Ice cream is so beloved that it has its own holiday—National Ice Cream day occurs every 3rd Sunday in July. In 2019, National Ice cream Day is on July 21. But in the great debate of gelato vs. ice cream, where do you dip your spoon? If you’re in Italy, silky and decadent gelato is probably your answer. In the US, you’ll most likely go for some creamy and delicious ice cream. Here’s the breakdown on the differences between Italian gelato and ice cream in the US.

Gelato vs. Ice Cream: What’s the Difference?

Four people holding out cones of ice creamDespite what your guidebook may say, gelato is not exactly the same as ice cream. There’s a world of difference between the 2 frozen treats. A traditional gelato recipe uses milk, while ice cream uses more cream (it’s in the name after all) and thus has a higher fat content. Ice cream is mixed fast to give it volume, but gelato is churned long and slow for a silkier texture. Gelato melts faster, so you better enjoy your drippy treat stat. Ice cream tends to hold its shape better, allowing more time to snap that perfect Instagram pic before you eat it. Taste the difference for yourself on an Italian espresso and gelato food tour in Rome or on an ice cream and frozen treats tour of New York City.

What Flavor(s) Will You Pick for National Ice Cream Day?

Many colorful flavors of gelato on display in ItalyThe most popular ice cream flavors in the US are vanilla and chocolate. Why plain ol’ vanilla and chocolate? Because people love their toppings (rainbow sprinkles, gummy bears, chocolate sauce—yum!). Also, you can add vanilla ice cream to just about any other dessert to make it more delicious. Apple pie, chocolate molten lava cake, peach cobbler—à la mode? Yes, please!

Many of the best gelato shops in Italy serve their own signature concoctions, but some of the most popular flavors of gelato in Italy include cioccolato fondente (dark chocolate), fior di latte (literally “flower milk,” but tastes like sweet cream), stracciatella (vanilla with crunchy chocolate bits) nocciola (hazelnut), pistacchio (pistachio), and limone (lemon). You’ll also find seasonal flavors that take advantage of what’s ripe and fresh like blood orange and pumpkin. Unlike in the US, most Italians skip the toppings and instead order a standard of 2 or 3 gelato flavors at a time. Rather than adding gelato to dessert, Italians add dessert to gelato. Tiramisu gelato anyone? Yes, please!

How to Order Gelato in Italy vs. Ice Cream in the US

Woman holding an ice cream coneIn Italy, there’s no waiting in line behind that one person who simply must sample everything on display before ordering. Instead, you pay first and then go to the case to try out and select your flavors. At the cashier, choose between a coppa (cup) or cono (cone) —or just point to that delicious waffle cone dipped in chocolate—and they’ll get the picture. Then, order your number of scoops using the Italian word for flavors, gusti, since you get 1 scoop per flavor. Take your receipt, head to the counter, and hail a waiting server. They’ll take your receipt, you pick your flavors, and voilà —you’re in gelato bliss. Meanwhile, in the US, let’s hope you can put your wallet away before your ice cream starts melting.

What about Vegan and Dairy-Free?

Rainbow colored shave ice in HawaiiDon’t worry! If you’re vegan or lactose intolerant you can still enjoy some frozen treats on National Ice Cream Day. Supermarkets and ice cream shops in the United States often have ice cream made with coconut, almond, or soy milk for a creamy experience without the cow. If you’re in Hawaii, try some sweet shave ice. In Italy you’ll find gelaterias displaying a rainbow of dairy-free and egg-free sorbetto (sorbet). Made with fruit juice, fruit puree, and water, sorbetto gives you a fresh pop of fruity flavor that’s perfect to beat the summer heat.

Gelato University! Museum of Ice Cream!

White gelato swirled and topped with strawberriesDid you know Italy has a university dedicated to the study of gelato making? Well, it does! You can take a full course load to learn everything from gelato recipes with Asian ingredients to how to run your own artisan gelato chain. If you’re not ready to rearrange your whole life around gelato, head to Bologna to take a one-day gelato-making class at Carpigiani Gelato University. While you’re there, be sure to check out the tasty history of artisan gelato at the Carpigiani Gelato Museum, too.

Have you ever dreamed of sliding into a swimming pool full of giant rainbow sprinkles? Well, you can at the Museum of Ice Cream in San Francisco. Consisting of ice cream-themed art installations, this imaginative wonderland ignites your senses. Café 1095C serves ice cream, of course, and you can choose from flavors like Churro Churro and Vanillionaire. Make it magical by topping it with whipped cream, sprinkles, and edible glitter.

Where Will You Go for National Ice Cream Day?

A woman holding up a huge cone of gelato in ItalySo, in the great debate of gelato vs. ice cream, where do you land? Are you ready to fly to Florence for a gelato-making class or are you headed to Miami for Cuban-fusion flavored ice cream? Celebrate National Ice Cream Day and leave your vote in the comments below.