There are many, many reasons to go to Italy, and gelato is certainly not the least. I encourage the women on our tours to enjoy some everyday. There are so many delicious flavors to try it seems a shame not to eat at least a couple of cups a day.
To find the best gelato, there are a few things you should know. First, gelato is not ice cream. It's made with milk and yet is richer and smoother, and infinitely more flavorful. There are several chocolate flavors, nut flavors, and creamy flavors. The fruit flavors which are intensely fruit-flavored are technically not gelati, but sorbetti because they are not made with milk. The store where gelato is sold is called a gelateria, and the Italians all seem to have a favorite that they frequent, much like their favorite coffee bar.
1) One tip for getting the best gelato, that I've heard repeated many times (and it makes perfect sense), is to watch the color. The color of the flavor should match its natural ingredient. So, banana gelato should not be bright yellow, but a sort of grayish white--like the actual fruit of the banana and not its peel. Another common (and delicious) flavor pistacchio (pee-STAHK-yoh) should not bright but a pale grayish green, like the nut meat. You want your gelato to be made from all natural ingredients and the color should match the color of the real thing.
2) Two good signs that might be posted: produzione propria and/or artigianale. The first means that the product is made on the premises and the second that it is artisanal--made the traditional way using natural ingredients. The signs will be prominently and proudly displayed.
3) The gelato in the cases should be in metal not plastic tubs. Only mass-produced stuff comes in
Finally, gelato comes in a cone or a cup (cono or coppa); a scoop is a pallina. However, a 'scoop' is simply the amount that fits in the size of cup or type of cone you order. Most often, with a small coppa and una pallina you can get up to three flavors (gusti). With a medium you can usually choose up to five flavors. This information is generally prominently displayed. If not, you can ask in politely in English-- or in Italian, it's Quanti gusti posso avere per pallina?
It's good manners to know what flavors you want before you get to the counter--and hold everybody up with your indecision. It's fun to try different combinations. Next time, I'll give you a cheat sheet of gelato flavors.
This is painful. Thinking and writing about gelato on a summer's day when I am in Seattle and NOT Italy...