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Hand-Crafted Icy Treats to Beat the South Carolina Heat

Libby Wiersema Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.
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Ice cream isn't the only game in town on hot South Carolina days. When the heat is on, cool off with a decadently different frozen treat. Think dreamy gelato, frosty Italian ice and tongue-tingling, house-crafted ice pops. Order up something new and chill out with a burst of flavors ranging from rich and bold, to fresh and fruity.

Gelato and sorbetto:

When it comes to dessert, gelato has firm footing on the storied pinnacle of Italian culinary glory. Think of it as ice cream's sexy cousin - silkier, warmer and more full-bodied. Traditionally, it contains little to no egg yolk and requires far less cream, relying on milk to provide its 4 to 9 percent fat content. (For comparison, the butterfat percentage of ice cream typically hovers between 11 and 25.) But herein lies the secret of gelato's intensity: Because there's less fat to coat your taste buds, the flavor is the most prominent feature. It also helps that gelato is served at somewhat higher temps than ice cream, which makes your palate more susceptible to the sweetness. Alongside gelato, many shops also feature sorbetti - frozen sherbet-like scoops that are fruity and dairy-free.

Now, quit imagining all this yumminess and hit up a local gelato shop. Here are a few to try:

Paolo's Italian Gelato, Charleston - Since 2003, Paolo's has been serving a rotation of more than 60 flavors. Owner Paolo Dalla Zorza, who opened this location after the success of his flagship store in Atlanta, is a native of Italy whose aesthetic reflects an unparalleled passion for his product. Stop by to experience an authentic gelateria with true Italian flavors such as Gianduia, a marriage of milk chocolate and hazelnut, Pistacchio made with pistachios imported from Sicily, and Stracciatella, an Italian version of chocolate chip. Paolo's also serves sorbetti in a variety of fruit flavors if you want a lighter treat.

Belgian Gelato, Downtown Charleston, Waterfront Park and Mount Pleasant - Greatness meets greatness to create something extraordinary at Belgian Gelato. Italian gelato marries the finest Belgian chocolate in this match made in dessert heaven. Recipes strictly follow old-school methods, introducing less fat and air into each hand-crafted batch for heightened flavor. For a more adult experience, head to the Mount Pleasant Belgian Gelato Café for fresh gelato served draft-style and in specialty martinis.

BeardCat's Sweet Shop, Sullivans Island - This shop, operating beneath The Obstinate Daughter Italian restaurant, is a small operation that's big on taste and quality. Order up cups of artisanal gelato, with some offerings featuring locally sourced products. You'll also find novelties such as gelato sandwiches, gelato sundaes and gelato cakes, in addition to sorbetto and gourmet ice pops.

Scoopy Doo Gelato Shop, Columbia - This snappy little shop in Five Points offers scratch-made gelato and sorbetto, prepared from locally sourced ingredients. Stop in on Sundays for their famous "buy two, get one free" special. In the summer, sign the kids up for an educational "Gelato Camp," where they use their smarts to concoct a batch of gelato.

Italian ice and more:

Water, sugar, fruit juice: Mix them up, tweak a little, then dig in for a refreshing cool-down on a sweltering Southern day. Unlike gelato or sorbetto, Italian ice is more juicy than creamy, striking a balance between slushy and smooth to make it a favorite thirst quencher when the heat is on. Grainier versions are sometimes referred to as granitas, the texture achieved by repeatedly scraping it with a fork to separate the flavored ice crystals. Fun-to-eat Popsicles are denser, made from fruit juices, fruit puree and other ingredients.

Don't know where to go? No sweat. Here are a few of the hottest spots offering these frosty sweets:

For Italian Ice/granita:

The length of the Grand Strand is dotted with Surfside Beach-based Ricciardis Italian Ice stands, where you'll usually find a line of sweaty beachcombers looking to cool off. Rita's is another fave, with locations all across the state.

In the Columbia area, look for the bright green Brain Freeze truck for a premier product the owners describe as "super smooth" for an Italian ice. Carolina Italian Ice is another mobile operation catering to the Spartanburg crowd.

A time-honored family recipe is the secret behind the Italian ice at Carmella's in Downtown Charleston, where you can also get a mean gelato, too.

Gourmet ice pops:

While you might not want a Popsicle for breakfast, savoring an iced coffee Popsicle at Sweet Cream in Columbia is sure to be an eye-opening experience any time of day.

Sugar Bakeshop in Charleston might be known for its scrumptious baked goods, but the homemade ice pops are garnering plenty of attention, too. Chock full of fresh local fruits, such as watermelon, blueberries and peaches, these ice pops deliver flavors the proprietors describe as "vibrant and punchy." Get your licks in with lemon blueberry for a knockout explosion of tastiness.

Reinventing the concept of the "Popsicle Man," King of Pops offers fruity flavors such as Blackberry Ginger Lemonade, and creamy offerings such as Banana Pudding, from carts operating in Charleston and Greenville. Check the websites or Facebook pages of cart and truck vendors for a schedule of stops.

Libby Wiersema
Libby Wiersema lived in California and Alabama before settling in South Carolina 38 years ago, where she's covered the state's best culinary offerings and tells the stories behind the food.