The Italian Almanac

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ice cream

Italian News - January 25

Italy this week beat the cream of the world's gelato makers to stay top of the international ice-cream tree. Three Italian maestros whipped up a dazzling combination of traditional cones, sorbets, ice cakes, and artistic creations to beat teams from France and Argentina. "This victory is the result of months of selection, training and trials," said the head of the Italian ice-cream makers' federation, Giancarlo Timballo.

Gelato (Ice Cream) is one of Italy's great gifts to the culinary world. Its origins go back to classic antiquity, when the Greeks and Romans used to savour fruit purees mixed with snow and sweetened with honey. 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 - still existing 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, which was still under British rule. Another Italian, Filippo Lenzi, is credited with opening the first American ice cream shop in 1777. The success of ice cream proved to be unstoppable, and its production was eventually mechanized. Americans are today still the largest consumers of ice creams: 32 kilos a year per head. According to a recent world survey, the British are next, while the Russians take up third place, with 25 kilos per head. The Italians are further back, content with 10 kilos per head. But Italy makes up for it on the production side.

The industry has had an active trading balance for decades. In addition, 45 percent of Italian production can be attributed to artisan-produced ice creams, recognised to be the best in Europe. And there are large numbers of Italian artisans who, like Procopio in the 17th century, started up their activities abroad.