The Italian Almanac

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Italian News - August 7

As well as driving the taste buds wild, Italian ice cream can now help people stay in tip-top condition too. A new survey shows that the trend for Italy's ice-cream makers this summer is to produce new varieties that have a range of healthy properties. These include liquorish ice cream, which is said to be good for the liver and for coughs, and ice cream made with extra virgin olive oil, which reportedly helps the skin cope with the summer sun and slows the aging process.

The nation's ice-cream parlours are also producing increasingly wide varieties of sorbets for people allergic to milk proteins. Some even offer ice cream made with goats' milk for customers allergic to cows milk. The survey by farmers' union Coldiretti revealed that another trend is for ice-cream makers to concentrate on producing flavours with fresh, locally grown, seasonal fruits.

Visitors to the Sorrento area, for example, can try varieties made with the famous local lemons, while in northern Italy you can find ice creams prepared with Piedmont hazelnuts. Piedmont is also home to "barolo chinato", which is made with cinchona tree bark and grapes and contains melatonin, a hormone that combats stress and helps people relax. Some makers are offering slimline versions of their creations.

The survey showed that ice-cream producers are creating lots of new flavours based on typical Mediterranean ingredients like sage, thyme, artichoke, fennel and in some cases garlic and onion. Coldiretti said increasing numbers of artisan ice cream makers even buy their milk and other ingredients directly from farmers to make sure they are genuine and top quality. Genetically modified ingredients are definitely out.

According to most food historians, ice cream originated in Italy. The father of modern ice cream was a 15th-century Florentine architect, Bernardo Buontalenti - but Italian ice cream first took off abroad when a Palermo entrepreneur, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, opened an innovative cafe' in Paris during the reign of Luigi XIV, the Sun King. The Procope café - which still exists today in Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, Paris - became a fashionable meeting place and its ice creams caused a sensation.

In the 18th century ice cream crossed the Atlantic and landed in America. Another Italian, Filippo Lenzi, is credited with opening the first American ice cream shop in 1777.