Italy opens world's first gelato museum


Who knows what Cosimo Ruggieri would have thought about ending up in a gelato museum?

Alchemist at the court of the Medici, Ruggieri, the story goes, created the ice-cream that Catherine De Medici took to Paris in the 1530s to wow the French.

And that's why he ended up in the world's first ever museum of gelato culture and technology which has just opened its doors to local dignitaries and businessmen in the small northern town of Anzola dell'Emilia, near Bologna.

"Gelato was a symbol of power, used at courts to enhance the prestige of noble families. Ice and salt were key ingredients and were expensive and so only aristocrats could afford it," ice-cream expert Luciana Polliotti said.

Mr Polliotti is historical curator at the Carpigiani Gelato Museum, a shiny more than 1,000 square metre space built at a cost of €1.5 million to showcase the history of a product that has become a "Made in Italy" success story the world over.

The museum, built by gelato machine maker Carpigiani Group, tracks the history of gelato from the early snow-wells of antiquity, to the ice and salt sherbets developed by the Chinese through to the new technologies of the 1900s.

Exhibits include the world's first-written recipe for the "shrb", Arabic for sugar syrup, the 'De Sorbetti' treatise on the curative powers of gelato, written by Neapolitan physician Filippo Baldini, and 20 vintage gelato-making machines including the first automatic "Cattabriga" machine introduced in 1931.

But if the gelato has its distant origins in Mesopotamia it was Italy that developed the modern creamier version we serve today on our tables, some time in the 1500s in Florence.

And it was another Italian, Francesco Procopio Cuto, who, the museum says, sold the first sorbets to the public in 1686 when he opened "Le Procope" in Paris - still there today.

Since then gelato eating has become much more democratic. Food-producing association Coldiretti estimates Italians will spend €2.5 billion on gelati this year with more than 600 flavours to choose from.

And visitors to Anzola can taste some of those at the gelato shop outside the museum which serves treats like fig gelato with balsamic drizzle, strawberry and raspberry sorbets from an early 1800 recipe and coffee sorbet first drafted in 1854.

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