"When I got here seven years ago, it was almost impossible to find gelato," says Simone Parisi, owner of Parisi, a north Denver Italian restaurant and deli that recently added a gelato counter. "It's definitely gotten more popular; it's trendy now. I think it's going to be one of our strong points, especially in the summer months."
"It seems like once people come in, they're hooked," agrees Roy Weinstein, owner of Gelato d'Italia Cafe, a Cherry Creek North establishment dedicated to the frozen snack. "The summer months are definitely much more hectic, but we're busy pretty much the entire year. We have a very strong European following."
Gelato, or Italian ice cream, traces its origins back to sixteenth-century Italy, but Chinese emperors also gratified themselves with frozen delicacies made from snow and ice flavored with fruit, wine and honey as long as 3,000 years ago. Generally speaking, gelato is lighter, smoother and lower in fat than regular ice cream, even though both are made from whole milk, cream, sugar and flavorings such as pistachio-nut paste or a fresh-fruit purťe. Unlike ice cream, however, no eggs are added when making gelato.
All of that has certainly made it a big seller in a diet-conscious America, since "gelato has half the fat and half the air of American ice cream," Weinstein says. "Ice cream tends to have more cream than milk in it, while gelato has a higher percentage of whole milk. And gelato is made 'artisan style,' which means that it's done in small batches. It's not a mass-produced thing."
So what is the meltability factor of gelato?
"Gelato is supposed to be served a little bit softer than ice cream, so it's probably going to melt a little bit quicker," says Weinstein, who also serves three-flavored gelato pies and homemade desserts such as fresh-fruit cobblers, tarts and brownies made with extra chocolate.
And what gelato flavors get Denver tastebuds all a-twitter? "Pistachio is the most popular singular flavor, but the chocolate-based flavors come in a close second," says Weinstein, who scoops up more than 25 handmade flavors of gelatos and Italian sorbets -- everything from vanilla bean to White Peach Champagne.
Parisi, who imports custom flavors directly from Italy as well as stocking goods from Gelato d'Italia's wholesale business, says chocolate is the preferred variety of most of his customers. "It's my favorite, too," he says.
The Gelato d'Italia shop, which originally opened in 1997, was purchased by Weinstein, a former software consultant, in early 2003. "It was a pretty big life change," he says. "But I've always liked to cook, and I really wanted to do a place that sells high-end desserts. I'm really enjoying it."
Parisi met his American wife when she was studying art history in Florence; the couple moved to Denver in 1997. "Of course, it was a little difficult when I first came here, but now I love Colorado. I'll never leave," he says. "I want to share my culture. That's why we're trying to do something different here -- to serve really authentic food."
So whether you prefer vanilla, chocolate hazelnut or strawberry cheesecake, this summer is the time to discover that a scoop or two of gelato truly is il sapore della dolce vita -- a taste of the good life.
Where to Find the Sweet Treat
250 Detroit Street
$2.75 single scoop
$4.25 double scoop
4401 Tennyson Street
$2.75 single scoop
$3.95 double scoop