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Lick your way to gelato heaven in Bologna

Lick your way to gelato heaven in Bologna

The mention of Bologna and food typically conjures images of spaghetti – Spaghetti Bolognese to be precise.

A family favorite since the 1970s, and a staple of today’s student diet, it’s an adopted favorite of us Brits. But what about Spaghetti Bolognese in Bologna itself?

That’s something different.

There is no shortage of tratorrias serving up all manner of pasta treats in the city. Dishing up some of the best food from the region, it’s difficult to go wrong when dining out in Bologna.

But Bologna also has a foodie secret.

A short bus or a 20-minute taxi ride from the city center takes you to an industrial estate where you’ll find ice cream heaven.

Correction – we’re in Italy so it’s gelato heaven. Ice cream is a dirty term to the Italians. It’s ‘factory made’ and ‘heavy in fat’ compared to this artisan treat.

This is the global headquarters for Carpigiani, the world’s largest manufacturer of gelato-making machines. What it doesn’t know about delicious iciness is not worth knowing.

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As well as housing the usual business departments you would expect the building also hosts the Carpigiani Gelato University and its newest addition, the Gelato Museum, which has just celebrated its second anniversary.

But most exciting of all is the opportunity to make and taste your own gelato! This is definitely worth making the journey to an industrial estate for.

The company has big ambitions and wants to spread ‘gelato culture’ around the world.

To help achieve this, it organizes a Gelato World Tour.

Gelaterias across the globe were challenged to come up with the most inspirational flavors they can think of with such exotic names as The Scent of Sicily from the USA, Flavors of the Orient from Germany, The Sweetness of Summer from Canada, and Grumpy’s Heart from Italy.

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At the Grand Finale, held in Rimini in September, it was Mandorla Affogato created by Australian brothers John and Sam Crowl that took the honor. A Madagascar vanilla gelato was folded through with roasted, caramelised coffee beans, and a Kenyan coffee and salted caramel sauce. Yum!

Our tour guide, Brunella, led us into the free museum, which charts the history of gelato through the centuries.

The story begins way back in 12,000 BC when the kings of Mesopotamia sent runners over 100km to the mountains to collect snow and ice to cool drinks served during royal banquets and religious ceremonies.

You can do that when you’re a king. Later the Romans got in on the act.

We’re talked through an 11th century Arabian pomegranate recipe and onto the birth of gelato itself in Italy 500 years later as part of the Florentine Renaissance and credited to the House of Medici.

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But the main focus of the museum is on the 20th century when gelato became affordable to the masses. There are big white and shiny gelato-making machines on show, including the first mechanised mixing machine – a major and back-saving breakthrough.

The humble cone also gets attention.

It was on 13 December 1903 that Vittorio Marchionni applied for a patent for the production of gelato cones and wafers. Before this, street gelato was sold in glass cups, paper tubs, rolled waffles or sandwiched between two cookies.

We’re shown an original cone-making machine and some retro, brightly colored cone delivery boxes sent out to gelaterias in cities across Italy. Today there are approximately 39,000 in the country (the most in the world compared to around just 200 in the UK).

Carpigiani opened the world’s first Gelato University on its site in 2003 due to demand and has since trained thousands of gelato entrepreneurs. Students can attend a four week course enabling them to become fully-qualified gelatiere and open their own gelateria.

Numbers have soared since the recession and some 7,000 students are trained each year, Carpigiani’s PR Manager, Valentina Righi, tells me. Around 2,500 are trained how to make gelato, desserts and lollies in the Bologna campus while other students train at campuses as far flung as Brazil, China, Japan and the UK.

I’m about to follow in their footsteps if only for a few hours as we head for the Gelato Lab – an on–site gelateria where students can serve as interns and work their wizardry before taking on the world. What a job!

Needless to say, I am more than pretty excited.

I am faced with a rainbow of gelato and immediately get to taste some. Pistachio is the speciality of the house so I start there. It’s delicious, as you would expect.

There are actually so many flavors I feel slightly overwhelmed. They all sound so exotic and well, Italian. Marscapone. Ricotto mandorla e miele. Sorbetto al cioccolato. Pinolo. Nocciola.

Gelatiere Luisa shows me the ropes and we get to mixing. Cream, milk, powdered milk, sugars and some natural stabilisers all go into a huge jug. And that’s it.

Nothing fancy, just all good and natural, ingredients and the same basic recipe that’s been used for centuries.

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It’s all about the measures to make things just perfect – not too much of this, not too little of that – so it sets at the right temperature and has the desired consistency. We then pour it into the gelato machine.

‘Be sure to give the sides a good scrape with the spatula,’ she instructs.

‘We call this the Gelatiere’s Holiday. Instead of this going to waste we turn it into Gelato and by selling this we add it up and it pays for our holiday.’ It’s a good joke!

Once in the machine it’s simply a case of pushing a few buttons and then waiting for 10 minutes, which gives me a chance to get stuck into some more tasting.

First up is Luisa’s favorite, Custard Crème.

‘Can you taste the lemon?’ she asks. And indeed she’s right I can. It’s delicate but it’s there.

‘It’s from an infusion we add to the basic mixture.’

It’s this attention to detail that makes Gelato so fantastic. And here I am at the best gelateria in the whole wide world!

I try some pear, plum and prickly pear but my personal favorite has to be a chocolate sorbet. There’s no milk, which would make it gelato. It’s deep and delicious and one of the best things I have ever tasted.

Time’s up and it’s time to get my hands on my very own gelato – Crème Clark. I scoop three litres from the machine and get stuck in. Pure bliss and my own handy work too (with a little help).

I am converted and as I purchase my obligatory souvenir T-shirt I realize I’ll never quite think of a Cornetto in the same way again.

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Bologna airport is served by British Airways, EasyJet and Ryanair. Introductory classes including tastings cost from €20 ($25). More information at gelatomuseum.com.

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