… mention the words ‘Ice Cream’ around here at your own risk says Francesca, our guide for the day at the Carpigiani Gelato Lab and Museum.
‘Was that a joke or a threat?’ I asked my girlfriend as we make our way into the reception area, she shrugs as if not caring, and lets face it why would you when you were just minutes away from making your own delicious gelato and sorbet?
Two weeks prior to entering the reception area and upon receiving our itinerary for our weekend in Bologna with BolognaWelcome, one item jumped off the page. No points for guessing it included the consumption of gelato. Before the date of our visit to the Carpigiani site I imagined a slightly moderated scene from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where I took Charlie’s place and proceeded to cannonball from the high dive board into a swimming pool sized metallic tray of pistachio gelato. We can all dream cant we?
The Gelato Lab
The Gelato Lab, our first stop, was actually located in a separate, smaller building to the reception area Museum, but it wasn’t a long walk, just the other end of the car park. Walking through the doors of the Lab felt like walking into a sugar based wonderland. Our eyes were immediately drawn to the counter containing the artistic mounds of gelato goodness in sparkling trays. Behind the counter shining, huge great machines churned and hummed whilst in the producing said goodness. In the back we could see busy staff weighing out and mixing together ingredients, in the front there were endless towers of different waffle cones and those tinee tiny tasting spoons that everyone loves in a rainbow of colours. This was a dessert lovers paradise!
After we’d stopped eye humping all the gelato trays behind the counter we slowly regained composure and were introduced to our gelato expert Brunella who would be taking us through the different processes used both past and present for making both gelato and sorbet.
We started with sorbet. Strawberry was the scrumptious flavour of choice, but before we could tuck in a bit of the old elbow grease was required. Brunella showed us how sorbet was made back in the day and encouraged us to get involved too. As you can see from the pictures below, this method involved two cylinders, one inside the other and with a layer of fresh ice packed in between. The inner cylinder houses a mixing fork turned using a crank and some man power. The mixture churns and is gathered on a wooden splint also within the inner cylinder. As you continue to turn the crank, the ice between the two cylinders will melt and so will need to be replaced. The melting is intended as you add salt to the ice before cramming it in between the two cylinders, that because whilst gelato is a cold dessert, it is not a frozen dessert. Keep reading this post and you’ll understand what I’m saying.
Back to the lesson. So far we had learnt that making gelato by hand is a pretty lengthy and exhausting process and that it must have been a nightmare to produce in large quantities before electric powered machines were built to do the job. After a time, we were able to produce a small quantity of sorbet, but to save us any more arm ache Brunella was kind enough to run the rest of the mixture through one of the incredible machines to show us the difference in speed – Lightning!
Once sat chomping away at our newly created strawberry sorbet, Brunella ran us through a few details on how the original mixture can change depending upon what flavours are used. Strawberry for example was classified as a medium flavour whereas watermelon would be a weak flavour and lemon a strong flavour. Quantities of sugar and water are adjusted around the strength of flavour being used. Simple when you think about it, but it was still a great lesson in the art of flavouring.
Sorbet eaten and lessons learnt, next up was artisan gelato, but this time we’d be leaving it to the machine to do all the work. Adding a pre made mixture of a simple milk flavoured gelato, we’d have just one small job at the end – mixing in the nutella sauce :)
So that was two tubs of the job stuff down, but no chance I was stopping there. From behind the counter I sampled pistachio, chocolate, hazelnut and a lemon sorbet. I could easily continued but alas it was time to do some more learning over at the museum, but not before Esther and I were both given a cool certificate … a nice touch I thought.
Whilst I’d rather be making and eating artisan gelato than learning of its origins, I have to say that the Gelato Musuem was pretty impressive. Looking more like an art gallery in parts, information jumped at you from all angles, and there were plenty of interactive screens to keep those who prefer digital learning methods happy. Fresh from stuffing my face at the Gelato Lab, I suppose a little walk around the museum did me some good and helped digest what I had consumed … making more room for later perhaps.
Walking into the museum it doesn’t seem that big, but let me tell you it holds a whole heap of information. We learned all about the origins and history of gelato (see the video below), but probably my favourite parts of the museum were, firstly seeing all the old packaging designs and advertisements, and secondly seeing all the old machines and how they have developed over time.
The history of Gelato
I could type out lines and lines of text on the history of gelato that you would no doubt skip over in order to find more photos of saliva inducing gelato … in fact you’re probably not evening reading this are … *sigh, just press play on the video below for a short but amusing history lesson in gelato.
Gelato vs Ice Cream
So why are the words ‘Ice Cream’ banned at Carpigiani? Well they’re not actually banned, that was a bit of an exaggeration on my part, but it is important to understand that gelato and ice cream are not one in the same, but two different cold desserts. So what are the difference? Well I am glad you ask …
1. They have different fat % contents
Legally, ice cream has a fat content of at least 10%. This owes the the amount of cream and egg yolks used in its production.
Gelato on the other hand uses a greater proportion of whole milk instead of cream. Its fat content is roughly 5-7%
2. They contain different amounts of air
Ice cream can contain up to as much as 50% air (the more air, the worse the quality) and as a result increase in volume and could be called ‘fluffy’.
Gelato is churned at a much slow rate than ice cream and as a result is denser. It contains around 25-30% air.
3. They are served at different temperatures.
Ice cream is a treat that is typically served from frozen, around 10 degrees F
Gelato on the other hand is not quite frozen when served. If it were it would be way too hard, so its normally served around 15 degrees warmer than ice cream.
Getting to the Carpigiani Gelato lab and Museum
So has this post wet your appetite for a bit of gelato? Well in Bologna and around Italy its plentiful, but if you wish to get involved at the Carpigiani Lab and Museum, the number 87 bus from just outside the central train station will take you to where you need to go. The stop you need to get off at is ANZOLA E MAGLI.
The journey takes around 45 minutes and the bus runs roughly every hour each way, so be sure not to miss you bus back to town like we did … although thinking about it now, that did give us an extra hour to sample a few more tub fulls so maybe its not the worst thing that could happen. #nomnomnom.
- Museum – Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm. (Carpigiani Museum)
- Lab – 7 days a week from 9am to 6pm. (Carpigiani Lab)
You can book in advance through the website and I would thoroughly recommend booking a package tour which includes visits to both the Museum and Lab. No point going to one and not the other in my opinion.
Getting involved with Gelato
Well if you’re in Italy, look no further than the Carpigiani University in Bologna where you can enroll in a full time, 4 week course and learning everything there is to know about gelato.
Not in Italy? Well if you’re based in the UK Carpigiani are hosting a number of FREE trail sessions at various sites such as Hereford, Reading and Glasgow. FREE is always a good price right?
My visit to Bologna and the Carpigiani Gelato Lab and Museum was supplied by Bologna Welcome as a part of their#SocialMediaFreeTrip initiative to promote tourism in Bologna through social media users like myself. I am under no obligation to write this post or any others that may follow, but have done so purely because I believe the towers to be a significant point of interest in Bologna. As such all opinions are my own. I tell you no lies!