If super premium ice cream is around 16% butterfat, and homemade ice cream is around 19%, how can gelato, made without cream and eggs, be so smooth and creamy when it’s only 3-8% butterfat? It’s a mystery, for sure. Making gelato at home is tricky.
Search for gelato recipes on the web, and you’ll find anything and everything. I’ve even seen gelato recipes calling for 2 cups of heavy whipping cream. I’m sorry, but that’s just not gelato — that’s ice cream! Most definitions of gelato say it’s made with just whole milk, plus sugar and flavoring (often fruit or nuts). But if you try to make gelato with just whole milk, you’ll get a horrible icy mess, exactly like you think you would — there’s just not enough butterfat in whole milk for it to come out smooth and creamy.
So how do the “gelaterias” do it? They compensate for the low butterfat content with two things: dry milk powder and stabilizer. But they don’t usually go to the trouble of making their own mix — they typically buy a powdered base mix and various flavorings from a gelato company, and then mix it up and freeze it in their own shop.
So I decided that if they can do it, I should be able to do it too! It took me a bit of searching to find a company that sells gelato making products to the public, but I finally found a gold mine with Villa Dolce Gelato  in California. I ordered a powdered gelato base  for about $15 (to make about 2.5 quarts of gelato) and a jar of pannacotta flavor paste  for about $17 (to make about 5 quarts), plus $8 for shipping. A week later, I was making my first batch of gelato.
As I discovered in the past, making ice cream from a commercial mix  is really easy. I just mixed one part powdered base with two parts milk, added flavoring, and spun it in the ice cream machine. And out came perfect gelato that was every bit as delicious, smooth, and creamy as any I’ve had from a gelateria. Success!
Now, I’m not sure I really want to pay $6 plus shipping for each quart of gelato I make, but at least now I know it’s possible. (But if I did go into the business of selling gelato, this would be a great way to do it.) My next task will be to figure out how to make the base mix myself, using similar ingredients. It’s not that I want to make gelato all that often, but gelato is a good lower-fat alternative, and well, it’s an ice cream challenge! :-)
I can see that the base powder I bought contains non-dairy creamer, whole milk powder, and non-fat milk powder (plus things like sugar and flavoring). And for stabilizers, it uses locust bean gum  (made from carob) and cellulose gum  (made from plants). I’m hoping to make something similar using milk powder and xanthan gum , which I’ve had good success with in the past .
In the meantime, I’ve got homemade gelato!