FOOD HISTORY: Gelato; the Italian Ice Cream

Gelato, which in Italian, literally, means "frozen", is a combination of whole milk, eggs, sugar and natural flavors or fresh fruit. It is different from ice cream in that it uses milk instead of cream, contains only natural ingredients and much less air is whipped into it,thus, making Gelato less caloric, more healthy and with much more intense flavor. The history of Gelato dates to the 16th century with a native of Florence, Bernardo Buontalenti credited with its creation. Bountalenti was an architect and designer who was an expert in ice preservation having designed cold storage rooms in villas of Florence. He was asked  to prepare a new dessert to be served  at a banquet for the King of Spain, by the Court of Francesco di Medici. in the mid 1560's. Buontalenti invented a dessert made using eggs, milk sugar, honey and wine that was flavored with bergamot and orange that was frozen using salt and ice. At that time it was called" Italian cream" but would eventually become called "gelato". After becoming Queen of France, Catherine di Medici (Francesco's sister) summoned Buontalenti to come and introduce this unique Italian delicacy to the French court. Later  in Italy, Sicilian born Francesco Procopio Dei Coltelli, who was the first person  sell "Italian cream"  to the public, became influential in introducing "Italian cream" to the rest of Europe. He went to Paris in 1686 and opened a cafe named for himself, "Cafe Procope" in  which he experimented,  refined and, finally,, sold his improved frozen Italian cream  dessert. Cafe Procope became a famous gathering place for the literary establishment of France. From these influential people, the word about his special dish was spread all over France. Back in Italy, the art of "Italian Cream"  making was being passed on from father to son and these artisans continued to make improvements and perfect the product up to the 20th century. Somewhere along the way "Italian cream" became, "gelato".  from the Latin,"gelatus" meaning, "frozen"). When the Gelato makers began to emigrate from Italy, they took their talents and family recipes to the rest of Europe. As a personal aside, on a recent trip to Tuscany, Italy, I frequented many Gelaterias, most of them family run. Each had their own recipe and method of preparing their Gelato and every one was unique. However, they all shared a richness and intensity of flavor never found in ice cream I have eaten anywhere else I have traveled.