When I mention food and Italy someone inevitably replies “Gelato!” Who doesn’t love a cone or bowl of that extra creamy lusciously flavoured Italian version ice cream? So when we were invited to Carpigiani Gelato University to learn the history and secrets of great gelato we jumped at the chance. About a 40-minute bus ride outside of Bologna sits Carpigiani’s huge complex containing the university, gelato museum, and production facility where they build their famous gelato making equipment.
Bruto and Poerio Carlo
Michela greeted us and gave us the low down on the beginnings of Carpigiani. How brothers Bruto and Poerio Carlo started producing their first gelato making machines and incorporated the company in 1946.
Bruto was a legend in Bologna leading a generation of engineers, packaging designers and entrepreneurs. In his spare time, he decided to re-engineer the typical gelato making machine into a much faster, efficient and more hygienic version. Unfortunately, Bruto died just a few months after the release of his machine but that is where his brother Poerio took over.
Poerio was a marketing genius and the prime reason behind the world’s awakening to artisan gelato in the 1960’s.
Using shrewd business moves, acquiring various companies and establishing subsidiaries, Carpigiani soon became the world leader in gelato production equipment.
The Gelato museum was created (in 2012) to highlight the unexpected history and technology behind the current gelato industry.
Guided by Arianna, we walk through history, to Egypt (2700 BC) where they ate frozen desserts made of ice, wine, and honey. To the 11th century when Arab apothecaries would prescribe shrub, to be taken hot or frozen. This would be the predecessor to sorbet.
And to 16th century Renaissance where legend says that alchemist and astrologer to Catherine de Medici, Cosimo Ruggieri invented fiordilatte gelato (milk based). Although the true origin of gelato remains a mystery there are plenty of links to several cultures throughout time and the museum does an excellent job of portraying its history.
The museum also has on display, gelato-making machines from the first style and predecessors to the most modern in the Carpigiani line. Beautifully decorated cone tins line one wall and there is also several moulds and Dickie Dee style ice cream vending carts which reminded me of my very first job back in the late seventies.
Gelato University master class
In 2003 the Gelato university was created to train artisans on the proper use of Carpigiani’s equipment and to also further the development of making better gelato. Filled with state of the art equipment, the students undergo a rigorous training in the fine art of proper artisanal gelato.
Students from all over the world attend bringing diverse cultures and cuisines together around the common ground of gelato, being taught by the industries leaders. Completion of the basic 5-day course will equip each student with the proper techniques and business skills to run their own gelato facility or another’s.
Every day the graduating students of the university make the gelato that fills the shop where the public can purchase their creations. It is also the place where they present what they call their master class which is a great overview of gelato making with a shot at making a batch in one of their amazing machines.
Ice cream and gelato
Maeva, our teacher for the day, explained the difference between ice cream and gelato, a big part of it being fat and air content. Ice cream contains more fat and more air which is one reason it melts so quickly. Gelato contains less fat and on average 50% less air.
Gelato can be milk based (gelato) or water/fruit based (sorbet). She also explained in detail the balancing act of creating a proper gelato recipe and the difference in ratios for particulars flavourings, sugars, and moisture/air content. The creation of each recipe being quite scientific in order to end up with proper texture, creaminess, and flavour.
We explored the differences between gelato and its alter ego ice cream and discovered some very interesting things that separate the two.
Into the kitchen
Finally, it was time to get into the kitchen and try our hand at making the day’s “special flavour”, kiwi. Since I am the cook, Nat let me take the reins and I jumped right in, weighing water, sugar, lemon and the kiwi according to the recipe. Blending everything until well mixed, I poured it into the Carpigiani machine, made my selection on the front panel and we waited for the magic to happen. The machine we used not only had the ability to create perfect gelato and sorbet but could churn out custards, chocolate pralines, and a long list of other confections.
Eight minutes later the machine indicated our sorbet was ready and it was time to try and dispense it artfully into the serving tray that would go into the gelato display. That’s right, our kiwi sorbet was served to the public that day! Not having a practised hand my sorbet presentation was weak but still looked enticing enough to sample, which we did as we did with most other flavours in the display case that day.
It was a great experience and a whole lot of fun and seeing the other cooks preparing some off the chart flavours was exciting and inspiring. One chef was working on a special gelato inspired by lasagna if you can believe it, and we were told that savoury (ish) style gelato like asparagus or truffle is growing in popularity expanding gelato territory from just a dessert to another course within a meal.
Is that real gelato?
So how do you know if what you’re eating is real, fresh, artisanal gelato? There are definitely a few things to look out for. Of course, the number one thing is to look for a gelato machine nearby (preferably Carpigiani ;-). Otherwise, look at the gelato itself, if it’s piled high, is shiny (fresh gelato should be matte) the colours don’t look natural or are too bright, then it’s probably made off site and is kept frozen.
Fresh, artisanal gelato is always made on site, the colour is less eye-catching but looks more like the ingredients used. When you are presented a cone or cup with fresh gelato, it is soft and slightly melted as it should be served at around 5 degrees. Interesting still to note that gelato melts more slowly than traditional ice cream because it has less air in it and that is why ice cream is stored at a much colder temperature.
Everyone has their favourite flavour but we were told the most popular are crema (custard) and pistachio from there the possibilities are endless and a good gelato shop is always willing to give a little sample so you end up with exactly what you want.
Some of the best gelato
Since our time at Carpigiani we have sampled some of the best gelato Italy has to offer and peeking into the kitchen we would always see at least one piece of Carpigiani’s equipment. Gelato is definitely one of Italy’s national treasures and for good reason. Thanks to the kind folks at Carpigiani for inviting us to learn more and appreciate every spoonful! If you are ever in Bologna you can contact Carpigiani and book your gelato experience.