A part of “microexploration” I particularly like is to think through food. Enjoy it, and consider connections.
Looking for the best gelato in Florence found a connection with one of my least favorite parts of social media, though: the network effect.
Let’s start sweetly: Florence is not just the heart of Tuscany and the origin and jewel of the Renaissance. It is also a place where the true Italian ice cream, gelato, sprang forth.
The Invention of Gelato
The story goes that Caterina de Medici announced a call for the most special dish yet seen. The winner was a certain Ruggeri with the sorbet he created.
Freezing water with sugar and fruit – as he did for his winning dish – was not exactly unknown, but Ruggeri perfected that method… and then came signore Bernardo Buontalenti, who had the idea of adding eggs.
The eggs gave the frozen mixture the creaminess that turns a sorbetto (a sherbet) into true ice cream, gelato.
Now, of course, such ice cream is everywhere as one of the most popular treats of summer. In Florence, in particular, one finds gelato every few meters.
It is only logical that gelaterie, nowadays, are popular places to tag on social media, to show off their products, to rate and discuss.
The Social Media’s Network Effect
It can be a lot of fun to share one’s joy about a new experience, a fantastic trip, a nice cone or cup of gelato.
Florence may be a city struggling with overtourism, but of course it also profits from the visitors.
Gelaterie certainly profit; and if one doesn’t come right after a busload of (other) tourists, it is usually quite possible to find quieter times and enjoy.
At least, I haven’t seen any gelateria that was so overrun “thanks to” Instagram popularity that it was better to avoid it.
However, in all the stories of popularity, we tend to overlook something.
Ratings and Rantings
The ratings implicit in social media sharing or made explicit on Tripadvisor and the like can be very helpful.
I, too, wouldn’t book a room on e.g. booking.com (Sneaky ad here? It is what I often use, so let me give you a/my affiliate link here, which would give you and me a bonus from them) without checking the ratings and opinions given there.
Likes and, well, the like, also guide us in certain directions, however. In the case of the gelaterie in Florence, the effect is a problematic one:
For one, the gelaterie which are closer to where most people are will get more ratings and reviews.
Then, the more attractive a presentation, the more likely people are to get pulled into a store. Make the cone of gelato more Instagrammable still, and there’ll be even more attention going that way.
And then, the more popular and engaging something seems to be, the more likely people are to like that and want to share it. And the more the algorithms promote that content as engaging.
The Problem of Better Gelato
This network effect – what gets more attention will get even more attention, attracting yet more, and so on – is a peculiar problem when it comes to things which need a closer look.
The quality of gelato, for example, does not lie in how popular it is or how attractive it looks.
You are unlikely to get gelato that is horrible in Florence, even if it is industrially-made mass production.
If you are a connoisseur or would like to learn about quality, however, you should be running away from those places where the ice cream is piled up into towers, shining with colorful swirls.
That’s to attract the childish who don’t know better.
The Pozzetti, The Better
If you know better, in most cases, you will want to look for gelaterie using pozzetti (also called carapine), the metal cylinders for gelato.
There, you can’t be attracted by flashiness – which requires lots of flavor and color and stabilization chemistry to work out that way. You have to trust that the gelateria makes good gelato.
Gelato so good, you don’t have to see it to be attracted. And so good, it’s worth storing it at a good constant temperature, away from the detrimental effects of oxygen and UV light, and covered so that customers and employees can have a chat without anyone inadvertently salivating on the gelato…
These better places are the ones I have been looking for. And the trip to Florence that sparked this post was a particularly interesting one, with even more of these lessons about quality and ratings.
The Best Gelato in Firenze
GROM – il gelato come una volta
I’m a bit hesitant to recommend GROM, seeing how far and widely they have expanded. But, they do make good gelato.
Gelato, that is, from select raw materials, without any flavorings, colorization, preservatives or emulsifiers. Of course served from pozzetti.
GROM also has a nice constant selection and a nice changing range, with seasonal flavors and a flavor of the month.
Like some of the other better gelaterie, they tell what sort of nuts – last time I was there, pistachios – they use in detail. (If you can read Italian, they explain here.)
GROM in Florence is right down a small side street from the Campanile, at Via del Campanile 2. (There would be a second store in the Centro commerciale I Gigli, via San Quirico, 164)
Official website: GROM (in English)
Also at the Duomo, near the Magnum “Make your own” ice cream place (which would definitely be good for Instagram-worthy creations), is the little and rather new gelateria Edoardo.
Looking at the story of how gelato was invented, they often seem to be taking a step back: Their ice cream is oftentimes more of a sorbet than a gelato – but that’s because their production is organic and oftentimes even vegan. And in the case of the vegan flavors, of course there’s none of the eggs (or cream) that would give the gelato its creaminess.
Their passion for organic raw materials from across Tuscany is very nice, anyways, and their gelati are good (and so are their handmade waffle cones).
Piazza del Duomo 45/R
Official website: http://www.edoardobio.it/
Rivareno Gelato in Via Borgo Degli Albizi, 46/R is down the road from the corner of the Duomo where Edoardo is, then down left.
(This is also the way to the Firenze store of chocolate maker Vestri, which I also always find worth a visit. In winter, Vestri has hot chocolate that’s excellent, in summer – mainly chocolate – gelato, and always other seasonal items overfilling the small store, aside their normal selection).
Rivareno also has a few stores, actually, mainly in Italy, but even further abroad. Strangely enough, there is one in Bali…
This gelateria was founded in Bologna (and takes its name from a quarter of that city); it prides itself on working only with select high-quality ingredients. No artificial sweeteners, well-chosen cacao from Zaire and the Ivory Coast. Fruit gelati or sorbets contain at least 55% fruit…
One particular reason I like them is that they have a constant selection, that includes a few rather more special – and truly excellent – flavors.
One I also mention in the video is the Crema Buontalenti (or Crema Fiorentina). This harkens back to the original gelato of signore Buontalenti, with cream, eggs, millefiori honey, orange and lemon peel extract.
Contessa (with Sicilian almonds, amaretti and Piemont hazelnut paste) and Cremino Rivareno (their bestseller with white chocolate, hazelnut, cream and gianduja) are also favorites.
Official website: https://www.rivareno.com/en/
Le Botteghe di Leonardo
Hidden but not hidden, a few steps up from the Capelle Medicee, at Via de’ Ginori, 21 R, lies this gelateria.
They are rather innovative, going for some rather less usual combinations of flavors. Lemon-mint, for example, was really refreshing and good. I also tried an apple-carrot-ginger gelato, which sounded pretty odd but was good.
Rather like Edoardo, Leonardo also tends to try and cater to those with some special needs or demands of their food. So, it is not the creamiest and best, in that regard, gelato you are going to find here. But, you will find very good gelato that is partly a bit more unusual, and that includes some flavors for vegan, lactose-intolerant, etc. people.
Official website, currently under re-construction: http://www.lebotteghedileonardo.it/
Gelateria Della Passera
My favorite find, and the best example of network effect-afflicted social media, was Gelateria Della Passera in Oltrarno, on the other side of the Arno from Florence’s old town.
So, head across the Ponte Vecchio towards the Palazzo Pitti, down Via de’ Guicciardini. Then turn right into Via dello Sprone, shortly before you would get out onto the square in front of Palazzo Pitti. When you get onto a small square, Piazza della Passera, you are at Via Toscanella, 15. On the right-hand corner lies Gelateria Della Passera.
Why am I describing this in such detail?
It is not all that easy to find one’s way through those small streets. People will head to Palazzo Pitti and perhaps to the church and square of Santo Spirito.
There won’t be too many people who just happen to stroll by, get attracted by the cute small shop, try some of the gelato and discover just how good it is.
This is what shows in ratings founded on the mass of social media users.
Social Media Popularity and Hidden Champions
In rankings based on social media-like popularity, Gelateria Della Passera is not usually in the top spots.
I have, in looking at rankings again, found it farther up than I remember having seen it before. Still, with reviews of many gelaterie above it, one would probably just go to what’s closest.
Now, like I said up top, just about any of the gelato is going to taste good enough, at least to the average eater – to which I would most certainly count myself.
Looking through rankings on the usual portals, which build them up via a numbers game, it is pretty clear that many top ranks are based more on how many people pass by the location rather than how high the quality really is.
Gelateria Della Passera is a good case in point. In Italian rankings of the best gelaterie in Firenze, it is either at the very top or among the first ranks.
Quality and Flavors
Why? Glad you asked…
The gelato here is also from their own production, with select ingredients. They turn the gelato out in small ice scoops rather than with the spatula. This makes for smaller portions, but at 1 Euro each, they offer a similar price for the quantity.
The range of flavors is very nice, with a few kinds that offer rather special aromas that I liked particularly much.
Their Crema di Sette Profumi (Seven Flavors/Aromas/Spices… a profumo is really more of a scent), uses different spices. It turns out so subtle and enticing, at the same time – it is great.
Crema della Primavera was similarly subtle, elegant, and aromatic.
They also had excellent pistachio gelato, and a great cassata flavor, inspired by the Sicilian sweet made of ricotta and candied fruit.
I went there once to find and try it, then had another cup right after – and returned the next day before the trip back home…
Official Website (only in Italian, and it’s more of a not-often-updated blog): https://gelaterialapassera.wordpress.com/
They are more easily found on Facebook: