Behind the Scenes: The Secrets to Italian Gelato

The other day, I was strolling through the main street of Alba (a town in Piemonte, Italy) with my parents and nonni (grandparents) when I stopped in front of our all-time-favorite gelateria and told my dad I wanted to ask our gelato lady friends something. Two sisters and another kind blond lady work the counters day in and day out of this gelato shop that makes unbeatable flavors with an incredible creamy consistency. We’ve always had a good relationship with the ladies because we all support the same soccer team, Juventus FC. So whenever we need a cool gelato on a hot summer day, we go down to our gelateria, Sacchero, for a tasty treat and a chat about how my soccer “career” is going, or how Juventus is doing.

But this time, I wasn’t going to talk about soccer. I wanted to ask if I could possibly come in sometime to watch the sister that makes the gelato at work. I always wanted to know why their gelato was so good. How come I can only eat their gelato and nobody else’s? Why is their gelato so much better than every other gelato? And could I crank out a gelato like theirs back in America using my little Cuisinart ice cream maker?

Our closest friend of the three was at the counter. She’s always very happy to see me, the little calciatore, walking in to get his favorite gelato. Before I pick my two flavors, I always have to try at least three gusti, just so I’m sure I’ll be picking the best ones. So she kindly gave me a taste of mint, strawberry, and cassata siciliana, but as always, I went with my favorite combo of Dark Chocolate and Fior di Latte (which is a

Enjoying a killer combo of Chocolato Fondente (dark chocolate) and Fior di Latte.

pure milk ice cream, no vanilla flavor). Then I asked her when I could come in to watch how the gelato is made. She was, of course, thrilled to hear it and told me her sister, Barbara, would be making gelato tomorrow afternoon.

So here is an exclusive look behind-the-scenes at the production of top-quality gelato:

First, she measures out the milk and cream.

Then she pours a pre-measured amount of sugar. For some flavors, the sacks of sugar contain extra flavoring. Like cocoa for chocolate, and coffee granules for cafe.

She gives the milk/sugar mixture a quick blend

And then puts the liquid mixture into the machine to heat for the sugar to dissolve, as the machine mixes it. 

The gelato machine is a two-in-one kind of worker. It heats the gelato, while mixing, to dissolve the sugar, and then transports the liquid down to the bottom half of the machine, where the temperature is the opposite, in order to mix and freeze the liquid into gelato.

After the liquid freezes and mixes for a few minutes, out pops the simple form of gelato: Fior di latte.

Add a little chocolate, and the Fior di Latte becomes Stracciatella, my brother’s favorite!

You can also add a little coconut into the liquid mixture, then sprinkle some additional flakes on top afterwards for a coconut gelato.

Or you can add a little ricotta to the liquid mixture after it’s been heated in the top part of the machine..

…to make a mean ricotta gelato come out the bottom. Then add a little bit of pear syrup on top.

Boy, I sure wish my freezer looked more like theirs.

Did I mention they do popsicles too? This is coffee with hazelnut dip.

And here are some interesting facts I got from taking notes and using my Italian with Barbara:

  • She uses three types of sugar: Sucrose (normal sugar), Glucose, and Dextrose. The sucrose gives the flavor and the glucose makes the gelato creamier. I’ll definitely try some glucose in my gelato.
  • To make the killer dark chocolate flavor I like, she uses a 55% chocolate from Germany with added cocoa. She uses less sugar and more dextrose to make it creamier, otherwise it won’t be as smooth due to the cocoa.

    Sacchero’s gelati are crazy creamy, and crazy tasty.

  • The gelato is kept at 10 degrees F (-12 degrees C) because the gelato should not be served too hard.
  • The ratio of whole milk to panna (cream) is generally 3 liters of milk to 1 cream. Gotta remember that!
  • The gelato is made every day, except for her day off and the one day when she prepares all of the sugar packs.
  • She changes flavors depending on the season
  • Many gelaterie, such as the chains like Grom, buy their mixtures of flavor and sugar already done. She does everything
    herself.
  • She says making gelato takes more chemistry skill than cooking. There is a lot of measuring, and dealing with different amounts of sugars and temperatures.
  • She stressed the importance of the quality of the cream and milk. Italian dairy products are incredible, that’s why they make such good gelato.
  • Italy has very strict laws on public health and safety. The working area must be pristine and Barbara has to write reports after every day on the temperatures she uses and the cleansing procedures she took.

I got to see 5 flavors made in over an hour, along with a batch of popsicles. That means I also got to taste test  5 different flavors: yogurt, fior di latte, stracciatella, coconut, and pear. From tasting each one, I learned that gelato tastes much better fresh out of the mixer. So next time I go, I’ll ask “What’s she making back there?”

20 responses on “Behind the Scenes: The Secrets to Italian Gelato

    • Thank you sooo much, Eunice! I am very honored to be given an award! My blog is in its early stages so it is very excited to be given such a nice award! I will be posting the news and following the award’s guidelines very shortly! Thanks!!!

  1. Your blog is super and very interesting.
    I’m thinking lamb chops for dinner now.
    What kind of wood so you cook with?
    Thanks,
    Uncle Johnny

    • Hey uncle johnny!
      We usually use our neighbor’s wood (a good friend and farmer) which is just chopped wood from a normal tree (not sure which type though).
      The best meats are grilled with olive wood. We used it a few weeks ago and my nonna (grandma) uses it all the time. It’s super.

  2. My mouth is watering, Ben!! I do NOT believe you have taken me to this place. I look forward to my own sweet cup of gelato recommended by the master!

    • Thanks Aunt Melinda! Yeah, too bad we didn’t go there. I guess it kind of slipped our minds. But it’ll save something for the return visit! Hope to see you guys in Minnesota some time soon.

  3. Ben, great article! I’m a gelato lover myself (Amorino in Paris is my fav) so I’d love to put their Speculoos up against your adopted hometown’s best. I’ve got a Cuisinart ice cream maker too, so when you’re back in VA, I’m very interested in a lesson! Keep it up!!!

    • Thanks Nancy! I wouldn’t mind seeing which gelato takes the cake either. This one is hard to beat. I’ve travelled throughout Italy and still haven’t found a better gelateria. The cuisinart is something I’m trying to improve on myself. It’s really fun to use!

  4. This was a great article about the MOST important topic…GELATO! I have been to Italy and had many a gelato, including Grom…but now I can ses that I need to make a trip to your favorite spot. Thanks to you, I am adding this to my bucket list. Keep up the good work.
    PS I am friends with the Dickersons and Nesses. :)

    • Yes! Definitely the most important topic! Thanks for the nice comment. I did go to Grom a few times during my 6 months in Turin, and it does have good flavor. However, it lacks the creamy consistency that you can find at this small shop in Alba.

Comments are wonderful!