My good friend and tour guiding colleague Ola Pach has quite an obsession. I’ve seen it in person; nothing will get in the way of Ola and her beloved gelato. This makes her quite the travelling companion in Italy, where she’s been the last few weeks. Her first day in Rome saw her down fourteen different scoops of the stuff.
So when I heard that the world’s first gelato museum, part of the world’s only gelato university, had opened in Bologna, Ola was the first I told. ‘Will you be around?’ I asked, half-joking. At the time she was in Turkey. And what do you know, she got herself there. As one of its first visitors, quite fittingly, I’ve asked her to share her experiences here. Take it away, Ola!
“The world’s first ever Gelato University has just opened a gelato museum in Bologna – are you anywhere near there?”
When my friend Caitlyn told me this exciting news I knew that I had to factor this magical place into my travels. I have a reputation as a bit of a gelato aficionado, so the prospect of visiting a gelato university and museum sounded fascinating.
Reaching the Carpigiani Gelato University is an easy day trip from Florence; an hour-long train ride to Bologna and then a 45 minute connection by bus 87 takes you straight to the entrance.
The gelato university itself has been around for quite some time, with student numbers increasing significantly every year. This year the student intake numbered 12,000, with all learning how to become ‘gelato masters’ and open their own gelatarias one day.
We first had a one hour guided tour of the recently opened adjacent museum. Initial records of gelato go back to 12,000 BC, when people were using snow to create an icy treat. The museum details the entire history of gelato from then until the present day, covering ancient recipes that have been unearthed through the centuries (two of which can be sampled at the gelato lab, but more on that later).
It goes on to document the evolution of gelato from a sought-after treat that only the very wealthy could afford, to the creation of the gelato cone in the early 1900s, and all the way to the common soft serve ice creams that you can find at your local McDonald’s. There’s also a bunch of ‘sorbettieras’, or gelato machines; from the original muscle power hand-crank machines through to the fully automated machines of today.
The tour ends with the important distinction between Italian gelato and American ice cream (the American version has at least 18 per cent fat, whereas the Italian one has only up to 12 per cent), and an illustration of the different types of gelato.
Next, we went to the above mentioned gelato lab.
We got to try a few different flavours, and there were heaps; cream, coffee, non-alcoholic pina colada, hazelnut, biscuit, strawberry and cream, orange and cream, the works. I settled on the cream and also the Nutella and ricotta cheesecake.
The cream flavour is one of the two (the other being coffee) that the gelato master makes still using the original recipe from around a hundred years ago. It has a few little extra ingredients including cinnamon and a light citrus flavour, which give it its divine taste. The Nutella ricotta cheesecake was full of creamy and chocolatey goodness, and the whipped cream on top put our taste buds into sensory overload!
We had a brief lunch break for pizza (it is Italy after all), before having a gelato theory class from our gelato master, Pietro. In this class, we learned the basic components of gelato, and were surprised to discover just how much maths is involved in making the perfect gelato; different percentages of sugar and water and cream and so on and so forth, our heads were spinning.
We created the recipes for the two that we would be responsible for making – a fig sorbet and a pistachio gelato – and then we were set free in the lab.
After lots of slicing, dicing and fine measuring of ingredients, we put our fig mix in the machine, set it to ‘gelato excellent’ (what else?), and left our concoction for around ten minutes to freeze.
We then created the pistachio gelato using a reportedly very expensive pistachio paste and whipped that into the magic machine too.
Feeling very proud of ourselves, we proceeded to sample as much as possible of the delights we had created, before learning how to make gelato flowers!
The cost of the whole experience was only 35 euro, and going by the amount of gelato we ate, that made it fantastic value for money alone. To top it all off, I now have a certificate which states I have mastered the art of artisan gelato making, and I am considering relocating to Bologna next year to go back to school and one day open up my own dream gelataria.