Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Maybe I will go back to uni...

A degree in gelato?  Very tempting.
I'd read about the Carpigiani Gelato University and museum on The Italy Project, a great blog about Bologna. When we decided to spend a weekend in this lovely city, I surprised Stefano by making a tour of it our first stop! The university and museum are part of the Carpigiani factory complex. This company is famous for producing commercial gelato machines and as part of their dedication to spreading an appreciation of gelato around the world, they have gathered 20 original machines and 1000s of photographs and historical documents explaining how the production of gelato has evolved since ancient times. According to our museum guide, Caterina, there is both a science and an art to making delicious gelato.
The museum tour was fascinating, and for those who know Stefano's love of a quick question, or ten, there was plenty of time to quiz Caterina about the history of gelato as we were the only tour participants. Although there is a debate about just where the idea to mix snow with flavouring originated, according to Caterina, there is evidence that in Roman times snow was strained and mixed with honey and then served as a sweet treat at Roman feasts.  If you would like to read more about the history of gelato this link gives a great overview.
The museum has collected a variety of gelato machines including a rare two person manual machine, seen in the photo above. During the 19th century, referred to as the 'golden age of gelato', the invention of an artificial ice production machine in the middle of the 1800s meant that gelato was no longer produced exclusively in the kitchens of the elite. Very quickly the production of gelato became popular throughout Europe and America.
But rather than get bogged down in the fascinating history of my favourite food, I'd like to share five tips that I learned from Caterina. I know they will enhance my love of gelato. Maybe you'll enjoy them too?

Caterina's tips for eating THE BEST gelato.
1. Gelato is not ice cream.  It is MUCH healthier.  
You've probably heard this before and Caterina confirmed it. Ice cream has a higher fat content than gelato. A chocolate or tiramisi gelato is only about 8% fat, whereas ice cream can have a fat content of 20 to 30 %. Because of the difference in fat content, gelato is served at a lower temperature and needs to be swirled rather than scooped into a cone. If you are served firm, solid scoops of frozen something, it's probably not gelato.
2.  Great gelaterias are closed in the morning.  
Yes, that's right. Gelato should be made fresh everyday, so artisan gelato chefs spend the morning sourcing fresh, seasonal ingredients and then preparing smallish tubs of gelato to be sold after lunch and into the night. This is a great tip for tracking down the best gelato, especially in Milan where there are so many small gelaterias.
3. Look for gelato machines out the back, not gelato trucks.
In Italy, the best artisan gelato chefs make gelato on site.  Look for the machines in a kitchen area out the back. It's becoming more popular to display gelato machines in a glass side room next to the counter with some shops producing small batches of gelato throughout the day.
4. Try a seasonal flavour.
Great gelato relies on great produce, so most gelato chefs try to create seasonal gelato flavours.  The use of seasonal fruits enhances the flavour and it also challenges the chefs to experiment and create their own style or speciality flavours. As Caterina told us, great gelato is the combination of art and science.
No Caterina is not about to torture Stefano for asking one question too many!
She's explaining how to use this old cone production machine.
5. Cone or cup? There's no right way to eat gelato.
Originally gelato was served in paper cones, or sandwiched between two cookies, or carefully scooped into tiny penny lick glass cups.  But thankfully, in 1903 Vittorio Marchionni, an Italian living in the USA, patented a machine for producing waffle cones and the hygiene problems of serving gelato, or ice cream, in rinsed, licked-clean glass cups was overcome! Cone or cup, now the choice is yours.
Those glass shot glasses are actually penny lick glass cups.  They are almost solid glass with just a small hollow for a little scoop of deliciousness.
After all this talk of gelato we were very glad to learn that the last stop on the tour was the "gelato lab". This is the only gelato shop run by Carpigiani.  Every morning the company gelato chef makes small batches of different gelato flavours. Included in our 5 Euro museum tour was a free gelato with a choice of three or four flavours.  The perfect ending to a surprisingly interesting tour.

Carpigiani Gelato Lab
Via Emilia, 45
40011 Anzola dell'Emilia
The shop is open everyday and you don't need to take a tour to buy a gelato there.

Taste test summary
I followed some of Caterina's gelato tips in selecting three flavours.  To make sure I sampled the art and the science of  gelato, I chose two artisan flavours and a classic. Blueberries are just coming into season, so the gelato chef was making the most of this fruit blending them with a ricotta-based gelato. The result was sensational! My second scoop was of zabaglione with caramelised figs. Rich, but not heavy, this fruity custard flavour was true artistic genius! And my last scoop, to test the science of this gelato chef's technique was nocciola. It is my favourite gelato flavour so I could compare it scientifically against memories of many others. There were pieces of crunchy nut mixed through a delicately flavoured hazelnut gelato.  Astounding! Honestly this was a huge tub of gelato but each flavour was completely distinct and absolutely delicious.

Gelati ranking *****!
Absolute perfection!  The best I've had anywhere.

To book a tour of the gelato museum or attend any of the gelato production classes click here for more information.

La prossima volta di più su Bologna.


  1. Jenny- I love this- Thank you for sharing! I think I see a family field trip in our future to go check this out too... -Heather

  2. Heather, I'm sure you would all love the gelato museum and tasting. Bologna was great too. Well worth an overnight visit. Aren't we lucky to be able to visit these great places so easily from Milan.

  3. Laughed out loud Jen about Stephen and the questions and was taken back to Balranald where we lost him for an hour while he quizzed the parish priest about the local area! This is a great post and would make a wonderful story for Australians venturing to Italy! Look forward to trying some GF gelato soon!

    1. Love that memory Therese. What a great trip we had. So looking forward to sharing the delights of Milanese gelato with you both.