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The Joy of Gelato in its Birthplace of Florence

Our contributor shares the details of her love affair with Florence and especially the gelato at her favorite shop.

La Carraia Gelateria sits on the River Arno in Florence.

As a child growing up in Argentina, I remember nonchalantly flipping through the pages of a book about Firenze as a pastime, thinking of it as just one of many books in our family collection with some pictures to look at. As an adult searching for my next vacation destination, Firenze was a box to be checked, I thought.

Little did I know that setting foot in this Tuscan city would evoke feelings fitting of Dante Alighieri’s quote, “Beauty awakens the soul to act” — not in a superficial way, but the feeling sparked by the charm that shines from within, that awakens a sentiment so deep that’s undeniable, an emotion that stands the test of time. It is a feeling of complete elation in the presence of a place in which you sense you were simply just meant to be in, even if for short periods of time.

My favorite city in the world, Firenze, sparks in me a desire to visit time and again, to get lost wandering the streets of the historic center, to admire the art of the Renaissance masters, to cross every bridge along the Arno River while listening to Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro,” to sit back and observe as life passes by while sipping on espresso, and to eat gelato…every single day.

The various gelato flavors at La Carraia in Florence.
The various gelato flavors at La Carraia in Florence.

Located in Tuscany, the central region of Italy characterized by rolling hills, cypress trees, olive groves, and Chianti-growing vineyards, the beauty of Firenze lies in the gifts of its past that abound in its historic center, a Unesco World Heritage Site, in the form of art, architecture, and a frozen treat known the world over as gelato.

Created in 16th century Firenze as the Renaissance was flourishing, gelato, which derives from the Italian word for “frozen,” congelato, can be traced back to the de’ Medici Court and a contest it sponsored to find “the most unique dish ever seen.” Cosimo Ruggieri, by some accounts a chicken farmer and by others an alchemist, conquered the Medici with his fruity ice dessert made of simple, quality ingredients. Cosimo’s concoction was further developed by Bernardo Buontalenti, a Florentine architect, who created a sweetened frozen custard called gelato alla crema d’uovo. Initially, gelato was a treat for an elite few until it exploded in popularity thanks to a Sicilian visionary named Francesco Procopio Cutò, who inherited a sorbet-making machine his grandfather had invented and moved to Paris to open Le Café Procope, where he sold citrus gelato, strawberry sorbet, and granita to the crowds, and ultimately propelled gelato into becoming a world-famous dessert.

Despite being emulated in cities across the world, Firenze, the cradle of the Renaissance, has turned gelato making into an art still unmatched anywhere else. This Florentine treat can be found in countless gelaterias around the city that create a product so sublime in quality it rivals (secondo me, or according to me) the works of Michelangelo, Da Vinci, and Boticelli. The best gelato in Florence, also according to me, is Gelataria La Carraia, named after Ponte alla Carraia, the historic bridge it stands next to, along the Arno River with views of the old town.

Gelato and accompaniments from La Carraia in Florence.

Housed in a corner storefront with a stone façade and a simple green awning that reads, “Gelateria La Carraia,” and with an interior that is equally simple, the unassuming set-up allows the fruit of its labor to speak for itself. Combining tradition and innovation, La Carraia produces a frozen dessert that respects the process of artisanal gelato making this Tuscan city is known for, while offering classic and modern flavors, all for the modest price of a couple of euros a cup. One spoonful of pistachio gelato from La Carraia, with its rich yet melt-in-your-mouth texture, convinced me that I could never find a better gelato anywhere else – and so far I haven’t been wrong. The line out the door that forms with locals and tourists alike testifies to the popularity of this family-owned shop that uses high quality milk, cream, and sugar as the base to churn flavors like Stracciatela, Fior di Latte, Amarena, Fragola, Tiramisu, and Ricotta with Pear.

Tantalizing the tastebuds, the silky and rich flavors that La Carraia churns, using traditional methods, proves that “old” never gets old.

The next time you are wandering around Florence, immersed in all of its beauty, take a walk over Ponte alla Carraia to have a gelato and reflect on the Renaissance city’s many contributions, including the one in your cup.

Gelateria La Carraia, Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25/r, 50124 Firenze FI, Italy, @gelaterialacarraia,

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