The gelato an interesting product to add to an existing dairy bar or a restaurant wishing to have a little more ….
But do we really know what is the Gelato and where does it come from?
Gelato is an Italian ice cream similar to the American ice cream, which we name more often ice milk here in Canada. The gelato is made with whole milk instead of cream, so it contains less fat and less air than a normal ice cream. This difference give the product a greater concentration of flavor and transform the texture which are denser than ice cream.
Gelati are found in many flavors. The flavors which we can say are more Italian include vanilla, chocolate, hazelnuts, a mix of chocolate and hazelnuts, pistachio nut, coffee, caramel and cinnamon.
The gelaterias that we say contemporary will modernize the flavor and adapt them with the current tastes, but also to the taste of their customer. It is not uncommon to see fruits flavors (strawberry, coconut), popular drinks (cappuccino, chai tea or alcoholic beverages like champagne), nuts (toasted almond) or renowned dessert (cheesecake, tiramisu, apple crisp or crème brulee). The variations are endless and the challenge for gelaterias is to set themselves apart by offering inedited flavors, but delicious.
Gelati are made from a custard make with milk, a little bit of cream, eggs and sugar which are mixed afterwards with spices, such as vanilla or chocolate. In the gelato industry, the eggs are often replaced by other stabilizing substances.
The earliest beginnings of frozen desserts are recorded in 3000 B.C. when Asian cultures discovered they could consume crushed ice and flavorings. Five hundred years later, it became a custom for Egyptian pharaohs to offer their guests a cup of ice sweetened with fruit juices. Italians joined in as the Romans began the ritual of eating the ice of the volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius, and covering it with honey.
Legends say that it was during the Italian Renaissance that the great tradition of Italian gelato began. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition. Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight. The news of Ruggeri’s talent traveled quickly and Caterina de Medici took Ruggeri with her to France. Caterina was convinced that only he could rival the fine desserts of French chefs – and had to make his specialty at her wedding to the future King of France.
In the late 1500s, the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Buontalenti is considered the inventor of gelato.
But it was Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a famous restaurateur, who made gelato famous all over Europe. Procopio moved from Palermo to Paris and opened a café that soon became the hub for every novelty, from exotic coffee, to chocolate, to a refined gelato served in small glasses that resembled egg cups. The Procope, as the café was known, soon became hugely successful and gelato spread throughout France and into other parts of Europe.
Gelato made its way to the Americas for the first time in 1770, when Giovanni Basiolo brought it to New York City. At this point, there were two types of gelato – one made by mixing water with fruits such as lemon and strawberries (also known as Sorbetto), and another made by mixing milk with cinnamon, pistachio, coffee or chocolate. By 1846, the hand-crank freezer was refined and changed the way Americans made this frozen dessert. The freezer kept the liquid mixture constantly in motion and kept it cool throughout, making a product that was no longer granular, but creamy. This is where the history of industrial ice cream began, as the product contained more air and was less dense.
Northern and southern traditions
The history of gelato is closely tied to two regions: Dolomite in the far north of Italy, and Sicily in the far south. In Dolomite gelato was made with milk, cream, sugar, eggs, and natural flavors. Snow was stored in the cantina (basement) during the winter. When the summer brought tourists into the mountains of Dolomite,the sale of gelato was one of the major sources of income for the region’s people. Gelato was considered to be a rich man’s dessert, and few people could afford it. Reduced tourism in Dolomite brought a great seasonal migration of Dolomite artisans to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and France to sell gelato in the rich communities there. This tradition made Italians dominant in the business of milk-based gelato both in the northern parts of Italy and in neighboring countries.
In the far south, the gelato was predominantly water based. Lower in fat and slightly higher in sugar content, it was called sorbetto or “sorbet” in English. Southern gelato producers used techniques similar to those of the Dolomite region, especially in Sicily where underground storage areas, some as deep as 30 meters (more than 90 feet,) were used to store compacted snow. Like their northern counterparts, local Sicilian artisans would travel to the neighboring countries to sell their wonderful dessert to rich clients.
Today’s modern production methods retain the best of tradition – flavor and freshness – while making gelato available to all. There isn’t a tourist in Italy who has not enjoyed the magnificent wonder known as gelato.