Gelato, derived from the Latin word ‘gelatus’, meaning ‘frozen’, might arguably be considered to be a synonym for Italian ice cream, but it is far from the equivalent of ice cream. With its soft, supply and deliciously milky texture and richness of creamy flavor that arouses the most dormant taste-buds, a gelato is a ‘tiny scoop of heaven’! What’s even better? With lesser contents of fat, sugar and calories and all natural ingredients as compared to traditional ice creams, it makes for a sheer guilt-free indulgence!
The gelato is one of the most prominent culinary inventions of the 16th century Italian Renaissance period. The simple flavors of the first fruit and sugar based gelatos have a come a long way since the times of the Florence based cook, Bernardo Buotalenti, accredited as the creator of the modern gelato. What once used to adorn the dessert table at the Medici Court, soon became a European favorite when Catherine dei Medici brought it to France. The first gelato cart was developed in the city of Varese in northern Italy. Sicily born chef, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli was the first vendor to sell gelatos to the public in Italy. In 1686, he opened the famous Procope Café in Paris (which is the oldest and still running restaurant in the city), which soon became a celebrated hub of intellectuals, artists, politicians, writers, actors, comedians and students.
By the turn of the decade, the continent was in awe of this innovative refrigerated dessert! Over the centuries, the art was passed on from father to son, experimented with, improved upon and perfected. With Italian gelato chefs starting to emigrate in the 20th century, the world got introduced to this ‘wonder dessert’. Soon, people had a choice other than ice-cream! Competition between the ice cream and gelato industries started brewing and the refreshing all-natural and intensely creamy taste of gelatos started appealing to the masses.
Over the ages, the fine art of gelato making has expanded well beyond the kitchen walls of the Medici court and has today sprawled across the world as a thriving business trend. Interestingly though, Italy is the only country where the handmade gelato still enjoys over 55% more market share than the industrial version.
As per the Confartigianato reports, Italy had over 37,000 gelato shops by the year 2009, approximately 150,000 employees working in gelato shops across Italy and over 100,000 staff around the world – a marked 10% increase in overall figures since 2004. In 2009, the Italian gelato industry (including ingredients, equipment and fixtures) contributed to over 5.5 billion Euros to the national economy. The number of gelato outlets has witnessed a stupendous growth in the rest of the European Union too.
Importantly, recent years have seen a gradual rise in gelato exports to Eastern Europe, Middle East, United States, Asia Pacific and Australia, with the effect that this gourmet dessert is no longer an Italian niche, but an international favourite!
A Matter of Pride
Despite all the competition, the art of Italian gelato making continues to maintain its exclusivity. The variety of flavors is infinite and perfecting the skills to whip out a delicious, slow-to-melt scoop involves generations of tradition, countless secret recipes, long hours of experimentation and constant assimilation of modern techniques and ingredients.
Making a gelato is as big a celebration as enjoying one! The popularity of this dessert has certainly grown by leaps and bounds over the years and there are several prestigious tradeshows, exhibitions and competitions held around the world to acquaint gelato lovers with the nitty-gritty of this artisan dessert. Some of the most esteemed gelato events include the Gelato World Tour and SIGEP the annual international exhibition of ‘Artisan Gelato, Pastry, Confectionary and Bakery’, where you can have the real gelato experience.
A gelato is for all seasons! If you too wish stay up-to-date with the latest news and events in the wonderful world of gelatos, all you need to do is follow DESITA and we will keep you posted on all upcoming affairs.
Food for Thought: Remember, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy Gelato … and that’s kind of the same thing!”