This past June when my friend Morten brought up the idea of joining him on a two-and-a-half week vacation in Bologna the first thought that popped in my head (aside from, "Hell yeah, I'm going") was, "What's the greatest amount of gelato that I can consume without tearing a hole in my stomach?"
Don't worry—I stayed well below this level or else I'd be typing this from a hospital bed.
My gelato consumption averaged out to one gelateria a day during my vacation. Some days I ate no gelato (gasp!) while other days I ate it more than once. Here's a round up of the best Bolognan gelaterias I went to, culled from Slow Travel's recommendations.
Since Gelateria Gianni was the closest gelateria to my hotel, I hobbled over on my first night in a semi-jetlagged state, ravenous for my first bite of gelato on Italian soil. Although my eyes were met with the longest row of gelato-filled containers I had ever seen (around 40 if I had to estimate), it was easy to settle on the bounteous mound of light yellow-green pistachio gelato (which is the color it should be, not that weird minty green color that I assure you is not naturally occuring).
...At least, for one of my flavors. You can't just get one flavor when ordering a cup of gelato; the other gazillion flavors would feel neglected. In addition to pistachio I also requested strawberry sorbet and ricordati di me, a combination of pine nut and coconut gelato with swirls of Nutella and Nocciolatte (a chocolate hazelnut spread similar to Nutella). While strawberry was satisfyingly light and fruity and ricordati di me was...well, it was interesting, maybe had a little too much going on for it, pistachio was the clear winner. Rich and silky smooth with a warm buttery (oh yes, buttery) and nutty flavor, it was light years better than most of the pistachio gelato or ice cream I've had in the US, meaning it was probably average for gelato in Bologna.
I noticed that Gianni's pistachio gelato was noticeably richer and dense compared to the pistachio gelato of other gelaterias. Based on your textural preference, this could be a positive or a negative thing. I side with "positive" as I tend to be drawn to foods that give the sensation of instantaneously hardening arteries. Don't tell me that I'm the only one who revels in the tasty thrill of death.
I also loved Gianni's dainty gelato popsicles. Naturally I had to get a pistachio flavored one dipped in chocolate and coated with a sprinkling of crushed pistachios. Why is gelato more fun to eat when it's in the form of a cylindrical chunk on a small wooden slat? I have no clue; maybe sticks provide 50% of the amusement.
Gelateria Delle Moline
The next day I randomly came across Gelateria Delle Moline. Before lunch. I almost saw this as a reason to return to the gelateria at a more reasonable gelato-eating time, but then I remembered that the first rule of eating gelato (out of my long list of made-up rules) is that you can eat it whenever you want, just as long as you don't have to break into a gelateria to get it. Gianni was closed before noon, but Delle Moline had its doors wide open and ready for my belly. "Step inside and feast on my creamy delights, dear American tourist!" is what it may have bellowed if it had vocal cords and could speak English.
Of course, the pistachio was good, albeit not mindblowingly so. If you prefer something that doesn't attack your tongue with rich buttery goodness, you'd probably be better off going to Delle Moline than Gianni. I also ordered fior di latte, which is simply milk flavored gelato. Its delicate flavor went nicely with the pistachio.
For my second visit to Delle Moline I let the young woman behind the counter decide what flavors to give me, resulting in a cup of hazelnut and crema (custard flavored) topped with a paddling of thick panna (fresh whipped cream). After finishing my cup I thought pistachio was still the best, with hazelnut coming in in second.
Next on the list was La Sorbetteria, sadly the only gelateria that I didn't get to visit more than once even though I wanted to try all eight of their special flavors with combinations like "cream of mascarpone with pine nuts" and "cream of almonds and toasted almonds with sugar." I settled on a cup of Dolce Emma—cream of ricotta & dried figs with honey—and Dolce Contagio—cream of pine nut & caramel candied walnuts. (The lack of pistachio may have been because I assumed I would revisit the gelateria later. Insert self-inflicted smack to the forehead.) I found the Dolce Emma just a tad too sweet, probably because of the massive piece of honeyed fig, which—if you've ever had a dried fig—is like coating a wad of sugar in liquid sugar. Of course, fig and honey have their own distinct fruity and floral flavors besides stark sweetness that when combined (or alone for that matter) taste great. I ended up enjoying the Dolce Contagio more, mostly because of its crunchy bits of candied walnuts.
Although I didn't get to try it, a friend recommended getting Sorbetteria's dark chocolate gelato for a revelatory experience. They also make sandwiches consisting of textbook-thick rectangular slabs of brioche bread stuffed with gelato, possibly providing another revelatory experience. If only I had gotten a dark chocolate gelato sandwich...
Stefino was the smallest gelateria I visited and, as it consisted only of a take-out window, sadly lacked a giant case filled with billowy mounds of gelato to get the stomach juices flowing. However, you don't need to see the gelato to know it's good. Just look at the crowd of people hanging around, clutching to their tickets while waiting for their number to appear on the electronic display inside the kitchen. Their specialties are chocolate and pistachio based flavors, the latter of which carry a small extra cost due to the expensive high quality nut. A sign near the order window lists the ingredients of their offerings, many of which are organic or fair trade. They're clearly on a mission to make gelato with the most natural and fresh ingredients.
On my first visit my cup consisted of pistachio and fior di panna. Once again, the pistachio had the warm buttery and nutty flavor I so highly coveted, but without a distinct richness. (It's possible that by this point I was burnt out on pistachio gelato and lost the ability to gauge its qualities. There's just too much pistachio gelato and it's all so very tasty.)
I later found richness in the thick and smooth dark chocolate gelato whose texture reminded me of chocolate pudding. Surprisingly, I liked it more than the pistachio. I also preferred it over the meditteraneo, a combination of almond, pistachio and pine nut. Since I love all three nuts I expected their union to result in triple nutty goodness, but instead experienced a muddling of flavors as each one became lost within the other. However, I could be wrong; one of my friends loved the flavor.
Just two days before leaving Bologna I visited Gelatauro, a gelateria that focuses on using organic produce and procuring the best ingredients from small producers. Besides gelato, the large shop also offers freshly baked goods, homemade chocolates, bottles of wine and select pantry items such as jams, olive oil and honey. (For a more in-depth profile of Gelatauro, read about David Lebovitz's visit to the shop and kitchen.)
Of course, I only wanted one thing. In my first cup of pistachio and the unconventional zenzero (ginger), I found the zenzero to be disappointingly mild. Initially, I could barely tell what the flavor was (possessing little knowledge of Italian I had just hoped that "zenzero" translated to "ginger") until, a few moments after swallowing, the spicy ginger flavor kicked the back of my throat. Or slightly nudged the back of my throat. It reminded me of eating a pepper-flavored chocolate truffle whose hotness didn't kick in until after it traveled down my esophagus. I'll admit that I'm used to eating strong ginger ice cream; if I weren't I may not have felt like the ginger gelato was too mild.
The pistachio, on the other hand, provided a blast of rich, buttery, nutty flavor that instantly filled my soul with rolling green hills of pistachio surrounded by streams of pistachio goo. (This is what good pistachio gelato should result in, by the way—mild hallucination.) It was easy to designate Gelatauro's pistachio gelato as my favorite in Bologna; rich, but not too rich, with excellent flavor.
I went to Gelatauro again the next day for a small cup of pistachio and pumpkin & cinnamon, another unconventional flavor. I felt like the pumpkin & cinnamon flavor could've been a smidge stronger, but the autumnal combination was one of my favorites. The flavors were clear and, like most of the gelato I had in Bologna, not obscured by excessive sweetness.
I highly recommend taking your next vacation in Bologna, a great city for going to art museums, visiting beautiful churches, walking under endless portici and eating loads of tortelloni. Just don't forget to stuff yourself with gelato while you're there.
Address: Via Monte Grappa, 11/A; Via S. Stefano, 14/A
Phone: 051 233008; 051 238949
Gelateria Delle Moline
Address: Via Delle Moline, 13/B
Phone: 051 248470
Address: Via Castiglione, 44
Phone: 051 233257
Address: Via Galliera 49/B
Phone: 051 246736
Address: Via San Vitale, 98
Phone: 051 230049