Do a search for the most popular gelato flavors in Italy and every list will be different.
Tastes change over time and certainly from one part of Italy to another. Southern Italians typically like gelato that is sweeter than that preferred by Northern Italians. Gelato in Northern Italy, especially around the city of Bologna, tends to be richer (from egg yolks) than that produced further down the peninsula. Certainly, children prefer somewhat different flavors from adults.
But surely there have to be some commonalities among all the lists of the most popular gelato flavors, no?
Perhaps I should know better than to wade into this morass but let me give you my thoughts on popular flavors.
There, I said it.
Chocolate is probably the most popular gelato flavor in Italy. There are lots of versions of chocolate. Some are made with solid chocolate (what the Italians call fondente), some are made with cocoa, and some are made with both. Then there’s the milk chocolate vs dark chocolate controversy, not to mention the inclusion of other ingredients such as candied oranges, peperoncino, and spices. Chocolate is really more of a category than a flavor!
Fiordilatte seems like the polar opposite of chocolate to me, sort of like angel food vs devil’s food cake. Fiordilatte is pure dairy: milk and cream. There is no vanilla and no other flavoring. Surprisingly, it is a very popular flavor! Fiordilatte means flower of milk which is an apt name considering the ingredients. Fiordilatte is actually three words in most instances (fior di latte) but when applied to gelato as a specific flavor they are usually combined into a single word.
You can also get fiordilatte that has been drizzled with melted (and subsequently cooled) chocolate, called stracciatella. Stracciatella comes from the root word straccio meaning rag or shred which is just how the chocolate looks.
Nut gelati are incredibly popular. The usual ones are pistachio, almond, hazelnut, and walnut. True artisan gelato is made with nut pastes (not flavoring), conceptually similar to peanut butter but ground much more finely. If you study gelato display cases in Italy, you will find that the nut gelati are usually near the back. The idea is to not have them in the direct line of sight of little children who are likely to be drawn to the first row of flavors.
Nut pastes are very expensive. Nut gelati are thus the most expensive gelato flavors to make. The norm in Italy, though, is that all gelato sells for the same price so gelato shops have an incentive to keep the nut gelati away from the eyes of little children while drawing their attention to the nearly fluorescent blue “puffo” gelato. Puffo is what the Italians call a Smurf. The blue gelato, which can either be licorice or bubble gum flavored, is aimed squarely at children.
Fruit gelati are prominent in most gelato shops. Strawberry is probably tops, but melon (usually cantaloupe), lemon, peach, apricot, and cherry are very common but the list goes on and on. Sometimes the fruit gelato is just fiordilatte with a fruit mixture swiped in. This is commonly done with amarena cherry. Other fruit flavors, like strawberry, melon, and lemon, have the fruit puree or juice fully incorporated into the gelato base before freezing.
I have only scratched the surface of gelato flavors and only the most common ones, at that. There is a whole world of creative flavors to be discovered. Tiramisù anyone??? Maybe you should try your hand at making a batch or two!
Until next time...