Tourists Can Order Italian Gelato Like A Local By Asking For This Tasty Addition

There's a mouthwatering culinary sensation on nearly every street corner of Italy, from trattorias (restaurants) and paninotecas (sandwich shops) to enotecas (wine stores). Perhaps this country's most coveted and widely known cultural dessert is the beloved frozen sweet treat found in the aromatic gelaterias across Italy. For every Starbucks perched on the streets of North America, there's a local gelateria nestled on a cobblestone laneway in Italy, each one an irresistible temptation. The creamy composition and rich yet not overly decadent consistency of gelato make it the perfect snack to satisfy a sweet tooth craving. This luscious cultural delicacy is usually enjoyed as an evening indulgence during a post-dinner stroll or as a midday pick-me-up to beat the summer heat.

While it may not be obvious, there's a finely tuned ritual of how to properly order gelato. Mastering the vocabulary of how to ask for your cup or cone will help you to look like a local when traveling in Italy, but the other important thing to note? Toppings are essentially nonexistent in Italy. Locals prefer to keep their gelato simple, allowing the natural flavors of this treat to shine through — with the exception of one! Panna (fresh cream) or panna montata (whipped cream) is this region's equivalent to the rainbow sprinkles and chocolate chips that so commonly adorn the tops of ice cream sundaes. Rather than requesting a layer of candy, it's more common for a simple dollop of panna to act as the cherry on top of this frozen treat.

You can't have gelato without the cream

Just as gelato isn't technically considered ice cream, La panna is in no way the same fluffy whipped cream found in aluminum cans. Like the rest of their culinary artwork, Italians rely on a fresher, less-processed version of cream topping. It's why you'll often spot gelaterias storing their cream in cold cases rather than cans because of the lighter fat content that prevents the dairy from being "whipped." 

It's not surprising the founders of pizza and pasta are also responsible for gifting the world with this common household staple. According to BBC, Italians were the first to experiment with this white, fluffy topping, and the earliest record of whipped cream dates back to the 16th-century Italian Renaissance. Appreciated by the palettes of the royal Medici family, this trending dairy product quickly spread to England and beyond. However, the first official whipped cream recipe in England wasn't published until 1545.

Today, local Italians are quick to share their pride in this delicacy that you can still enjoy even if you're traveling in Italy on a tight budget. The best self-respecting ice cream parlors know that the finest cup of ice cream doesn't boast a single coat of toppings but has goodies folded between the layers of the cup. Italian gelato is no different. Most gelaterias place a generous layer of panna in the base of the cone, followed by the guests' gelato of choice and topped with an additional coat of cream — an ingenious concept coined as "doppia panna," or double cream.

Gelato con panna, per favore!

With gelaterias sprawled across every area of Italy, it can be tempting to classify each one as similar to the last, but that's often not the case. Each specialty shop has a unique personality and an assortment of cream toppings. Italians take the universal concept of "whipped cream" to the next level, with everything from crema (a custard-like consistency) to cocco (coconut cream). Some specific cities have gained a reputation for selling the best gelato in Italy, so knowing where to look can make your gelato sampling experience even better. 

Nestled in Rome's Piazza Sallustio, Gelateria I Caruso isn't the only gelato shop in this major urban piazza, but it is the only one harboring fresh panna crafted in-house with a flavorful twist. This local shop has taken the concept of traditional whipped cream to a whole new level with a signature marsala-wine-flavored whipped cream.

An equally divine experience that will have your tastebuds singing, LatteNeve in Milan makes their whipped cream in-house. This small slice of heaven houses some of the best gelato and was even recognized by Gambero Rosso, a leading Italian food and wine magazine, specifically for its whipped cream. As a bonus, they add a dollop of panna to every serving of organic gelato at no extra cost!