Google the name of most any Italian city and the word “gelato” and you will find pages of links to articles and blog posts compiled by travelers, foodies and journalists sharing their favorite gelato shops (called gelaterie) and flavors.
Bologna happens to be home to a fair share of gelaterie, but also to Carpigiani, the world’s largest manufacturer of artisanal gelato machines, founded in 1946. Its Gelato University is where students -future business owners, gelato makers and gelato lovers among them- come from around the world to learn the science and craft behind making gelato.
As students for the day at Gelato University, we got an insider’s look at the world of gelato, from its ancient origins and how it’s made, to actually making a few batches of our own, and tasting even more.
For our first demonstration, we saw how an early form of gelato would have been made using just a few ingredients. Fresh fruit, agitated with a spoon or whisk in a bowl nestled in a mixture of ice (to represent snow) and salt was how the early Egyptians or Romans might have made gelato, even if it was technically closer what we would call sorbetto…. but that’s another post.
The base ingredients for fresh, modern-day gelato or ice cream is still a relatively short list: eggs, whole milk, cream and sugar. But, as we learned at Gelato U, the quantities and preparation method, is what make gelato and ice cream so different.
Fluffy, cold, sweet. Ice cream uses a higher proportion of cream, resulting in a higher fat content (at least 10% fat, but often higher). Higher fat content requires a higher churn rate and therefore more air is introduced (ice cream is usually about 50% air); more sugar is also added to maintain the taste. Higher air volume is what gives ice cream a lighter, fluffy texture and requires a higher cooling temperature. Because it melts so quickly, ice cream is also slower to deliver its flavors to your taste buds.
Dense, smooth, intense.
Its lower fat content (between 3-7%) allows gelato to be churned at a slower rate, incorporating less air (25-30% ) which means it requires a lower cooling temperature of at least 14 degrees warmer than ice cream. Gelato also uses less sugar compared to ice cream. A combination of sugars are used that allow greater control over gelato’s overall sweetness, and contribute to its texture. The warmer temperature means that gelato’s flavor ingredients come across quickly, and more intense, compared to ice cream.
In Italy, there is an emphasis on using fresh, seasonal ingredients in gelato. Sure, you can find industrialized versions in the grocery store (and not only), but you can also find a lot of truly artisanal gelaterie that specialize in small-batch production using high quality and often unique ingredients. Where else could you find flavors such as ricotta and pear, pumpkin and cinnamon, salted caramel and chocolate mascarpone?
So, now you know a little about the science and technique behind what you’re tasting. Naturally you will want to do lots of your own research in every Italian city you visit! Here in Bologna, we have so many wonderful gelaterie to choose from, many with gluten-free, sugar-free and lactose-free options. See our list below for a few of our favorites to get you started.
Carpigiani’s Gelato University offers a variety of classes and their Gelato Museum and gelateria are open daily. Visit their website to learn more.
Our fav gelato in Bologna
Via Emilia, 45 Anzola dell’Emilia, Bologna
Gelatauro, Via San Vitale 98/B
Stefino bio, Via San Vitale 37/A
Galliera49, Via Galliera 49/B
Sorbetteria Castiglione, Via Castiglione 44/D
Cremeria Funivia, Piazza Cavour 1/D, Bologna
Our wonderful day at Carpigiani Gelato University and Carpigiani Gelato Museum was graciously provided by the warm and friendly staff at Carpigiani.
Home page picture from Unsplash.