Gelato History - Italian Ice Cream History

Among many types of ice cream in the world, Gelato distinguished itself by maintain its popularity from the moment it appeared in Renaissance Italy, to the modern days when gelato can be eaten all over the world. The history of Gelato started in Italy, over 2000 years ago when ancient Roman Emperors and high class citizens spared nothing in their quest to make their summer lives easier. They established trade lines from frozen mountain peaks and transported blocks of ice to them, and enabling the birth of the ice cream industry of the ancient world.

Gelato

The fall of the Roman Empire brought stop to the expensive and very exclusive tradition of eating ice cream in Italy. Off course, the tradition never completely vanished and Italian nobility continued to use ice shavings and sweet toppings as one of the ways to shield themselves from hot summer days, but the ice creams like we know today had to way over 1000 years before they arrived in Italy. Man who enabled re-starting of the ice cream industry was no other than Marco Polo, celebrated explorer and historian who returned to his homeland bringing tales and records of his incredible journey to China. Among his possessions were the recipes for Chinese ice creams which were made not from shaved ice, but by using milk primary ingredient. This innovation kick-started the Italian ice cream industry, marking the beginning of the ice cream that we know and love today.

However, Italian ice cream is not the same as the majority ice creams that are popular today. From the moment they first started using it, ice creams that were made in Italy were made to be harder, with little or no air present in the mix. Because of that, for the longest time their ice cream called Gelato remained their own, managing to survive trough centuries with little changes to the original recipe.

Records from history tell that Italians consumed gelato regular in 15th and 16th century, and they especially embraced it after Florentine architect Bernardo Buontalenti managed to create advanced ice cream refrigeration technique in 1565. Tradition of producing milk based ice creams was carried to continental Europe after wedding of Catherine de' Medici and King Henry II of France. From that moment, Gelato and the secrets of the Chinese and Persian ice creams spread across the Europe, slowly reaching all four corners of the world. Another very important moment in the Gelato history happened in 1686 when Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli managed to perfect first ice cream making machine. These advances in technology enabled gelato to slowly become more and more available to the common people, which finally happened in 1920s and 1930s when gelato started being sold by the street vendors.

Today, gelato is a worldwide known type of ice cream, and one of the rare ones that is still massively produced by individual ice cream vendors. Birthplace of Gelato, Italy, has more than 5,000 gelato shops, 15,000 gelato vendors and astonishing 55% of all gelato ice cream is produced by them.