how much is gelato

You Scream, I Scream . at the Price of Ice Cream

EMILY EISENBERG, who lives in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, said she let her young sons talk her into trying a new scoop shop, Gelato Bar, in nearby Los Feliz in June. It is the kind of place that describes its ice cream as “premium and handmade,” the mix-ins are from local artisans and farmers, and the prices are accordingly high. For two small servings, she paid more than $10, and walked out vowing never to return.

“Since when is ice cream so expensive?” she said. For Ms. Eisenberg, and others, this has been the summer of ice cream sticker shock.

In Boston and Beverly Hills, not surprisingly, but also in Columbus, Ohio, and Arroyo Seco, N.M., a small cone or cup now often costs more than $4 — and that’s without the toppings of organic whipped cream, sustainable strawberries and French bittersweet chocolate chunks that also command dizzying prices.

The owners of high-end scoop shops say that most customers don’t blink. “It’s still an affordable luxury,” said Sarah Bonkowski, a manager for Capogiro, a chain of gelato shops in Philadelphia. “People understand that things done by hand cost more.”

But is there any good reason for ice cream — basically milk, sugar and eggs — to cost more per ounce than wild Atlantic smoked salmon or prime rib-eye?

Stefano Ciravegna, the manager of two Grom gelaterias in Manhattan, has many answers to this question. Grom serves what may be America’s most expensive ice cream cone: $5.25, with tax, for a “small.” Grom, which has more than 20 stores in Italy, was founded in 2003 in Turin, the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. Slow Food’s commitment to preserving the pre-industrial ways of making food provided Grom with a mission: to recreate the traditional ice creams of the region, which is known for dairy, nuts and chocolate, and especially for the chocolate-hazelnut combination gianduja.

“We do not do crazy funky flavors, but each one is the best,” Mr. Ciravegna said.

The company imports flavorings from small farmers around the world — pistachios from Syria, coffee from Guatemala, chocolate from Colombia — and now grows many ingredients on its organic farm outside Turin, where its sole factory is also located. (The mixtures are shipped frozen to Grom outlets all over Italy and in Tokyo and Paris as well as New York, and churned in each store.)

But raw materials and shipping have become so expensive, Mr. Ciravegna said, that the company actually loses money on some flavors. “The strawberries for our granita are grown only on 12 hectares in the entire earth,” he said, referring to fragolina di Ribera, a fragile Sicilian varietal that Grom makes into a limited-edition granita each summer.

Some makers don’t buy the argument, though, that prices need to be that high. “I just don’t think $5 is a fair price for a scoop of ice cream,” said Patricia Samson, an owner of Delicieuse, a scoop shop in Redondo Beach, Calif., where the flavors include oak sap, beer sorbet and lavender. Ms. Samson makes all of the ice cream served at Delicieuse, starting from raw milk: she pasteurizes, ripens and flavors the ice cream on site. She uses local fruit in season, opens only on weekends to keep wages to a minimum, and still manages to sell her ice cream for the relative bargain price of $2.95 a small. (Grom, it should be noted, will soon open its first United States store outside New York near her.) “Milk and sugar are cheap,” she said.

Those who think that the pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, an excellent line made in Columbus, Ohio, is a little too pricey at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo, for $11 a pint, probably would hyperventilate at the thought of paying $50 for three pints of MilkMade, which may be the country’s most expensive pint of ice cream. It is available only in Manhattan, via a new home delivery service that has about 150 subscribers, according to Diana Hardeman, one of the company’s owners. For $50, subscribers receive three pints of ice cream over three months, made from fruit and milk with impeccable agricultural credentials, in flavors like Coffee + Donuts (made from fair trade coffee and local doughnuts) and Blackcurrant With Gingersnaps.

According to Ms. Hardeman, who graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and has an M.B.A. from New York University, MilkMade will eventually run on the same community-based model that sustains farms through community-supported agriculture programs. For now, the idea is in a laboratory stage, including the ice creams themselves, which are not nearly as accomplished as those of Grom, or indeed of many people with a Cuisinart ice cream machine.

The world of high-end ice cream is small, and marbled with squabbles and secrets, making it difficult to pin down exactly what is in the stuff. Those who add milk powder scoff at those who use guar gum (a common stabilizer that is considered “natural” by the F.D.A.). Those who stick to a basic flavor palette dismiss the makers of Whiskey Brickle and Rosemary-Goat’s Milk. The ones who use only fresh ingredients sneer at the pre-mixed crowd.

Dairy technology has advanced to a point that consumers often can’t tell the difference. Expensive ice cream is often described as “artisanal” or “housemade,” but neither term has a meaningful definition as relates to ice cream. An “artisanal” gelato shop might only be adding water to a dry mix somewhere on the premises. (If you really want to know, it pays to ask.)

The sheer act of making ice cream is expensively complex and time-consuming, artisans say. “You are taking a liquid, raising it up to a high temperature, then whipping it with cold air and turning it into a solid, which you want to serve in a semi-solid state,” said Ms. Samson of Delicieuse. (In California, a license is required for those who handle raw milk, the primary ingredient in Ms. Samson’s super-flavorful ice creams.)

In the case of gelato, which in theory contains less air than other types of ice cream, makers often cite the intense flavor and dense texture (both of which result from the way gelato is made) as reasons for a higher price. But the amount of air (called overrun in ice cream circles) and the cost of ingredients are relatively minor factors in price, compared with branding, packaging and distribution.

“Sadly, I think the marketing is just as important as the product,” said Benjamin Van Leeuwen, an owner of Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream, a New York company that has expanded its fleet of butter-yellow ice cream trucks to five after just two years in business, and recently opened a scoop shop in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. (A small serving is $3.60, plus tax.) “The Victorian look of our Web site, the botanical drawings and especially the color of our trucks seemed to make a huge difference,” he said.

At Taos Cow, a scoop shop near Taos, N.M., where a small costs $4, the ice cream has been made with hormone-free milk and local pine nuts since 1993. “Back then, everyone thought we were crazy to care about that stuff,” said Jamie Leeson, a founder and owner. On the subject of the more inexpensive ingredients that go into, say, a $1.50 ice cream sandwich, Mr. Leeson is blunt. “Commercial ice cream is the dumping ground of the dairy industry,” he said. The residue at the bottom of the vats after the milk and cream are drained off, he said, is dried and then reconstituted into the components of cheap ice cream: milk fat, whey and dry milk powder. Like all the artisans interviewed, Mr. Leeson said that in the supermarket freezer case, it is virtually impossible for small brands to compete with Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s, both of which are backed by the marketing power and distribution systems of global food giants (Nestlé and Unilever, respectively).

At one point, popular Taos Cow flavors like Caramel Piñon and Cherry Ristra were distributed in pints to 15 Western states, but the profit margins were too low and eventually Mr. Leeson retreated to a single location. “If I had known you can charge $7 a pint, I might still be in that business,” he said.

And the profit on packaged pints is nothing compared with the markup at the scoop shop.

“I only make a dollar on each pint I sell at Whole Foods,” Mr. Van Leeuwen said, but a single serving from the truck yields about $2.50 in profit.

Whether a particular cup of frozen delight is truly worth the price is, of course, a decision that only the market can make.

“The meaning of ‘premium’ now is very different from what it was when Häagen-Dazs came out,” said Robin Davis, food editor of The Columbus Dispatch and the author of a recent history of Graeter’s, a Cincinnati ice cream institution.

At the time, she said, all-natural ingredients and high fat content were enough to impart prestige and command a high price.

Now, prestige comes from many different sources: an ice cream’s purity and pedigree, its artfulness and innovation.

Ice creams that are served with support for farmers and cows are already as routine as rainbow sprinkles. Recently, more complicated ideological notions, which share the high price tags, have been heaped onto sugar cones.

A recent special at the Guerrilla Ice Cream cart, a summer-only mobile business in New York started in May by two graduate students, was the Mariposa, a $5 reference to the Dominican Republic’s struggle for democracy. (Its flavor components include guava, espresso, cinnamon and sweet cheese.)

Ethan Frisch, an owner of Guerrilla, says the high price is justified by the innovative flavor combinations and the fact that 100 percent of the profits (once the owners are paid and costs recouped) will be donated to social justice organizations.

“I am not trying to get rich selling ice cream,” said Mr. Frisch, who will begin studying for a master’s degree in the Violence, Conflict and Development program at the University of London next month. “My goal right now is just to do an Israel-Palestine flavor that won’t get people upset.”

Artisanal brands of ice cream have become available across the country. What makes them so expensive, and are they worth it?

The Scoop on Gelato Prices

What is the reasonable range for gelato scoops overall in Italy? I expect that there is a wide range, but since I’m figuring 2-4 cones per day over a three week period (2 people) I should probably plan a gelato budget. And a coffee budget.

Well, that’s a lot of gelato. I would budget about 5 euros each. You’ll find some for less but 5 euros is a good place to start. Make sure to look for the prices when you enter the store. If you don’t see them-ask or leave. Those will be the places that try to charge you 12 euros for a small cone. Donna

Espresso is around a euro, give or take. I even paid 1.10 euros for a cappuccino in some places. It was 2 euros in Vernazza and that was the most expensive cappuccino I had anywhere in Central Italy last year, even in a Lino’s (a fairly big chain). The cost of a gelato will depend widely on how big you get. Every gelateria has at least 3, and as many as 5-6, different size options. I usually get the smallest or the 2nd smallest and it’s rarely over 2 to 2.50 euros, even in the big cities, and sometimes a little less even. Obviously the bigger cups where you can get 4-5 different flavors at once are much more, but I can’t imagine eating just one of those a day, let alone 2-4. I love me some gelato, but I’ve never had more than 2 in a day LOL. I would think if you figure 1-2 euros for coffee and 2-3 euros for gelato on average, you should be able to at least plan a budget. You might go above or below it sometimes but I think that should be a decent average in most places.

2 Euros or so a scoop.

With all that gelato, you’ll have no room for pizza.

Kinda depends on where you are. where I live 1.80 gets you a small cone, 2 scoops, in the best gelato shop in town. Rome it was around 4.00 for for a very small cup of so so gelato. But Donna is right,check those prices before you order. We got one of those 12.00 cones near the Spanish Steps.

We got two 12 Euro tubs in Florence. Oh God, way too much. But it was still too fun even if some of it got wasted. You can spend 24 euros in many ways. I entirely endorse this as one of the better ways to spend money. We got one of everything. and more drunk off it, and giddier than a 24 euro bottle of wine with the sugar rush.

What a fun bunch you are! Knowing that unposted prices is a warning sign is helpful. I really just want to taste a variety of flavors, and small will be fine for that – especially, as it appears that a small cone can include a couple flavors. I remember reading that the wife of Guido Brunetti, Donna Leon’s character in the Venice mystery series, brought home fresh fig gelato. How cool is that?

Tried the fig gelato in Rome. Very good!

I loved the rum raisin; I can’t remember the translation (i’m thinking something like “malaga”.

We spent anywhere from 1.5 to 4 euros per small gelato. For us one a day was the norm with an occasional 2 per day each of us.

I just found a receipt from our trip in June, for gelatin in Verona. One scoop, 1,50 euro; 3 scoops 3,50 euro. The interesting thing is that the receipt is for five servings (coppa) but there were only four of us.

i agree. while i would never turn down gelato, and plan to eat more than my fair share when there next, i confess that high butterfat ice cream is where it’s at. i do think this world is big enough for both, though. also lets not forget that other kid, frozen custard.

Ohhh happy day! Never before on the Helpline has anyone dared to question the hallowed status of gelato. Everything else has been challenged. And while we’re bringing gelato down to earth, let’s not forget America’s number one “ice cream” treat: hydrogenated pork fat, vanilla or chocolate flavored, sold as “soft serve” at the fast food place of your choice.

Oh, bummer Lola. So, we need to watch out for accurate charges and posted prices, look for: Produzione Propria (homemade – our own production) Nostra Produzione (our production) or Produzione Artigianale (production by craftsmen) – and then just narrow down the flavor selections. Every day a new decision – get a previously sampled flavor that was fabulous, or try a new possibility. Can’t wait for next spring when it all happens.

Okay, question here: If gelato is so good, why don’t more places in the US serve it?

Kent, gelato is so good! We have a few places near us that offer it and I make my own for the fixes when we really just NEED some!

I don’t trust local gelato, since here in central Maine there just isn’t enough call for it to seem “fresh” – however, we have a few good coffee shop type places that offer it, so it is only fair that I try it sometime.

There are some places in Florence where a small is still 1.50, but most are at 2.00 (this is for the smallest cup or cone but you still get 2 flavors). There is a new place on Vai dei Benci that has a small cone for 1! Please whatever you do, make sure you get gelato at a gelateria and not at a bar where it is coming from some factory! And I think having a couple a day while on vacation is fine – as long as they are small 🙂

I just left Italy a few days ago, and had my fair share of gelato during my 3 weeks there. Only one a day. 🙂 I usually got the smallest size in a cup, and most places would give you 3 flavors in that size. I actually got some odd looks when I would say I only wanted 2 flavors! And yes, look for the posted price. If they don’t post it, you probably don’t want to pay it. A small cup or cone seemed to run between 1.50 and 2.50 euros. I don’t drink coffee, but I think my husband usually paid about 1 euro for espresso. We are in Germany now, and the coffee/espresso is so much more expensive!

“If gelato is so good, why don’t more places in the US serve it? ” i suspect it’s not that it’s “so good” but that people use the excuse that they are on vacation in italy to eat what is basically another form of ice cream alot more frequently than they would at home. who doesn’t love ice cream, and even more so, a wide variety? me, i don’t need an excuse to eat ice cream basically every day at home. 🙂

Ahhh, Matthew, yes! My theory is similar to yours, and I’ve been wrong many times before, but here it is (ahem): North American travelers are often blind-sided by the humidity and heat in Italy, and they’re desperate for anything cold, and so they take what they can get. But when they get back home, they switch back to good ol’ American rich ice cream, and fail to demand of American capitalists, who will supply anything demanded by the market, the Italian gelato.

i certainly wouldn’t want to “pig out” on that.

We must be an exception, we prefer gelato to ice cream. We hardly ever buy ice cream, but gelato is another story! My blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, mango, pistachio and hazelnut home made concoctions usually turn out pretty good, I haven’t been brave enough to try to make a coffee flavor yet. One of our local bakeries usually has gelato 6 months of the year, yummm. Just another excuse to visit them.

Help me out. I thought gelato and ice cream were pretty much the same thing. Gelato being Italy’s version of ice cream. Is there a difference when it comes to ingredients?

Ice cream has a higher butter fat content than gelato so it tastes richer and covers up the flavor since it feels thick in your mouth.

Luis: Thank you for the info, I knew there was a reason our ice cream tastes better than that thin, watered-down gelato stuff, and you explained it: butterfat. Melanie: re your “I thought gelato and ice cream were pretty much the same thing.” No way, for the reasons Luis explains above. The problem with gelato is that it tastes way too healthy. But when it’s July and you’re in Rome, and you realize that yep, it’s going to stay this hot, and you’re desperate, and if you can’t get real ice cream, well, you settle for whatever you can get. 🙂

In Rome years ago I loved what I would call a lemon ice. It was similar to what you’d get at theme park in the US [INVALID] sort of frozen lemonade, and not very rich. I guess that was gelato, I always assumed it was something else. Anyway.. it was super refreshing in the zillion degree hell heat of August.

“zillion degree hell heat of August” – Yep, sounds like Rome in August, or so I hear, never been there then and hope not to.

> Yikes, I said Rome but meant Venice. And it was miserable hot. I wouldn’t go back that time of year but am excited to try it again in the fall. I think your gelato theory is correct. The heat sort of sapped my appetite – except for sweet icy treats!

Is the heat in Europe that much more intense than, say, Texas or Southern CA summers? I hear so much about the abysmal sweltering weather of July and August in Italy and France. It sounds severe enough to send one slouching off in search of gasp SHERBET or ITALIAN ICE instead of ice cream or gelato. Oy.

Kathy, re your last post: Yep. This thread has been discussing the combination of high temps and sweltering/humid weather that can be encountered in July/August in Rome and other areas of Italy that are 1) not on the coast and 2) not in the mountains. Southern Calif summers are different from Rome in July or August, generally lower dewpoints and humidity in So. California. It’s the combination of heat and humidity (dewpoints is one way of measuring this), some people call it the comfort index or discomfort index. We’ve even had people from the southeastern US say they were blindsided by the combination of heat and humidity in mid-summer Italy. I’m not addressing France or Texas weather, although limited experience with Texas heat is that it’s in areas like Houston and other areas of eastern or southeastern Texas where you typically get the combination of humidity AND heat. For people who have a choice (don’t have school age kids, not a school teacher), July and August are not the best times to go to the sweltering parts of Italy. Much of Europe is far enough north in latitude and/or located close enough to large bodies of water to have comfortable summers, these are better July/August destinations for people who have a choice.

I love the idea of budgeting for gelato. I picture the “envelope” budget, where you have an envelope of money for gelato, one for espresso, one for pizza, etc. “Sorry, dear, the gelato envelope is empty-we’ll have to have pizza now.”

gelato is typically made with milk rather than cream. because it has less fat, they don’t introduce as much air into the mix (this is called over-run). so you get something similar to ice cream but with less fat. ice cream is typically made with (surprise) cream. it has much more fat in it than milk, so in order to reduce the heaviness and richness of the mix, air is added to it to enhance the lightness and mouthfeel. the amount of overrun varies widely from brand to brand with cheaper brands having as much as 50% over run (50% air). brands like Ben & Jerry’s typically have much lower overrun, closer to 25%. you can see this for yourself at the store. pick up a pint of the good stuff and a pint of the cheap stuff, and feel how much heavier the good stuff is. you get what you pay for. when i make home made ice cream, the mix increases in volume by about half, so i get something with about 33% overrun (33% air). bottom line, gelato is tasty, but because it has less fat, you don’t get the richness you do with ice cream. but like i said earlier, i won’t turn down either one.

as for the heat in Rome, i haven’t been yet, but i do live in houston, the home of heat and humidity 9 months out of the year. i would wager that the temps in rome at it’s hottest are similar to here in the summer. the reasons i would agree that it might feel hotter in rome is from two things: 1. much less air conditioning in europe, so less chance to duck in somewhere for a quick respite from the heat. 2. you are doing alot more walking around outside in the sun for much longer than you probably would at home, so you feel more tired and more hot because you don’t normally exert yourself thusly.

Love Gelato – certainly prices are all across the board. Pricing is usually by the scoop and should always be posted. This link gives some more info on Gelato and a few places to get it in Rome ***** ******

My husband and I just returned from Italy last week and we had our share of gelato! Anybody ever tried “Gran Soleil” by Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella? We bought some of these at the COOP store in San Gim. to bring home. They are not refrigerated when you buy them and then you put them in the freezer and they turn into a frozen dessert treat like gelato! Haven’t tried them yet but just put one in the freezer tonight. They come in 5 flavors[INVALID]we brought home lemon, chocolate and caffe cappuccino. I know they aren’t going to be like the real stuff but heard they were quite good. You get 2 small containers in a pack for 1.50 Euro

Melanie: if it tasted like frozen lemonade it sounds like it was either sorbet or a granita, which is in fact basically water, sugar and the chopped fruit frozen. Love watermelon granita in the summer, but the coffee granita is the traditional flavor the my husband loves – a frozen espresso during the summer 🙂

I lived in Rome this June and it felt like Houston without the air conditioning. I grew up in Houston and thought I was pretty heat/humidity tolerant, but Rome can get quite miserable with the heat. But thank God a cool front came through or I would’ve lived at the gelato shop. You’re safe budgeting 2-2,50 for a small cone with two scoops. Have fun! Don’t worry too much about looking for the signs about where/how it’s made, just use your judgement based on color and texture of the gelato. You’ll know the good stuff when you see it.

I just figure on about 10 Eu “walking around money” per day. My favorite gelato: frutti di bosco (fruit of the forest), which is sort of like raspberry. I like vaniglia (vanilla) a lot, too. And dark (ciocholotto) chocolate. And anything with nuts. When it’s hot the lemon stuff is good. Amorino has the best gelato in France; there is even a branch on rue Cler. In Italy, cappiccino runs about 1-2 Eu/cup. You do the math, 2 people times 2 gelatos and 2 coffees per day times the number of days.

I agree, it totally could have been sorbet. I think the good taste distracted me from doing much more than pointing and drooling at the flavor.

Thank heavens for drooling and pointing – where would we be without it?? I have to say, having originally posted this question, I’ve since found a friend (mom of my adult son’s friend – does it get any better?) who frequently travels to Italy. She introduced me to Gelato Fiasco in Brunswick Maine (home of Bowdoin College) and this is the first I’ve seen the truly artful displays of gelato. Comfortable leather chairs, stacks of games (Scrabble!), and flavors that kept coming out as they were made “out back.” The mom knocked back a lovely espresso, it was a beautiful fall day in Maine, and we have Italy in common. I feel lucky to be part of the funweb of life.

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What is the reasonable range for gelato scoops overall in Italy? I expect that there is a wide range, but since I'm figuring 2-4 cones per day over a three week period (2 people) I should probably plan a gelato budget. And a coffee budget.