Gelato was in fact invented here by an illustrious Florentine, Bernardo Buontalenti (1521-1608). Besides being the architect of many Florentine buildings, Medici villas, gardens and grottoes, he embodied a mix of different professional figures that today we could summarize as a mix of: wedding planner, event organizer, special effects manager, sculptor, painter, artist. Famous for his fireworks, sugar and ice sculptures, water plays and fountains he was able to impress and amaze guests from every European courts.
It was for one of these special occasions, the visit of the Spanish ambassadors to Florence, that the Medici asked Bernardo to invent something for the banquet and make them remain with their mouths open. Sorbet already existed, so the genius mind of Buontalenti invented a way to make it creamier and smoother with a mix of eggs, honey, milk, and a bit of liquor which combined with the freshness of the ice was immediately a success that would have lasted until nowadays: the famous traditional Florentine gelato flavour Buontalenti. Today, only one gelateria in Florence "Badiani" has the copyright for this old gelato recipe.
After this important historical excursus, gelato in Florence is everywhere. How to get oriented amongst the many "gelaterie" which appeal our sight and our taste along the Florentine streets and alleys? I hope you will accept some good advices from a "local" to decide whether you are in front of a good gelateria or if it's just a tourist trap.
1. The Gelateria must have a laboratory on the same spot of the sale shop. This that tells you that gelato is made ther fresh every day and not imported from "whoknowswhere".
2. There must not be "mountains of gelato" . This is absolutely a fake image of this wonderful product and means that those mountains are made adding old gelato of the previous day on top of the new one (or viceversa). Moreover, it is impossible to sell all that gelato just in one day. These mountains are made only to impress and attract people.
3. Color of gelato must not be too bright. For example pistacho must be olive green, sometimes close to light brown. If colors are too strong this means that they add color to gelato and they do not use fresh ingredients.
4. Cleaness of the shop as well of the clothes of the clerks who must all wear a hat. The person managing money should be possibly different from the one serving gelato.
5. Stain trays and palettes to serve gelato which guarantee hygiene and cleanness
6. The list of the ingredients must be always well visible and the gelateria should show a sign indicating where the ingredients come from, if they are organic, or local ingredients DOP etc.
And at this point, since I have a certain experience on this matter that dates back to my far childhood, I am glad to share with you my personal list of the top gelaterie in the center of Florence:
Vivoli, via Isola delle Stinche (area S. Croce): this was where my grandma brought me when I was a child, so given my age, this is an historical institution! Here you'll find the gelato made in the traditional way, with fresh ingredients. You'll find only cups, no cones!
Perchė no, via dei Tavolini 19r (side street between the Duomo and Piazza Signoria) all fresh ingredients, and gelato is home made every day.
Gelateria della Passera, Piazza della Passera (Oltrarno, side street between the Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti). Few seasonal flavour, nice setting excellent quality and ingredients.
Gelateria dei Neri, via dei Neri (between Uffizi and Santa Croce). A great selection of flavours, for milk intolerance you have a choice of soy flavors.