copyright 2009, Maria Liberati
Now that summer is here and (hopefully) warm weather is upon us..it’s the perfect time for gelato.
What’s creamier than ice cream, and comes in any flavor you can imagine, from strawberry to pistachio? Gelato of course! This centuries-old classic has been credited to many countries and continents, but credit definitely should be given to Italy. While origins of gelato can be traced to Marco Polo in China and various people in Arabia, the truest form can be traced back to 16th century Italia.
Gelato, Italian for “frozen”, can truly be attributed to the ingenuity of Bernardo Buontalenti, an Italian architect who was hired by the Medici family in 1565 to cater and plan events and banquets. He unleashed his fabulous “frozen desserts” which eventually became famous throughout the whole country. Initially this mixture of frozen sweet milk with egg yolks and other flavorings was a pretty exclusive treat, known as the “rich man’s dessert”. Because of the trouble that was gone through to make the unique treat, few could have it at first.
Snow was collected during the winter months and then stored in cold places until it was ready to be turned into gelato. Rich families actually had their own ice basements or wells where they stored ice up to 30 meters deep. These intensive harvesting methods made gelato consumption a lavish luxury in the 16th century. The ice concoction primarily included flavors of fruit, chocolate, or nut. Gelato from Northern Italy included milk, and tasted like a rich dense combination of ice and creamy flavoring. In Southern Italy, however, there was only water and no milk, and therefore was a lighter, healthier version known as sorbetto. The southern rendition is lower fat but higher in sugar content due to the more intense flavorings that make up for the lack of dairy product.
Since the 16th century invention of gelato in this European country, different variations have been formed from this frozen treat. Argentina boasts helado and France offers la glace, which was introduced by Catherine de Medici of Italy. Ice cream is consumed in bulk in the United States, although this is a less dense, less rich version of gelato because there is more air in it.
Today, gelato still remains ever-so-popular in Italy. It is a tradition as well as an art form, passed down from one family member to the next. Gelaterie, the cafes where this gelato is made, sold, and enjoyed, are sprinkled all over Italy and serve a wide array of delightful flavors and often served with wafers or biscuits, or in cones. Other variations can be found in each gelateria, such as granita, a more coarse version of the original form. Either way, these rich desserts are a refreshing treat…so rich that their portions are often much smaller than American ice cream sundaes, and even require smaller spoons.
Do you have a favorite flavor of gelato?? Mine is defintiely ‘Baci” flavored after the famous Italian chocolate candy.
Anysuggestions for a favorite gelato bar in Italy that makes artisan gelato??
I have a few, how about Giolitti in the center of Rome.and there are othrs but let us know what yours are>>
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