Rivalled only by pasta in popularity, gelato is a must-eat for visitors when they descend on the “Bel Paese”. The frozen treat’s appeal is strong – this year, Italian ice cream parlours will serve up €2.5bn in scoops of the sweet stuff to locals and tourists. And one company is now investing millions to teach its preparation techniques in an effort to spread the gelato culture beyond the country’s borders.
Founded in 2003 on the outskirts of Bologna, the Carpigiani Gelato University offers courses year-round, many structured into week-long seminars, to those aspiring to the title of gelataio. When MONOCLE visits the campus on a summery day with blue skies and 30C heat, students are huddled inside an air-conditioned hall to hear the lecture of maestro Luciano Ferrari – the Italian title of “master” is preferred to “professor” and instructors fittingly wear a chef’s jacket to class.
On a whiteboard, Ferrari details the various types of milk-based gelato and runs through several recipes for vanilla. He stresses store presentation by pulling out a batch of gelato and carefully making wave-like impressions on the surface with a serving spade. Throughout his talk to a group of foreign students in English, the term “ice cream” is treated with contempt. “When we refer to ‘gelato’, we mean an artisan product that’s creamy, made fresh daily with in-season fruit; ice cream is industrially produced: it has double the fat content, more air and ingredients to help it stay in supermarket fridges for days,” he says.
Nodding in approval is the school’s director, Japanese native Kaori Ito. Her appointment is testament to the institute’s desire to expand overseas – today, Carpigiani’s 13 schools operate in cities as far away as Shanghai and São Paulo. “With the recession, we see people coming to us, many in their mid-thirties, stuck and looking for a change. We act as an incubator.
We teach them the art of gelato making, help them put together a business plan and financing for equipment.” Carpigiani’s educational thrust is, of course, rooted in economics since it complements the company’s main activity: the assembly of gelato-making machines, a €120m-a-year business that now has a nearly 60 per cent market share worldwide.
So far, the initiative has been a runaway success, with class enrolment doubling over the past two years to 12,500. In Bologna, foreign attendees even outnumber locals, as burned-out professionals from Düsseldorf to Dubai, some using their holiday allowance to attend class, look for a new challenge. “Most of my life I’ve been doing theoretical stuff; crunching numbers. I have this desire now to get behind the counter and work with my hands,” says German management consultant Martin Franssen.
Italian Andrea Morelli, a former bank manager, has a similar story. Winner of a Carpigiani scholarship that provides mentoring and financial assistance, he is preparing to uproot to Florida to open a gelateria. “I used to work for a pay cheque, not for something I was passionate about. Now I’ll see happy customers in front of me every day eating my gelato.”
Three Italian classics
This delicate chocolate chip flavour calls for a sweet fiordilatte (whole milk base) and coco beans that range from run-of-the-mill to Venezuelan Criollo.
A creamy classic made with nuts grown at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily (or Syria, depending on availability).
This sorbet is a litmus test for every gelataio. Made with fruit from southern Italy, sugar and water.