The base is similar (milk, cream, and sugar) in both, but gelato (above) has more milk, less cream, and typically doesn’t contain egg yolks, which are a common ingredient of ice cream. As a result, the fat content is higher in ice cream (at least 10 percent, usually between 14 and 25 percent), while Italian gelato is only 4 to 9 percent fat. (Yes, the American product is fattier, what a surprise…)
Second, gelato is churned at a slower rate, so less air is incorporated, yielding a denser (and more intensely flavored) product. Ice cream churns faster, so the increase in volume is substantial — by at least 25 percent and up to 90 percent — resulting in a more airy treat.
Lastly, ice cream is best served at 10°F, while Italian gelato is served about 10°–15° degrees higher.
In the mood for a comparison? Lighthouse Ice Cream Kompany (127 W Main St, Tarrytown; 914.502.0339; www.lighthouseicecreamkompany.com) does an admirable job on both cold treats.