Play it cool

Our love affair with Italian gelato

Whether you believe that Marco Polo brought back the idea of ice cream to Italy from his travels in China (along with pasta, but that’s a different story), there’s no doubt that gelato is close to every Italian’s heart, and we’re in love with it too.

Italian gelato is different from the ice-cream we know in the UK and the United States, and that’s all down to the way it is made. Using milk rather than cream, gelato is churned very gently –not whipped – to create that seductively dense, rich and creamy consistency, with less fat and an intense bursts of delicious flavour. To uphold the traditions and quality of this indulgent treat, Carpigiani, the gelato university in Bologna, enrols a couple of thousand eager students every year (more than half are from overseas) to pass on the tricks of the trade. The ultimate ‘street food’, the gelateria is a welcome sight in most towns and cities across Italy – no hot day is complete without a visit to your local and dull days are made brighter with just one scoop of the cold stuff.

The flavours and colours of gelato

And not just in Italy either: happily for the rest of us, there is a glorious tradition of gelaterie wherever Italians have settled round the world, including Swoon, not far from Italia! magazine’s office. In the heart of Bristol, Swoon is run by brother and sister Bruno and Pat, a dynamic (and charming) duo who are the latest generation in an icecream-making dynasty that goes back 120 years. Milk from local dairies combine with delicious Italian goodies like pistachios from Bronte in Sicily, hazelnuts from Piedmont and Amalfi lemons, they make their gelati completely from scratch, slowly churned the traditional way to achieve a sublimely authentic taste and texture. Serving up excellent coffee and chocolate if you need something a little warmer while you enjoy your gelato, many of Swoon’s staff are Italian too; manager Luisa was a lecturer at Carpigiani in her pre-Swoon days, so she really knows her stuff.

A trio of ‘Swoondaes’

Swoon’s façade is all matt black elegance, but once inside – well, that’s where the gelato experience really begins – with a rainbow palette of ices, tempting you with their billowy peaks and seductive swirls. Just like on your last visit to Italy, you’ll find it hard to choose from their ten regular flavours which include a zingy mango sorbet so creamy and light that it has to be one of your 5-a-day, a punchy coffee shot and a salted caramel option that’s a true revelation. Five guest flavours (which change monthly) vie for your attention with March’s delights including Crème Brulée, Red Velvet and Ginger Beer sorbetto. Elegantly filled macarons, oozy icecream sandwiches and a chorus of pretty parfaits and gelato cakes complete the frozen line-up. Eat in or take out, it’s up to you. It’s enough to melt the coldest of hearts. As good as any we’ve tasted in Italy, and we’ve tasted a lot…

A rainbow of gelato-filled macarons


Do you have a favourite gelateria? Whether it’s down the road from where you live or somewhere in Italy, we’d love to know. Drop us a line at italia!

You can find Swoon at: 31a College Green, Bristol BS1 5TB, 0117 929 0093