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Making gelato in Bologna : The Carpigiani Gelato University and Museum

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gelati equipment

Italy and gelato 

Italy and gelato.  Two simple words that transport me immediately to a wonderful place.  A country where the simplicity and freshness of food are celebrated with every mouthful.  A country rich in natural and historical beauty, and blessed with an abundance of fresh produce and incredible food.

From a food perspective, I’m always torn between naming France or Italy as my favourite country in Europe.  What I can say, categorically, is that authentic Italian gelato is a key part of my love for Italy.

The history of gelato

We sought to learn more about this tasty treat, heading to the Carpigiani Gelato University and the Carpigiani Gelato Museum Bologna, for an expedited lesson on all things gelato.

The university and museum are located within the Carpigiani Headquarters, just outside Bologna.  It is also a manufacturing site for its core product, Carpigiani machinery.  Carpigiani has been manufacturing since 1946 and became the world market leader for the production of gelato making machines.

Through a history of iterations, Carpigiani gelato machines have morphed from humble beginnings to the stainless steel vessels that operate in cafes, gelaterias and fast food chains all over the world. No longer just used for producing gelato, they are now integral in the production of soft serve, yoghurt and smoothies, to name a few uses.

Carpigiani Gelato University - gelato museum bologna

What is gelato?

Before I can continue any discussion about gelato, it’s necessary to clear up several myths about an often misused word.

What does gelato mean to you?  Does it mean ice cream?  Does it mean it’s dairy-free? Is it the same as a sorbet?  Can you buy it outside of Italy?  Is it good for you?   There are so many varied thoughts when it comes to gelato so let’s clear up some of the misconceptions, so that you too, can become an expert.

The easiest way to tell if gelato is the real deal is by its colour and the way in which it is presented.  Ever seen it piled up high in containers inside a glass case?  It looks amazing, doesn’t it?  Fluffy looking mountains of colour just willing you to eat it.  It will taste ok, there’s no denying that.  But it’s unlikely to be authentic gelato and will contain other additives to make it last longer and look more inviting.

Authentic gelato is naturally coloured and naturally flavoured.  So banana gelato will more likely be brownish in colour, not bright yellow.  Mint gelato will be white (ish) not bright green and blue bubble gum gelato….well, there just isn’t such a thing.

Gelato is not ice cream as many of us would know it, although many use the word interchangeably.  In fact, the two products are quite different in terms of their ingredients and production.  Gelato is not dairy-free but sorbet is. It can be bought outside of Italy, although non-authentic versions are more common.  As for it being good for you.  I’ll always argue yes, but we’ll leave that to your own opinion.

GelatoIcecream
Fat
0 – 8%10 – 18%
Air30 – 40%50 – 100%
Temperature-12 degrees Celsius-20 degrees Celsius

Air changes the flavour of the fruit and therefore the overall flavour of the product.  Ice cream, which is full of air, will melt much faster than gelato.  Gelato will start to oxidise after one day and will start to turn brown.  This is why artisanal gelato is produced in smaller quantities and usually produced every day.  According to Italian law, it may be kept for up to three days.  Gelato has a much smoother texture than ice cream, contains less sugar, no preservatives and only natural stabilisers.

The Gelato Museum Bologna

The Carpigiani Gelato Museum is the only one of its kind in the world.  Central to the museum and all that occurs at the university is the history and creation of artisanal gelato.  Tours like the one we did are conducted regularly and provide insight into the history of gelato making.  The curators of this museum have searched far and wide to bring vintage pieces of machinery into one location, to tell the story of gelato from its early origins.

The pre-cursor to sorbet

Dating back to the 11th century, shrb (sugar syrup) was made using water, sugar and flavouring.  This was heated into a syrup and then placed in ice whereupon it froze.  Sugar then became the key ingredient for making sorbets.

Freezing

During the 16th century, the concept of freezing became a hot topic, with anyone who knew how to freeze becoming somewhat of a celebrity.  Kings, princes and religious people all actively sought out those with the newfound skill.  During these years,  only nobility had access to gelato.

“In Palermo, ‘we live in the Royal Palace’.  We eat gelatos as big as a steak” [Ippolito Nievo – Garibaldi’s Letters]

old gelato barrel
Old gelato barrel
gelato machinery
Vintage machinery at the Gelato Museum Bologna

The spread of gelato

During the 17th century, gelato was brought to the reach of the people by Francois Procope des Couteaux.  With a knowledge of sorbet making, he opened Le Procope in Paris and sold sorbet to the masses.  Today, Le Procope is the oldest cafe in Paris.

Professor of Medicine Filippo Baldini said in 1775, “Sorbets and gelato are the product of the most refined human intelligence”.  He took this view one step further by prescribing different sorbets for different illnesses, such was his belief that “sugar, salt and cold have positive effects on our bodies”.

Reduced production costs proliferate the spread of gelato making

In the 1800’s machinery dramatically reduced the costs of making gelato.  Until now, the gathering of natural ice via such devices as snow wells was laborious and expensive.  Ice could now be produced en masse and delivered to households and businesses alike.  The production of gelato exploded both within Europe and all over the world.

The waffle cone

Gelato wasn’t always served in a cone.  Today, cones and gelato go hand in hand but up until 1926, gelato was served in cups or sandwiched between two biscuits or wafers.

cone maker
gelato machinery in museum

Automation of gelato-making

Each decade brought more and more innovation.  In 1931, the motogelatiera (pictured below) changed the production of artisanal gelato through its automation.  It eliminated the manual scraping and stirring processes, and allowed for the incorporation of air.  This invention opened the way for other automated machines to be invented, further escalating the notoriety of gelato.

motogelatiera
Motogelatiera

Commercialisation of gelato

Carpigiani responded to increasing consumer demand in the 1960s with the production of large machines, which we would relate to as “soft serve” machines.

gelato mixers
These machines were coloured yellow to represent the colour of the egg based custard used as a base
modern machinery gelato museum bologna

Carpigiano Gelato University

50% of the 4000 students who come here each year are from international destinations.  Here they continue to study and learn the science of gelato making, promote the culture of gelato throughout the world and to help entrepreneurs and budding gelato shop owners improve their craft.  Test kitchens allow for experimentation and an on-site shop allows for them to sell their newly developed recipes.

“Cow and the Moon”, a Sydney (Australia) cafe became quite famous in the gelato world after winning the World Gelato Tour title in 2014.  Today, their special recipe is still served here at Carpigiani.

Carpigiani Gelato University Aussie award winning gelato
Sydney’s Cow and the Moon world title winning gelato

Learning how to make gelato

Our guide Maeva took us through several techniques, ranging from the ancient process using ice and salt, granita and gelato.

gelato ingredients
Natural ingredients for the making of sorbet and gelato

Granita

Granita is an ice dessert.  With a good supply of ice and a good dash of Campari, we whisked it until it all combined to form a slightly thinner but still textured icy treat.  The Campari nearly blew our socks off so I would probably be a little less heavy-handed next time.

Carpigiani Gelato University me mixing granita

Other members of our tour were responsible for making the fior di latte gelato but we all had a part in taking it from the machine.

Carpigiani Gelato University gelato vanilla

The original method of using ice and salt was the basis of this delicious and light kiwi fruit dessert.

Carpigiani Gelato University icy kiwi fruit

Testing new recipes 

The testing of new recipes and experimenting of flavours and combinations is a continual process at the university.  Whilst we were here, we had the opportunity to try a new cold coffee espresso.  As a non-coffee drinker, my husband got to have two.  As a coffee lover, he was more than happy to oblige.

Carpigiani Gelato University from the test kitchens

Time to taste

One of the advantages of doing this tour is getting to sample a variety of gelato.  Deciding what flavours to have is always difficult.  Here I could choose whatever I wanted.

Carpigiani Gelato University eating gelato

Graduation

It’s a bit of fun and a nice end to a great experience.  We were presented with our certificates from the Carpigiani Gelato University and we accepted them with pride.

Carpigiani Gelato University graduates - gelato museum bologna
Getting our certificates from the Carpigiani Gelato University

Gelato making Classes and tours

There are a variety of gelato making classes and tours available.  Head to their website for further information.  

Getting to Carpigiani Gelato Museum and University

The Carpigiani Gelato University and museum are located within the Carpigiani headquarters, in an industrial area, outside Bologna city.

By car 

  • If using a GPS, select “Via Magli 1, Anzola dell’Emilia 400111 Bologna” as the final destination
  • 3 km from the Bologna-Borgo Panigale exit of the A1 Milan-Rome highway
  • Exit 3 off the Bologna bypass
  • There is plenty of on-site parking available

By bus

We caught the public bus from the centre of Bologna which was inexpensive and easy.

  • Catch bus #87 from “Piazza XX Settembre” bus stop (located not far from the Bologna Centrale train station
  • Get off the bus at “Magli” stop in Anzola Emilia
  • This bus stop is immediately opposite the Carpigiani HQ
  • Travel time is approximately 35 minutes
  • The bus departs from “Piazza XX Settembre” every 30 minutes (Tuesday – Friday) and every hour on Saturday.
  • Remember to buy your tickets (including return if going back to Bologna) before getting on the bus.  Tickets are not sold on the buses.
  • Tickets may be purchased at a variety of locations in the city including tobacconists and newsstands

41 thoughts on “Making gelato in Bologna : The Carpigiani Gelato University and Museum”

  1. Hello Yijing, thanks for your email. The images are all our own. As you would be using these images for a magazine, it would be appropriate for the magazine to pay for these. If you wish to discuss commercial rates, you can email me at kerri{at}beerandcroissants.com, many thanks.

  2. Hi Kerri and Stirling,

    I’m an editor of a popular science magazine in China, the Chinese version of How It Works. We plan to write about gelato in the next issue, and I found your article very informative which has listed perfect examples about the gelato museum. We would much appreciate it if you could allow us to use the photos in this article or provide the source. Of course, we will indicate the source.

    Best regards,

    Yijing

  3. This is so different and yet similar from ice creams. Definitely, an interesting tour to take and your post gave me so many insights into how it is really made. And you actually got to make some which makes it even more amazing and interesting. Something different to do in Italy from the regular sight seeing.

  4. Beer and Croissants and Gelato, this is a blog I can get on board with! I love gelato and I had no idea of the wonderful history of this delicious treat. I remember doing a food tour in Rome where we visited a gelateria and they taught us the difference between real and fake gelato. However, that’s the extent of my knowledge on the subject. I would love to take a tour though. I think I would like to go back to the way the served gelato in 1926 – between two wafers for a gelato sandwich!

  5. What an awesome experience! I always say that Italy is my favorite country, because who doesn’t love an excuse to eat pizza and gelato every day. Really interesting to learn about the history of something we almost take for granted as being in our life nowadays. I had no idea about it’s long history through France and Italy, and it’s really interesting to hear about the evolution of automation from what was once a delicacy only available to the nobility. Super cool that you got to taste test new flavors – and a bit of Australian pride here when I read about Sydney making the world stage with their gelato recipes!

    Would love to visit the museum and university – sounds fun!

  6. sara | belly rumbles

    I wish I knew of this when I was in Bologna!! So much fun and a great education on gelato. As a Sydney girl, I am thrilled to see Cow & Moon’s recipe being served up.

  7. Kim-Ling Richardson

    You had me at gelato! I can still taste the creamy, delightful flavours from when we visited Italy last. No matter what other ice-creameries say, no ice-cream can compare to gelato from Italy. Professor Filippo Baldini is a man after my own heart – sugar, salt and cold (in the form of gelato) definitely has a positive effect! That’s so cool you got to make some of your own flavours; I bet they were all delicious. I’ve heard of Cow and Moon, but am still yet to try it, but knowing that it’s Carpigiani approved and award winning, I might have to try it sooner rather than later (and it’s a lot closer than Italy!)!

  8. Wait omg a gelato museum? Just take my money! This is so awesome. What a fun and unique activity to do in Bologna!

  9. I felt Gelato was just another word for ice cream in Italy. That is one museum I would love to visit.

  10. Jenn and Ed Coleman

    We are huge gelato fans. In fact, the number one restaurant in San Diego is a gelato shop. (per Yelp). We love going to try their small batch, farm to table recipes from the local farmers market. It sounds like the Gelato Museum is someplace we have to put on our list for that Italy culinary tour. Love you pictures and thorough explanation of the process.

  11. This would be amazing! I’ve never even heard of it. I would love to try making my own gelato. I’m not much into sweets but I love gelato.

  12. This is the second time I hear about this place and it looks so interesting! I have to admit one of my most favourite things about Italy is the gelato! A gelato a day is just a mandatory thing when visiting! Never heard of the granita, now that is something I would definitely love to taste. It is so great that you can actually get your hands dirty and learn how it is done. Would definitely visit when in the area!

  13. What a tough assignment this was for you! You look like you struggled to make and eat all of that gelato, all in the name of research. Such interesting history about authentic gelato. I have to say I always prefer the more subtle flavours so hopefully I’ve been eating the real deal. Such an interesting thing to do while in Bologna. That really is a foodie town, isn’t it!

  14. Congratulations! A real official gelato certificate, wow! Plus you look very professional on the pictures. Did I tell you already that I can see a niche for beer & croissants here? lol
    PS. What would be the proper English translation for gelato? I learnt “ice cream” at school and I did not question it

  15. It sounds like an incredible experience! I had no clue about the difference between authentic gelato, and the bright, colourful stuff you piled up in shops. Thanks for the clarification!

  16. This is my type of tour. I’m going to have to plan a trip back to Bologna and see how many cooking lessons I can book. It looks like you’ve had a fantastic time.

  17. I never knew exactly how gelato was different than ice cream, although I knew I liked it more than ice cream. This sounds like a wonderful day learning about gelato and making it. And, it sounds like it is easy to get to with public transportation. Thanks for inlcuding the historical bit about freezing. Hard to imagine life without the ability to freeze things. I most certainly take that modern ammenity for granted.

  18. This sounds like an interesting visit! I love all the history behind it and I loved reading about all the facts too, now I know what to look out for to make sure I get the real deal!

  19. You are SO right! I don’t think anyone could think of Italy and not have gelato pop into their mind! What a unique experience. I would love to visit something like this. We were in Bologna years ago and didn’t even know about it. Thanks for sharing!

  20. A few years back, I visited San Gimigiano in Tuscany, and that medieval town had a gelato place that won the world gelato championships some years back. It was really great to have it – and especially in that location.

  21. Seeing this equipment Kerri reminds us that there is such a science to making delicious, fluffy gelato. I never had it until I circled the globe. Few gelato places in New Jersey, specifically, although Italian restaurants serve it. When I enjoyed it for the first time, I fell in love. The taste is just out of this world. Loving the images and the post.

  22. Some heavy looking machinery there! Congratulations on graduating! I’m interested now to try the REAL deal.

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