By Silvia Donati
Could you have guessed that, when people type the word Bologna in search engines, it is more often in association with the word gelato than tagliatelle or tortellini? The strong connection between Bologna and that wonderful sweet thing that is gelato is highlighted by the presence of a unique museum located just outside town, in Anzola dell’Emilia: the aptly-named Gelato Museum Carpigiani, which celebrated its third-year anniversary in September.
Inside 1,000 square meters of former industrial space at the Carpigiani headquarters, a wide range of objects, machines and audio-visual equipment illustrate the history, culture and technology of gelato. Its story began 12,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, when slave runners traveled up to 100 kilometers to collect ice and snow used to cool drinks served during royal banquets.
During the 11th century, the Arabs developed shrb, “sugar syrup”, a base for making fruit sorbets. The shrb was the predecessor of sorbet and, in a way, of gelato. The sorbet saw a great development in Sicily when the region was under Arab rule.
However, it was the Italians who developed and refined the modern version of gelato. The first official recipe for gelato is by Cosimo Ruggieri, an alchemist at the court of the powerful Medici family in Florence who created the fior di latte flavor in the 16th century. From Florence, gelato was exported to France, and, from there, it spread all over Europe. Up until the end of the 17th century though, gelato and sorbets were only enjoyed by the wealthy because ice and salt were expensive. It was another Italian, the Sicilian Francesco Procopio Cutò, who brought gelato to the masses, when he opened café Le Procope in Paris in 1686.
Finally, in the 20th century, with new mechanized production techniques, gelato became a product available to everyone. And, as further proof of Bologna’s important gelato-making tradition, consider that the first manufacturers of gelato machines, Cattabriga (1927), and market leader Carpigiani (1946), hail from here.
Upon entering the Gelato Museum, you are greeted by a series of quotes about gelato. My favorite is from a book written in 1775 by Neapolitan doctor Filippo Baldini: “Sorbets and gelato are the product of the most refined human intelligence,” he wrote. How could you not agree?
Silvia Donati is a freelance journalist from Bologna. She writes about her hometown and surrounding region of Emilia-Romagna on her website, www.bolognauncovered.com.
Gelato Museum Carpigiani organizes several events throughout the year. For information, check http://gelatomuseum.com
(Photos courtesy of Carpigiani’s press office).