it is creamier and more pleasant on the palate, has a more intense taste and it also has fewer calories.”
Morrone has brought his award-winning gelato to the UK for the first time with a pop-up at the Mercante restaurant in the Sheraton Grand London Park Lane (open until August 31), with an exclusive menu starring the “Golden Summer” – pistachio gelato crowned with a home-made raspberry drizzle, inspired by the recipe that scooped Eugenio his World Cup win. Prices start at £7.90 per serving.
Morrone’s arrival in the UK coincides with a booming trade across Britain’s gelaterias. “When we did our market research back in 2017 there were 1,200 gelato shops open in the UK,” says Marilena Narbona, owner of Bo Bom Laboratorio Artigianale di Gelato in Somerset. “That number has been rising ever since.”
In 2022, the value of the UK ice cream sector rose by six per cent to £1.7 billion. Between 2021 and 2023, more than 200 ice cream parlours opened on our high streets. Even celebrities have been getting into the business: last month Cher announced that she has created her own gelato brand, Cherlato.
But if gelato hasn’t yet entirely displaced its frozen cousin, it’s because the process is much more difficult to industrialise, Narbona argues. “A huge amount of trial and error is needed for every single recipe,” she explains. “If the balance of the ingredients is not correct to the gram (particularly the fat content and the various sugars), the final result is un-scoopable – either too hard or too liquid.
“Different sugars have different freezing points and sweetness power,” she continues; “again, the wrong balance means the gelato would not have the right consistency or – horror of horrors – would generate ice crystals. In short, gelato is extremely difficult to make into an industrial process, and thus pretty much every gelato-maker is following their own secret recipe.”
“It’s resource-intensive, too,” adds Michelina Caliendo-Sear, co-owner of Caliendo’s Gelato in Kentish Town, London, crowned 2023’s Parlour of the Year by the Ice Cream Alliance. “You need to have a chef with a machine creating and checking every batch. We find that we can sell it faster than we can produce it. Ice cream is a lot more automated,” she stresses. “[Gelato] also doesn’t keep as long; most ice cream (especially the American stuff) has been sitting in a freezer for six months to two years before you eat it. I think people can tell the difference.”
The term “gelato” (the Italian word for ice cream) isn’t protected, so contemporary manufacturers have sought to find a distinction between “gelato”, which can be made with pre-mixes, and “artisanal gelato” which is handmade.
When seeking out the latter, Morrone’s advice is “to first look at the list of ingredients: they must be few and ‘clean’, i.e. free of colourings, synthetic additives, hydrogenated fats”. Gelato must also “contain little air: it must not be too swollen to the eye”, he explains. “The number of flavours present in a gelato parlour should not be too high. To make the gelato, milk and fresh cream are used, so check that they are present. The quality of the product is also linked to the origin of the ingredients: I prefer those made with short-chain ingredients and a sustainable process.”
Ultimately, the World Cup winner believes, “making good gelato is not easy. You need experience, professionalism, and a deep knowledge of the ingredients and techniques.” For these reasons, gelaterias tend not to be chains and often make their product freshly on-site. And while Morrone and Narbona both agree the best is made in Italy, there are fine contenders on these shores whose gelato impresses from the first lick.
Where to get your gelato fix
Broadstairs, Kent, and Covent Garden, London
A family business that hasbeen making fresh gelato every morning since 1907, Morelli’s is arguably the UK’s most famous gelateria. Though it was acquired in 2015 by UAE franchise-holder Marka, itstill follows the same recipes created by the Morelli family more thanacentury ago.
Known for round-the-block queues from its two shops in the centre of Cambridge, Jack’s has been around since 2010, when chef Jack Van Praag quit his day job toopen a gelateria. Focused on small-batch making and luxury ingredients: milk and cream from the Estate, asingle-source dairy inthe Chew Valley; chocolate from artisan chocolatiers Pump Street; honey from Cambridge beehives.
Natives of Piedmont in Italy, home of the “slow food” movement, gelatieri Daniele Taverna and Antonio De Vecchi focus on seasonal flavours using ingredients that are as localas possible. Gelato is made without artificial flavourings, preservatives or stabilisers, and the shop pledges never to sell any product older than 72 hours. This is real gelato served in the traditional way.
Brighton, East Sussex
With two stores in the town (and a third in Worthing), gelatiere SebCole has been reinventing Brighton’s gelato offering since 2010with fresh, local ingredients. He has also earned plaudits for his work with local communities and charity groups, offering bespoke gelato flavours to support their work.
Farm On The Fell
In its native Italy, gelato is aseasonal dish, only really produced in summer. The same goes for Farm On The Fell’s product, available only in the summer months. All the gelato is handmade on site from milk and cream produced by the dairy’s owncows, some made with handpicked strawberries, and the farm also has a milkshake vending machine.
Red Boat Gelato
Many Italians moved to Walesas part of the Italian diaspora in the late 19th and 20th centuries, making the country one of the best placesto find authentic gelato. Award-winning RedBoat Gelato has four locations across Anglesey. Arecipient of a Great Taste Award for its Tiramisu gelato, Red Boat has been described by Tripadvisor as one of the coolest places to get an ice cream in the whole of the UK.
Created by self-confessed gelatoholic Joe Sykes, Joelato was founded to bring“holiday ice cream” toScotland. Sykes learned the tricks of the trade at Carpigiani Gelato University in Bologna before returning to Edinburgh. Made with milk provided by dairies around Perthshire, Sykes’s first attempts at gelato sold out and soon became a localfavourite. Now he operates two gelaterias in Stockbridge and at Bonnie &Wild food market.
Kentish Town, London
Winner of the UK’s 2023 Parlour of the Year award, Caliendo’s is a North London institution. It was opened in 2019 by commercial pilot Michelina Caliendo-Sear and her partner Fiona Bell after they discovered that Caliendo’s family have all been in the gelato business since they arrived in the UK in the late 1880s. Its ices are perennial winners of Great Taste Awards.
Various locations across West Dorset
Known for its gelato beach kiosks in Lyme Regis, Morcombelake, West Bay and Weymouth, Baboo has been operating since 2015, racking up awards from Taste of the West, the Great British Food Awards, and the Guild of Fine Foods. Most of the ingredients are sourced from the West Country and those that can’t be are bought directly from farmers the gelatiera, Annie Hanbury, has personally selected.
Another gelateria that can trace its roots back to the 19th century, Crolla’s has been in operation since 1895, when it was opened by Italian emigre Serafino Crolla. Now runby Peter Crolla, Serafino’s great-grandson, Crolla’s offers a “blend your own” service for its gelatos.