Joanne and I just returned from Italy with grandkids in tow. And of course we dragged them – occasionally kicking and screaming (not really) – to all of the must-sees: the Colosseum, Roman Forum, St Peter’s, the Uffizi Galleries, the Duomo, etc.
And while these icons certainly caught their attention, they were rivaled by two other attention-getting experiences – namely FORTNIGHT, with their eyes on their IPhones as they teamed up with their siblings to build massive forts, battle against hordes of monsters, and craft and loot giant worlds (I like to think it improved their understanding of the Roman Empire).
The other thing that grabbed ‘em – without fail – was GELATO.
It was a treat on a hot afternoon and a reward after a long day of touring. Asking the kids to rank order their favorites always fueled an animated discussion. And the threat of withholding gelato provided a powerful inducement for our bambini to behave.
And so it was that as we toured the cities and ancient sights, their eyes were often glued to their IPhones while their taste buds and antenna were tuned to sensing the closest GELATERIA.
Since my video game knowledge never got past PAC-MAN and THE FROGGER …… I’ll talk a bit about gelato.
First of all: a little primer on gelato vs. ice cream. They are different. Both good but simply different.
Both contain milk, cream and sugar. Ice cream frequently contains egg yolks. Gelato does not and uses more milk and less cream. It’s also churned at a much slower rate than ice cream, thus incorporating less air, leaving gelato denser, silkier and softer.
Because of the cream and egg yolks, ice cream contains butterfat in the range of 14 to 25%, while gelato is in the 4 to 9% range. With less butterfat coating your palate, flavors intensify. Also, gelato is kept and served at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream – 7 to 12 degrees vs. 10 to 15 degrees. The warmer temperature of gelato causes your mouth to become less numb from the chill and better able to allow the flavors to shine through.
Because it contains less fat and air, gelato costs about 30% more than ice cream. But the good news is that gelato contains about 20% fewer calories.
In Rome there were two important gelaterias in our neighborhood near the Pantheon: DELLA PALMA and GIOLITTI. Each offered about 150 different choices. They were equally good and just a few steps from one another. What they have in common besides the outstanding quality is the incredible artistry in how they display the product – positively jaw-dropping. Check out the visuals below. (Our grandkids sampled 47 different varieties.)
So what about kids in Italy? Well, besides exposing them to the ancient history of the Roman Empire and the cultural history of the Renaissance, our grandkids were troopers when it came to the many Roman, Tuscan and Milanese foods they tried for the first time and loved. Among their favorites: Porcini mushrooms, Bistecca Fiorentina, Tuscan chicken liver crostini, risotto Milanese and pastas and pizzas of all stripes.
We didn’t indulge, but there are numerous cooking classes for kids, both in Rome and in Florence — pizza making and gelato making.
Which brings us back to gelato and some “inside baseball” information. CAUTION! There are two dueling ways of serving up cones: THE SCOOP vs. THE PADDLE.
You want to buy from the shops that use the paddle. The scoop is often used by lesser gelaterias as a way of keeping costs down by controlling the smaller size of the ball of gelato they serve. The paddle method slathers the gelato generously (get three flavors, and the cone will almost topple. Further, the price is often about the same as the smaller scooping joints.
Joanne and I watched with amusement as our grandkids progressed during the trip from the safety of familiar flavors to absolute culinary adventure – starting timidly with chocolate and strawberry and the comfort of Nutella, Twix, Snickers and Mars renditions, then stepping up the pace to include profiterole, watermelon and blood orange. Passion fruit, green apple and Sicilian fruit took ‘em to the next level and by the final few days they were sampling fig and puffo (cotton candy gelato). Topping off the adventure: BLACK SESAME SEED!
I found gelato to be extremely democratic, cutting across all lines from young and old, famous and locals, Arnold and Magic, Audrey and Gregory, princes and priests, not to mention nuns making gelato a habit.