There is no regulation that defines “artisanal gelato” or even “gelato” in general, but only guidelines. This means that you just cannot have standard or generic differences between Gelato & Ice cream, it really depends on how that specific gelateria works.
By definition, an artisan is a skilled worker that specializes in a specific craft (in this case gelato) and understand the product to a point that he/she knows how to make it completely from scratch without the help of pre-made powders, colorants, flavorings and any other unnecessary ingredients. To me they also keep the true tradition alive, delivering a product that is unique to their history, location & taste and well balanced in all its ingredients and processes.
Therefore, if your gelateria follows the guidelines of true artisanal gelato, here are the differences that to me are the most important ones. This is not just marketing; the proof is in the recipes and the knowledge of your product that you can only have if you know what you are actually doing.
This is why here we consider only true artisanal gelato & not just any “gelato”:
Artisanal gelato must be made completely from scratch by a skilled artisan. We don’t use powder mixes, colorants or any other ingredients that are unnecessary. On top of this we use a lot of organic, local & seasonal ingredients to take it a step further and craft an even better treat.
Artisanal gelato is made daily and never stored long term like ice cream. You understand that unless it’s the middle of the summer or your gelato shop is in front of the Colosseo in Roma the number of flavors must be limited. A small town gelateria with 40-60 flavors does not work from scratch neither makes it every day.
Artisanal gelato is meant to be a gourmet product, something that is carefully crafted to please your palate and reproduce a distinctive flavor: this is why in Italy the best-selling flavors are always the simpler ones like nuts (hazelnut, pistachio, almond), strawberry or lemon, chocolate… If you add too many ingredients, sugary toppings and mix-ins then it’s just a confused mix of flavors that is more like ice cream.
Artisanal gelato is served at a warmer temperature than ice cream & scooped with spatulas. This makes gelato much more delicate than ice cream, and this is one of reasons why you make it every day. The warmer temperature means more water is free (and not frozen) in your gelato, and free water, along with light, oxygen & temperature fluctuation, will kill your product. Ice cream is stored & served colder, it’s not fresh and its structure normally is not as creamy or smooth.
This is HUGE, but many people never thought about it! Both gelato & ice cream are normally sold by volume (a scoop, a pint, a quart) therefore the more air my gelato or ice cream incorporates the faster I can fill those containers giving my customers more air and less product. Air in gelato is naturally incorporated by the type of ingredients in your recipe (more solids filled flavors like chocolate or nuts will incorporate less air than a caramel or simple fior di latte) but on average we are talking 30-35% versus 100% or more in commercial ice cream (more than twice as much air is pumped in it)! This is why artisanal gelato is richer, creamier & overall more flavorful. Also this is one of reasons why it is normally more expensive: air is still free right?
This is what you hear all the time as the best-selling point to Americans: gelato has half the fat of ice cream! It’s not true across the board, but if you know your recipes & you calculate the fat content of your flavors then you can stay within those parameters: 6-8% gelato versus 15-25% of ice cream. This is mostly because of the ingredients used in gelato (more milk, less cream) & an overall scientific approach that determined the optimal “scoopability” at a specific temperature.
These are, to me, the most important differences and as we saw they are NOT applicable to every “gelato” you encounter, but to only true artisanal gelato that follows specific guidelines. This is even more true in America, where unfortunately many call some sort of ice cream “gelato” just because it is trendier or so that they can charge more.
Be informed, don’t be fooled amici! Try Dolce Vita Gelateria