Even though I spent a solid week immersed in Bologna’s culinary history – from trying my hand at making tortellini from scratch at a traditional cooking school to exploring the surrounding Emilia Romagna region’s gastronomy and its local food producers, coming up with a superlative list of the “best gelato shops in Bologna” all by myself seemed disingenuous to me. Beyond spending time objectively sampling every single flavour of gelato in town, I would also need to talk to those on the ground.
So I went straight to the locals instead. The people who were born and bred in Bologna, and have practically been raised on gelato.
I wanted to get their own insider suggestions as to which of the gelato shops in Bologna they consider the very best, why, and what flavors they would recommend I absolutely try.
So my mission was easy: Hit up as many gelato shops in two days and sample every single one of their suggestions. A yummy mission I accepted with glee.
Going back to school… Carpigiani Gelato University
But first, in order for my palate to know what it needed to be looking for, I headed to the world famous Carpigiani Gelato University – a registered university for people who not only wanted to learn all about the craft behind this refreshing Italian dessert but to also become certified in producing them authentically.
My guide was Valentina and upon meeting her, the passion she exuded around the subject of gelato was contagious. From the tiny details on her person like gelato-shaped earrings, necklace, and smartphone cover to a candy pink blouse and an infectious smile that said “I have the best job in the world!”, I was eager to tour the premises with her, make some gelato myself, and learn about its history.
She was fresh off the current Gelato World Tour which are public events held all over the world in make-shift gelato villages to sample artisan gelato, meet with chefs, participate in workshops, and learn about the certification program and how you could go about launching your very own gelato shop.
The name Carpigiani is synonymous with gourmet gelato. Founded in 1946, the company has been producing custom-made gelato machines for decades. Its university was established in 2003 and since then, it has held over 400 courses in 10 languages with its flagship “Become a Gelatiere” four-week training program where students learn the art and process before interning at an authentic gelateria.
Next up was learning the difference between gelato and ice-cream as well as trying my hands at making one from scratch alongside my friend, Anna Carolina behind the travel blog, Vontade de Viajar.
In a nutshell, Italian gelato contains much less fat than ice-cream, isn’t as airy, and is served at a higher temperature. So when going around researching various shops, if I got a brain freeze, then I knew I wasn’t eating gelato.
Less air within the gelato means it retains a denser consistency packed with flavour and all ingredients used for making gelato are natural. Authentic Italian gelato is produced every day in small batches and not filled with preservatives to make them last longer like ice-cream.
Afterwards, we browsed the Gelato Museum which was inaugurated as the first museum ever dedicated to the history and culture surrounding artisan gelato. It was fascinating to walk through artifacts from the turn of the 20th century when it became more commercialized.
The displays covered its history from 12,000 BC (yes! As in BC when snow wells were used for cooling drinks) through vintage cone boxes and manual transportation to the invention of new technology to distribute gelato across the world.
Fully versed in the history and craft behind authentic Italian gelato including what to taste for during my mission, it was time for Anna Carolina and I to hit up all the recommendations I received.
The best gelato shops in Bologna as recommended by locals
So I did my own little survey, asked various locals, from everyday people to those within the tourism industry and a couple names kept coming up over and over again. Each gelato shop had a signature flavor which they recommended. And so, in no particular order, here are the best gelato shops in Bologna and what to order.
La Sorbetteria di Castiglione, Via Castiglione 44
Local Pick: Dolce Emma – Caramelized figs, ricotta cheese, lemon
The line at Sorbetteria Castiglione was wrapped through the entire store and out the door when we arrived, and we knew we’d landed at the mothership of all gelato shops in Bologna. The crowd was a mix of college students from Bologna University, people looking for respite in a bowl of gelato from the humid summer, and us, the gelato researchers. I immediately ordered the “Dolce Emma” which was a creamy golden blend of diced caramelized figs, ricotta, and lemon. I hungrily dug in and after the very first bite with eyes wide open, I looked to Anna Carolina and declared I was in love. The sweetness of the figs, salty creaminess of the ricotta cheese, and acidity of lemon made “Dolce Emma” the best gelato flavor I’ve ever tasted in my entire life to date.
Oh, but that was just the very first shop I hit…
Cremeria Santo Stefano, Via Santo Stefano 70
Local Pick: Honey Lavender, Lemon Granite
Cremeria Santo Stefano reminds me of an old-school 19th century pharmacy or sweet shop where ingredients are placed in decorative glass jars and white tins with attendants wearing light kiwi-green aprons. The almost clinical feel adds to its charm. I ordered a silky smooth lemon sorbet (granite limone) which was as refreshing as it looks. It was also at Santo Stefano I got introduced to brioche con gelato – an Italian ice-cream sandwich in which gelato was scooped into a brioche bread bun.
Cremeria Funivia, Piazzo Cavour 1
Local Pick: Pistachio
I fell in lust with Funivia’s bowl of pistachio gelato upon sight. That light green swirl in its maroon red holder. I couldn’t wait to scoop it all up. My absolute favorite gelato (and ice-cream) flavor is pistachio. I don’t have much of a natural sweet tooth so the nutty saltiness of pistachio works well for me. And Cremeria Funivia’s silky smooth version – all natural and not the “dark green” artificial looking pistachio-flavored crap you find abroad – hit the spot. Most of the people in its long line came in for pistachio and we gladly joined them.
Gelateria Stefino, Via San Vitale 37
Local Pick: Wasabi, Basil
Stefino sells vegan, gluten-free, biodynamic organic gelato and is a popular spot among Bologna’s bustling university crowd. While I didn’t make it to its physical store, I serendipitously found its pop-up store during an open air market and swung by to dig into its organic offerings. The pop-up stall had only their granite selection which I tried. Next time, I’m in Bologna, I’ll definitely seek out their store location because that basil gelato that was recommended to me already has my name written all over it.
GROM, Via D’Azeglio, 13
Local Pick: Crema di Grom
While GROM is a popular franchise, it still made the cut of recommendations, especially its signature Crema di Grom gelato. By the time I reached GROM, I wasn’t sure I could push down one more cup. But after tasting its “Crema di Grom” which is organic egg cream, cornmeal shortbread biscuit, and Colombian chocolate, I let out a maniacal laugh and finished the whole cup.
Other recommended gelato shops
With so much gelato and so little time, I couldn’t hit up every single recommendation so here are two more gelato shops I hope to make it to on my next trip to Bologna.
Gelatauro, Via San Vitale 9 – Local Pick: Chocolate
Galliera 49, Via Galliera 49 – Local Pick: Any fruity flavor
You can check out more photos from Bologna’s gelato shops as well as from my time at the Gelato University. I was exploring Emilia Romagna as part of the award-winning BlogVille campaign in collaboration with iambassador.