Italian artisan ice cream, how to distinguish the handmade one?


Italian artisanal ice cream, how to distinguish this universal symbol of Made in Italy, even more famous than pizza? (1) The issue is still being debated.

A food may be presented as ‘artisanal’ -In general terms-as long as the conditions of its production workshop are indeed such. (2)

Consequently, the artisanal ice cream shop is that micro-enterprise where raw materials of different nature–e.g., milk, eggs or egg products, sugar, water, fruits and derivatives, various ingredients–undergo substantial processing. To add to products such as creams , slushies and popsicles.

Italian artisan ice cream, how to distinguish the “real” one

The recurring question is how to distinguish ‘handmade’ artisanal ice cream, from primary ingredients, (3) versus ice cream made with the help of semi-processed or ‘ice cream preparations.’ Which make it possible to make up for some, or almost all, of the processing steps. And to related professionalism.

Consumers can tell the difference between ‘handmade’ ice cream by reading the ingredient list, which tends to be abridged in that case. Without reporting, for example, the various additives ’emulsifiers’ (e.g., E471, or ‘mono and diglycerides of fatty acids’), ‘thickeners’ (E440, pectin), ‘colorants’. As well as, inquiring about the ice cream maker on duty.

Bolzano’s rules

The Autonomous Province of Bolzano tried at the time to introduce a special discipline, (4) apt to identify ‘artisanal ice cream parlors’ as those that process predominantly primary ingredients, with minimal use of preparations and a ban on the use of colorants. The same concepts have been taken up in two recent bills. (5)

The question remains whether the legislative instrument is the most effective one with respect to the proposed objectives. Given that there are other priorities–first and foremost, exact information on the presence of allergenic ingredients in individual foods offered for sale–to date ignored by the Italian legislature. (6)

A voluntary standard

Instead, a voluntary standard could be developed, with input from associations representing artisan ice cream makers and ice cream preparation industries in Italy. And subject to certification by accredited third-party bodies. Aiming to distinguish, in Italy and abroad:

– artisans who make ‘handmade’ Italian ice cream, mostly from primary ingredients as described above, (7)

– ice cream parlors that produce ice cream with distinctive, if semi-processed, ingredients that are strictly Made in Italy. Taking into account that ice cream preparations are also rooted in the history of our productions and can be well distinguished from those of different origins.


(1) In various countries far from Italy, even, pizza is believed to be of U.S. origin (sigh!). Due to American fast food chains spreading its vulgar imitations
(2) In the European lexicon, the reference is to micro-enterprises, i.e., those with fewer than 10 employees and 2 million euros in turnover. Criterion that also applies to the exemption of prepackaged foods from the requirement of nutrition declaration on the label. See article.
(3) This category should include both primary agricultural products, such as fruits, and those derived from first processing, such as milk, cream and sugar
(4) Autonomous Province of Bolzano, Decree no. 27 of May 19, 2009. The legislation was blocked due to alleged incompatibility with relevant European standards
(5) Bills proposed by the 5 Star Movement: C4181, L’ABBATE and others:‘Provisions concerning the production of high quality artisanal ice cream‘,‘Introduction of the denomination of ‘artisanal ice cream of the Italian tradition‘ and provisions concerning its production’ signed by Congressman Federico D’Incà and others, C4236
(submitted and announced December 21, 2016)
(6) The reg. EU 1169/11 has indeed strengthened the protection of consumers with food allergies and intolerances. But in the 6 years that have passed, the Italian legislature has still not implemented these standards
(7) See footnote 3

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Dario Dongo, lawyer and journalist, PhD in international food law, founder of WIISE (FARE - GIFT - Food Times) and Égalité.