Whether you’re looking for respite from the summer heat or just want a reason to smile and celebrate, nothing beats a frozen treat when the mercury hits the high 20s.

And with the resurgence of dedicated ice cream shops, finding a frozen dessert on your next stroll around the neighbourhood couldn’t be easier. Fiasco Gelato, Village Ice Cream, Made by Marcus, DelloR, and La Carraia are just a few of the most popular specialized shops that Albertans head to when the craving for frozen dessert hits, but what’s the difference between their offerings?

Dino Falvo of Amato Gelato, has witnessed the boost of gelato since he brought the treat to Calgary back in 2001, supplying to Italian specialty markets like Lina’s and Scarpones.

His family has been making gelato for more than 90 years, originally on the farm in his hometown of Amato in Italy before his uncle moved to Canada and eventually went into the gelato business in Vancouver in the early 1970s and expanded to Calgary.

“They thought I was selling Jell-O,” says Falvo, about the general perception of gelato when he first arrived at the scene. What better way to educate the public than to let them experience the product through a gelato shop with all the colours of the rainbow laid out across the counter?

Today, Amato sources ingredients like mangoes from India and matcha from Japan to make all the flavours from scratch, manufacturing more than 400 varieties and customers can find find 72 scooping flavours on any given day. There’s more than 200 varieties in the store all together, including non-dairy or dairy-alternative selection.

Don’t go looking for rum and raisin or tiger tail ice cream at a gelateria, though. While both ice cream and gelato contain dairy as a primary ingredient, sugar, flavourings and are both mixed with air – gelato may or may not contain eggs, depending on the flavour being made – there are differences that yield very different textures. Where ice cream has typically greater than 10 percent milk fat and more than 50 percent air from the churning, gelato is made with whole milk (with 3.25 percent milk fat) and has less than 25 percent air, making it comparatively lighter in texture and more concentrated in flavour.

So, considering the intentional difference from traditional ice cream, what is the model gelato? There are three things that Falvo looks for as a gelato connoisseur and expert: flavour, creaminess and the longevity of the flavour that remains on your palate.

“If it’s not very flavourful in the beginning, the mouth feel is a little bit off, it’s not very creamy and the flavour washes away within seconds of you eating it – very, very poorly manufactured product,” says Falvo.

For purists, the litmus test for a well-made gelato, according to Falvo, is the vanilla bean gelato (and lemon sorbetto from the same maker). “It’s not masking it with other flavour combinations,” says Falvo.

“Straight up, traditional strawberry, vanilla, pistachio… you don’t need to mix these things. It’s easy to mask flavours with other flavours, but at the end of the day, if you can’t make a vanilla, you can’t make a lemon? Your product is not going to be that great. Those are the two simplest flavours to make with the least amount of ingredients, but the easiest to destroy.”

From obscurity to popularity, gelato can now be found on Italian restaurant menus and farmers’ markets regularly. The Italian Centre Shop locations in Calgary and Edmonton source gelato from Fantasia Caffe and Catering based right out of Edmonton, where they have been making gelato for more than 20 years.

Also adhering to the philosophy that simplicity is best, Edmonton’s Pinocchio Ice Cream starts with dairy from local producers and incorporates other local ingredients where possible.

Newer to the scene is Berlingo, sister shop (and right next door) to Yann Haute Patisserie in Calgary’s Mission neighbourhood. There, you can expect the same level of intricacy from its iced desserts as its cakes, macarons and chocolates. All the flavours for its gelato and sorbets are made in-house from scratch.

Similar to Berlingo, Fan Fan Patisserie in Edmonton also serves house-made gelato alongside pastries. You can order to enjoy by the cup or grab a pint to go.

Want to round out your lunch with a dessert? After you pick up a sandwich from Peppino’s, grab a gelato as well. Peppino’s makes about 15 to 20 gelato flavours from its facility in Bridgeland, and supplies to its Kensington location as well as Co-op supermarkets.

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