Euro Foods: Italian Ice-cream

Ultimo Kilometro Gelateria

In a series of food linked to cycling, some things are more obvious than others. Pasta in Italy links local produce with an important source of fuel for the cyclist; coffee is both a stimulant, a source of warmth in the winter and part of the culture in many countries. Ice cream might not seem so related to cycling but it is widely available in Italy and during the summer months can almost replace the espresso as a pick-up.

Known as gelato in Italian meaning “frozen”, you will find gelateria or ice cream parlours all across the country. Here staff stand behind giant troughs of ice cream with typically 10 or more choices available. There’s vanilla and chocolate along with more Italian choices like a Nutella varieties, pistachio, stracciatella and amarena, a cream base with cherry syrup. explains more on these.

The luxury of choice

A point to note is that these are often made in the kitchen behind the shop as opposed to a factory. Often the parlour has awards although you wonder just how many world championships, regional competitions and other contests there to ensure everyone gets a chance of winning something. But there’s nothing fancy here, so long as you stay away from the big tourist cities – and as a cyclist you’ll be passing through small villages and towns – then you’ll avoid the high prices. Away from cycling this is a popular fuel for tourists and also for the ritual passegiata.

For cycling?
It’s not ideal but the milk, sugar and eggs can provide some basic energy. It’s not too far from a caffe latte with a few sugars inside. On a hot day the cyclist might hope for the cooling effect but it’s better to drink some water and sit in the shade and let the body regulate itself. Some teams have been known to ban riders because of fears the sudden cold could cause digestive problems but I don’t know if this can happen. In response riders have been known to vanish from their manager’s eyesight on a rest day in order to grab some ice cream.

Still legend has it that Federico Bahamontes once stopped at the top of a col in the Tour de France to wait for the others as he was scared of descending alone, he passed the time licking an ice cream. But this story could be a myth.

The man who went into the cold
One cyclist who is certainly linked to ice cream is Paolo Fornaciari. A pro for 17 years between 1992 and 2008 he won a modest win of a stage in the Herald Sun Tour in 1994. As a gregario success came in other forms, for example he was a locomotive in Mario Cipollini’s Saeco sprint train. His surname translates as “people who operate a furnace” but the Italian retired from riding to make frozen food instead. Today has a parlour in his native Tuscany region and fittingly it is called the Gelateria Ultimo Kilometro, the last kilometre.

This is part of a series on European foods with links to cycling or simply for fuel:
Part I: Nutella
Part II: Pâte de fruits
Part III: Stroopwafels
Part IV: Coffee
Part V: Frites
Part VI: Pasta
Part VII: French Bakeries
Part VIII: Water
Part IX: Sirop
Part X: Pharmaceuticals
Part XI: Summary
Part XII: Esta Thé
Part XIII: Grated carrots
Part XIV: Speculoos
Part XV: Belgian beer
Part XVI: Oman Coffee
Part XVI: Italian Ice-cream

16 thoughts on “Euro Foods: Italian Ice-cream”

  1. There’s nothing quite like gelato. I’ve not eaten it in Italy, but can imagine the bliss on a hot summer day:) Gelato kicks butt over ice cream, as far as I’m concerned. Less air, I’m told, is the key to its density and creaminess. Is this true? It’s hugely popular here in the US, too, but it’s pricey for a small cup > totally worth every penny.

    Yes, from a physiological standpoint, post-race, water and electrolytes are better choices for replacement. It is true that cold is harder for the stomach to digest because the body must burn additional calories to heat it up to body temperature. It’s also a “shock” to an internally warm system. Additionally, high sugar content slows gastric emptying and often causes horrible stomach cramps.

    But it’s more fun to talk about the wonderful consistency and flavors of gelato. I hope to someday pedal through Italy and stop at a village gelateria:)

  2. 1. The Bahamontes anecdote is that he did enjoy ice-cream while the mechanics were fixing his bike. The fear of descending element was made up by the French press, according to the rider (didn’t I say this before on this blog or was it somewhere else? 🙂 )
    2. Another Spanish climber in the Tour: in 1983, rookie Pedro Delgado was one minute behind rookie yellow jersey Laurent Fignon with 5 stages to go, including in particular a mammoth alpine marathon ending in Morzine. Delgado, widely expected to attack Fignon that day, lost 20+ minutes in Morzine. The reason (as told by Delgado): the ingestion of poorly preserved ice-cream that morning.

    • Ha, I’ve been there and it partly prompted my “you wonder just how many world championships, regional competitions and other contests there to ensure everyone gets a chance of winning something” comment as this place mentions the world championships but I’ve seen several other places doing the same although of course they could have taken part or made the finals on different years and more.

  3. But there is some “sorbet” options as well I’m sure. A sorbet it’s a ice cream water based, so it is basicly water, sugar and fruit juice. Off course you can’t have a chocolate sorbet, but it has millions of other great flavours to choose.

    Oh about the addictive ingridient, I tottally agreed that they put some secret addictive ingridient, with a extra ammount on the chocolate ones. =)


  4. What an awesome logo! Who knew half a bicycle wheel and a red kite could be such a “natural” part of a logo for a Gelateria.
    On a related note, there’s a coffee/ice cream/chocolate confectionary-place here in Trondheim called “Cielo” – always makes me think of Chris King.
    I want, no, need ice cream now. Thanks Inrng!

  5. A few gelato tips from here in Italy where tomorrow we’ll visit GROM, here’s the link I think they even have one in NYC.
    First, look for stainless steel bins rather than plastic. Factory-made stuff (still better than most ice cream in the USA but why settle?) comes in plastic bins that simply drop into the refrigerated case in a lot of gelaterie. Second “produzione propria” means they make their own, always a good sign. BUT they can mix up their own using commercial mixes which often means lower quality and taste. The pistacchio should NOT have an artificial green look to it or the banana a bright yellow. In fact, the best, artisanal places like GROM or San Crispino in Rome, don’t even display the stuff, it’s under stainless steel covers and dipped out to order. While on the bike yours truly will usually opt for sorbetto – lemon, strawberry, etc. Much less fat but still the cooling effect with plenty of flavor and sugar to give you that boost you’re wanting on a hot day. If no gelaterie are around, yours truly’s been know to pop into a grocery store or bar and grab up a handful of simple popsicles (ice blocks to you Aussies) and hand them around to cool our guests off on a particularly hot day.

  6. My favourite ice cream story is British. The 1969 national 24 hour championship saw three riders aiming to be the first to break the ‘magic’ 500 mile barrier; Beryl Burton, Nim Carline and Roy Cromack. Nim and Beryl went out hard while Roy started with a puncture, but first Nim cracked and then at 355 miles, Beryl climbed off the bike while still in the lead – it was ‘500 or bust’ and she knew she wasn’t going to make it. On hearing that Beryl had packed and he was riding to the win, Cromack called for his helpers to hand him up a”the largest ice cream you can find me” – did he need it to cool down? “No, just to celebrate!”

    Eventually, Roy Cromack rode 507 miles in the 24 hours, collapsing on his bike 10 seconds before his time was up and setting a record that lasted for 28 years. You can read the full story here: (scan of ‘Cycling and Sporting Cyclist’ article)

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