Gelato is an age-old delicacy that dates back thousands of years. The earliest beginnings of frozen desserts are recorded in 3000 B.C. when Asian cultures discovered they could consume crushed ice and flavourings. Five hundred years later, it became a custom for Egyptian pharaohs to offer their guests a cup of ice sweetened with fruit juices. Italians joined in as the Romans began the ritual of eating the ice of the volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius, and covering it with honey.
It was during the Italian Renaissance when the great tradition of Italian gelato began.
The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert.
A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition.
Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight. The news of Ruggeri’s talent travelled quickly and Caterina de Medici took Ruggeri with her to France. Caterina was convinced that only he could rival the fine desserts of French chefs – and had to make his specialty at her wedding to the future King of France.
In the late 1500s, the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Buontalenti is considered the inventor of gelato.
But it was Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a famous restaurateur, who made gelato famous all over Europe. Procopio moved from Palermo to Paris and opened a café that soon became the hub for every novelty, from exotic coffee, to chocolate, to a refined gelato served in small glasses that resembled egg cups. The Procope, as the café was known, soon became hugely successful and gelato spread throughout France and into other parts of Europe.
In fact it is still possible to visit The Procope Café next time you are in Paris ,opened in 1686, it was the first cafe in Paris
– 13 Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie,
MARY HAMILTON-SMITH:AUSTRALIAN WOMENS TRAVEL