Once upon a time gelato was a symbol of power! Why? Acquiring and storing ice during the warm season was reserved for the only the very rich and privileged who had ice cellars to store ice in warm months.Hence, gelato was a status symbol.
Although “gelato” is loosely translated as being Italian for ice cream, in fact, it is derived from the Latin for “frozen” which is glacialis. Tracing its origins, however, depends on who you read.
Some sources say its roots are in Mesopotamia where mountain snow was mixed with fruit and beer for refreshment. Apparently there’s a medieval document which recounts a recipe for “shrb” , an Arabic word, from which sherbet originated. Other sources cite ancient Rome and Egypt. What we do know is that it dates back thousands (yes, thousands!) of years. These early versions were more like what we would describe as sorbet where ice was covered with honey or fruit juice.
Fast forward when a chicken farmer named Ruggeri won a contest by the Medici family for the best frozen dessert and was taken to France by Catherine de Medici when she married into the French royal family.
It was, however, famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti who wears the title of inventor of gelato. In 1565 he was commissioned by the Medici family to create a feast for visiting dignitaries and he presented what we know today as creamy gelato.
It wasn’t until 1686 that the first gelato machine was invented in Sicily by a famous restauranteur, Prcopio dei Coltelli. When he moved from Palermo to Paris, he opened a cafe and served gelato in small cups. Gelato’s popularity flourished and still does to this day.
In the U.S., we can thank Giovanni Basiolo who brought it to New York City in 1770. Over time, methods and machines (such as the hand crank freezer) were refined and perfected. And the rest, as they say, is history…
Grazie to all of these gelato pioneers f
or the yummy treat that we enjoy today!
Content & all photos © Victoria De Maio