Gelato first appeared on the scene in the ancient Roman Empire when snow was brought down from mountain tops, stored underground mixed with flavorings. It didn’t become mainstream, however until just after the Renaissance when refrigeration techniques and special recipes were developed to combine the ingredients for maximum effect. As with many of the best things in life; red wine, sports cars, fine food and coffee, the birthplace of modern ice cream was Italy.
Gelato was the predecessor to ice cream. After the Italians perfected the recipe, Caterina de’ Medici shared the love with France and the rest, to be trite, is history. If Caterina were around, and not covered in worms and dirt, I would kiss her.
So, the main differences between gelato and ice cream then? Gelato has less fat, less sugar, and a more concentrated flavor. It is made in smaller batches that refrigerate and spoil more quickly.
This, keep in mind, is if ice cream is made with real cream; most of the brands in the supermarket are not made with real cream, but rather modified milk ingredients. Food technology being as it is, milk powder, often coming from New Zealand is reconstituted in food factories in the U.S. where a bunch of other non dairy ingredients like seaweed and hydrogenated vegetable oil. In Canada, many ice “cream” manufacturers use a butter-oil sugar blend. Like its name implies, it is made using a combination of fat and sugar; specifically, 51% sugar, classifying it as a confectionery (candy) product, and thus exempt from many of the import tariffs levied on milk products; making it much cheaper to manufacture; and yet, these frozen desserts are increasing in cost. Read your labels.
I digress. Traditionally made ice cream makers use cream and/or egg yolk as the stabilizer to stop it from freezing solid. Gelato makers use a more finely tuned technique of finding the perfect balance between the sugar and water content.
The truly best gelato comes from Italy! Even immigrant Italian families, using traditional Italian recipes, in Italian bowls, and Italian freezers adding bits of ground up Italians, cannot possibly compare. Must be those magic Italian dairy cows!