Over three thousand years ago gelato got its start when people in ancient Rome would gather snow and ice from the mountains to combine with fruit or other flavouring to make a delicious frosty dessert. Gelato as we know it today became the specialty of artisans in northern Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. The city of Varese near Milan claims to be the site of the first gelato cart and today there are thousands of gelaterie across Italy where gelato is carefully crafted by hand using fresh ingredients.
There are thousands of gelato vendors who carry on this Italian tradition faithfully in Canada, the United States and other countries with vibrant Italian communities.
Not just Italian for ice cream
The word gelato is derived from the Latin word gelātus, which means frozen. While gelato has similar ingredients to North American ice cream – milk or cream, sugar, and fruit, cocoa or nuts – it is very different in texture and flavour intensity for two reasons: Ice cream has more fat and more air whipped into it. The lower fat content in gelato enhances the intensity of the flavouring while less air (gelato is churned more slowly than ice cream) makes gelato more dense. Additionally gelato is stored and served at a slightly warmer temperature so it’s softer and not completely frozen.
Newly opened gelato museum
In the fall of 2012 the Carpigiani Gelato Museum opened in Bologna—just an hour away from Florence—with a self-described dedication to understanding everything about gelato from its history and culture to the technology used to create it and those who have created it. The museum, which is open by reservation only from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Saturday, boasts more than 20 historic gelato machines, multimedia presentations, over 10,000 historical images and documents and workshops. If you love gelato and are in Florence this might be a must-see destination to add to your itinerary.