Friday, 30 November 2012
I also love eating ice cream in the middle of winter, snuggled in front of a roaring fire and plotting my next sojourn to Italy. Can you see a theme developing here?
Serious ice cream, of course, belongs to the Italians. Yes, you could split hairs and say the Chinese technically got there first with their ice and salt sherbets. But really, it’s hardly Tutti-frutti now is it?
If you want to be an historical completest you might as well know the ancient Mesopotamians, who were lucky enough to live in the mountains, utilised snow to cool their drinks so it’s hardly a modern invention.
But yet again, you have to hand it to the Italians who were first off the starting blocks when it came to adding cream and sugar to this seriously addictive product.
In 1500 the kind of confection we could appreciate was first ‘constructed’ in Florence. Apparently, we are reliably informed, the ice cream we know and love was actually concocted by the alchemist and astrologer to Caterina de Medici whose name was Coimo Ruggieri.
Of course it also had to be an Italian who actually sold sorbets to the general public in Paris at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Perhaps unsurprisingly this shop still operates today, four hundred years later; quite some feat! Could any lessons be learned to assist the Italian economy right now I wonder?
Ice cream, like many foods which became adulterated, mechanized and despised, has experienced a renaissance and is being reclaimed as possessing an element of luxury. After all, its pedigree is salt and ice which historically, have never been cheap to source.
This year, in September, to celebrate Italian supremacy in this area, an Ice Cream Museum was opened in Bologna. Should such things tempt, then abandon your ‘99’ for a fig gelato with balsamic drizzle – on second thoughts – pretentious, moi? Surely not?
You can walk through an array of exhibits and imagine yourself as a Roman Emperor being fed chilled delicacies or experiencing the ice cream lab. If the mood dictates, you can even savour the flavour of early 19th century ice cream recipes too.
It is interesting to see how gelato has always been the preserve of the rich and how it was only in the twentieth century with freezers that ordinary folk were able to enjoy this treat with any kind of regularity.
Looking at the cost of high quality ice cream now, it may well recede to the province of the well to do once more.
The museum in Bologna is about mechanization, history, democratization, cone making and advertising.
Throughout the museum are interviews on video which capture years of experience for ever. One Sicilian artisan suggests ice cream is now a science, but if you consider Ruggieri was an alchemist, there is no ‘now’ about it. But as Andrea Cocchi CEO of Carpigiani says: "To know the past, it also helps to feed the future,"
The Museum is definitely worth a visit; if you fly into Bologna on your way to a Flavours cooking, painting or Pilates course a quick stop over is highly recommended. Check out course availability here and synchronize your trip.