Which tastes better:
ice cream or gelato?
Linda: I know, I know, that's like asking a mother "who's your favorite child?" Her response is "They are all my favorites". But our inquiring minds (and the heat of the summer) led us on our quest to see if we could taste the difference and which we preferred. My personal answer to the question is: gelato and ice cream have very different tastes, but I can't say that I prefer one to the other. But, having visited 3 gelato shops and 4 ice cream shops, our tasting consensus is bigger is not better. Our favorites were all shops that made their products on-site. For ice cream, we liked Bobtail in Chicago and The Scottish Highland Creamery in Oxford, Maryland, and for gelato our favorite was Black Dog in Chicago.
Gelato and ice cream have several differences. Ice cream has more butterfat; super-premium ice cream is 15-18% butterfat. Gelato is typically 3-6% butterfat. Ice cream typically has more air whipped into it during the production process. Most commercially available ice cream is produced in large, regional facilities and is made with stabilizers to keep it creamy. Gelato, the pride of Italy, is usually made in small batches, fresh daily. Its creaminess comes from the production process, rather than the fat content. But enough schooling. Let's talk taste. Long-time taster and first time blogger, Ryan, joined me for the Chicago tasting. Sharon is reporting from the eastern shore of Maryland.
Ice cream shops
1293 N. Milwaukee Avenue
$2.99 for a scoop
Linda: Oberweis is a large, high quality, Midwestern dairy. We visited one of its retail shops, which carries ice cream, milk (in bottles!), and various other dairy products. We sampled the vanilla ice cream and the blueberry pie ice cream. The vanilla was very vanilla-y. The blueberry pie tasted like blueberries with nice crunchy pie-crust-like chunks. It should be noted that it is made with high fructose corn syrup, which some people try to avoid.
Ryan: Considering that ice cream lies firmly in the "once-in-a-while" category of foods (at least it should) I don't see the inclusion of high fructose corn syrup as being a deal breaker. The vanilla ice cream was creamy, without having the overly foamy mouth feel that over-aerated, lower-quality ice creams can have. The vanilla flavor was nice and intense. As far as the blueberry pie ice cream goes, I would be very interested to know how they keep those yummy bits of crust from getting soggy!
Justine's Ice Cream Parlour
106 N. Talbot St.
St. Michael's, Maryland
$3.00 for a scoop
Sharon: I was very excited about my first taste from this 25 year old institution. Family and friends have sampled this ice cream before, but I had not. Upon arrival I was surprised to see a huge truck out front with the "Jack and Jill" logo from Pennsylvania making a delivery. Upon my questioning of the VERY young staff, I was informed that their ice cream is the premium label from Jack and Jill. Needless to say, I was disappointed. I made the mistake of assuming it was homemade. Given the lines that snake out of the store on the weekends, I never thought any different. What they are known for are their old-fashioned shakes. They specialize in some great combinations; cocoa-coconut, cinnamon toast, etc. You can choose a flavor already posted on the famous wall or make up your own. But I came for ice cream so that's what I sampled. The selection was rather pedestrian. Espresso chip, mint chocolate chip, etc. I sampled the cookies and cream. I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other. It was tasty, with basically the standard small pieces of cookie in a vanilla base.
Bobtail Ice Cream Company
2951 N. Broadway Chicago
$3.50 per scoop
Linda: This is an adorable shop with very friendly service. They make their ice cream on site and you can taste the difference between their ice cream and large batch ice cream from Oberweis. We tasted their cookies and cream and their salted caramel. The salted caramel was my favorite taste of the day. It made me smile! I like ice cream with chunks of stuff, like cookies. I also like combining the sweet with the savory – like salt with caramel. Ryan: This is the ice cream equivalent to Hoosier Mama Pie Company. (If you haven't been, start running.) It made me happy to be American. They didn't have a huge selection, but what they did have, well, let's say the proof was in the pudding... er, ice cream. The cookies and cream was a perfect incarnation of it's namesake: nice, icy base with chunks of chocolate biscuit cookies throughout, and with a nice smoky note that, I found out, comes from the bourbon vanilla that they use. God bless America!
The Scottish Highland Creamery
314 Tilghman St.
$3.25 per scoop
Sharon: I cannot say enough about this quaint ice cream shop that is basically a few windows fronting a very small operation attached to a casual waterfront restaurant. With the help of 6 total employees, Victor and his wife Susan have been operating here for 7 years. There is only one machine that produces a gallon at a time. Victor works alone beginning anywhere from 1 to 3 a.m. to deliver somewhere between 20 and 50 flavors a day. The ice cream produced has a butterfat content between 14-18% and only natural ingredients are used with the exception of some add-ins (i.e., Oreo cookies). Many of the flavorings used are imported from Italy. (He began working at an Italian ice cream shop in Scotland at the age of 15.) Milk and cream come from different sources depending on the market and local ingredients pop up in his creations often. How about Old Bay seasoning or a tomato/basil combo appearing in your frozen concoctions? I sampled maple walnut, English toffee, grapefruit sorbet (a pint came home with me), and a European cherry/yogurt blend that had just the right amount of tang. The ice cream truly is to die for. What is so striking about everything I sampled is the freshness and "clean" taste of every ingredient. There is a certain mouth-feel that I can only describe as "satiny". I am sure it has something to do with the butterfat content, but after hearing the history of this shop, I am sure that love also has something to do with it. So with over 600 flavors in his recipe file you are sure to find one you like. If not, what a great reason to come back to check out that day's offerings. This is a shop that is well worth your time even if you must take a detour.
2034 W. Division
Chicago $3.99 for a small cup
Ryan: This is a traditional gelateria, complete with traditional gelato flavor selections, marble countertops and abrupt Italian men. We decided on their pistachio gelato and an intriguingly colored blood orange sorbet. Pistachio is usually a fair indicator of the quality of a gelato place and theirs had the expected pleasant, nutty pistachio flavor, but not a very rich hue of green, which can also indicate how much actual pistachio paste is used. The blood orange had a tangy, candy-like citrus flavor that subsided into a fresh floral finish. We went back and forth on opinion, and meanwhile, ate every bite. Not bad.
Linda: I love the mouth feel of gelato. It is served at a higher temperature than ice cream and the flavors hit you right away. I liked the pistachio; it had a strong pistachio taste. The blood orange sorbetto was so smooth and creamy that you wouldn't know that it wasn't made with milk. It was very refreshing.
Black Dog Gelato
859 N Damen and 1955 W. Belmont
Chicago $3.50 for a small cup
Ryan: Black Dog is a sweet little neighborhood shop with an interior reminiscent of antique wallpaper and attentive staff. Since they had an interesting selection of flavors, we got three of them: Chocolate-raspberry, espresso, and blueberry french toast. The chocolate-raspberry inspired the most anticipation and none of us made it to our seats before having a bite. These bites were followed by audible gasps and raised eyebrows. I actually said "oh my god" at such an intense, rich and smooth raspberry truffle flavor. I'm not a huge fan of coffee flavored desserts, so I can't be unbiased about the espresso, but the blueberry french toast was a definitely interesting mix of cinnamon flavored gelato, with a very light blueberry swirl. The textures of all three were smooth and light and all of the flavors were intense and fresh. Linda: The chocolate raspberry gelato had an intense chocolate taste. I'm a chocoholic so I loved it. The espresso was like eating a frozen latte. Also yummy. The blue berry french toast had a cinnamon taste, followed by a blueberry aftertaste. All in all, I liked these gelatos more than the Café Gelato offerings that we sampled.
3241 N Broadway Chicago
$3.69 for a small cup
Ryan: This is a chain with a very trendy interior, huge selection, and helpful staff. We decided to keep it simple and go for their three vanilla gelato (that is to say, vanilla gelato made with three different types of vanilla) and pistachio-almond. All I can say is that the vanilla had a buttery, artificial taste and, while the pistachio-almond was interesting and complex, there was an unsettling floral taste. The almonds, maybe? If rosewater had been listed in the ingredients, or had a Persian influence been alluded to, that would be fine, but it's definitely not a flavor you sneak into a dessert.
Linda: I thought that the pistachio-almond tasted a bit too much of almond. It overpowered the pistachio. I liked the three vanilla but I guess my palate isn't sophisticated enough to taste three vanillas. I thought these gelatos were good, but not great. At the end of the day, if I could choose, I would go for the Black Dog gelatos.