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Food | Gelato | Cookery Schools

It is the authentic taste of an Italian summer – something so much fruitier and more flavoursome than mere ice cream.

In any other country, the recipe for gelato would be a closely-guarded state secret. But here in Bologna, there is a school where anyone can come to learn the frozen art.


Gelato is an emotion. We are future and present marketers of emotion!” intones Luciano Ferrari, standing centre stage in a tiered lecture hall, galvanising students who have come from all over the world to discover the secrets of this Italianissimo indulgence.


The mix of students is striking. They have come from Canada, Nigeria, Singapore, New Zealand, the United States, Thailand and Switzerland. The only Italian in the group (perhaps because this particular course is in English) is a Milanese bachelor who plans to open a gelateria in New Caledonia.

The new university, opened in 2003, is a by-product of the Carpigiani group, the world leader in artisanal gelato machinery, with 80 per cent of the Italian market and 50 per cent globally. They don’t home ice cream makers, but they make a smaller-scale restaurant version.


“Gelato is not ice cream,” Maestro Ferrari insists, Gelato is culture. The main ingredient is passion,” he says. “Passion and creativity!”.

Though frozen desserts can be traced back to Mesopotamia, three thousand years before Christ (mainly crushed ice with flavourings), at a certain point, Ferrari says, artisanal gelato become Italian. “The term gelato has remained unchallenged in the entire world. Like in music: sonata, a cappella, allegro”.


This happened about 500 years ago when Caterina de’ Medici brought a cook and amateur alchemist named Ruggeri with her to France. Ruggeri had won a Medici competition on desserts with his lime sorbet. His background had probably introduced him to the alchemy between rock salt and ice.

Later in the century, it was again the Medici who commissioned architect and scenographer Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a spectacular feast for the visiting King of Spain. Buontalenti added milk and eggs to his frozen dessert and gelato was born.


Having collected historic gelato paraphernalia for generations, Carpigiani also opened the world’s first Gelato Museum in 2012. Here you can find out more about the history, production and consumption and the wealth of fact, legend and myth surrounding this ‘extremely emotional’ (according to Ferrari) subject.


True gelato is made with fresh, natural ingredients and should be consumed within 24 to 48 hours. It doesn’t travel well. So if Carpigiani wants to spread the gospel of gelato throughout emerging markets, there is savvy strategy in educating international master gelatai in its own clean, brightly-lit, back to the future headquarters, equipped with 15 glistening workstations and its own gelato lab.

Carpigiani’s one and only sales point, the lab is a full-scale gelateria in the grounds and is open to the public. Here advanced students can experience a week-long internship, creating new flavours and getting a feel for the business end.


Despite the financial crises, the gelato business is booming worldwide. We still need small pleasures, and a luxury gelato is an affordable treat. “It evokes the joy and light-heartedness of childhood,” says Gianpaolo Valli, who teaches courses at the university in English, French and Italian. “Working for a sweeter world brings a bit of happiness."

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Sweeter yes, but as it happens artisanal gelato is much lower in calories than industrial ice cream. And while vanilla Haagez-Dazs is 26 per cent fat, Italian gelato is typically between 4 and 7 per cent fat. In fact, many flavours have no fat.


So how can you tell if the cone you’re licking is the real thing? A good gelato is put on sale the moment it’s made,” says Ferrari. “It’s not full of air, and it’s not excessively coloured.” You don’t get neon green from pistachio nuts. He adds, “Gelato suffers in a home freezer. It should be consumed within 24 hours. Better to buy a little at a time.”


Valli offers his own tips: “Whoever sells a lot of gelato is selling fresh gelato.” So look for a gelateria with queues outside the door. “And there shouldn’t be too many flavours. If you’ve got 50 flavours, it’s going to take ten days to sell it all.”

Carpigiani’s lab generally offers a more manageable 24 flavours. Valli also suggests checking out the rubbish bins: “Is there fruit in there or bottles of food colouring?”


Curiously, the average age of students at the Gelato University is 35 to 40 years old. They are often people looking for a career change or following the dream of self-employment.


Enrolment at the Bologna headquarters has almost tripled in the past two years. It appears that after the considerable initial investment needed for equipment and a choice location, making gelato can be a highly profitable business. “It costs roughly 2.5 to 3 euros, for the ingredients of a kilo,” says Ferrari, “but a well-made gelato sells for 20 euros a kilo.”


Masterfully-made gelato is no simple feat. “Making a recipe is creating an equilibrium,” Ferrari tells his student. “You make a base and then you flavour the base.” But it’s surprising how much maths and science is involved in the process.


Various sugars are used because sucrose alone would partially re-crystallise. To obtain the creaminess a master gelataio aspires to, only the tiniest crystals must form. Sugar is an anti-freeze, so it must be balanced by fat, which creates the opposite effect.

When flavouring gelato with alcohol, more than 20g of pure alcohol per kilo would impede the freezing process, so quite an equation is required to figure out how many grams, of say, bourbon, will give you 20g of pure alcohol.


Infusions are used to transfer the flavour or aroma from a spice, flower or herb to the mix. Hot infusions are faster, but they’re not suitable for fresh ingredients. “You’ll burn the fresh flower or herb, and you’ll taste it,” Ferrari warns his mesmerised students. “Cold infusions require time to absorb the essence of the flavouring agent in a food-safe environment – that’s +4 degrees centigrade for 24 to 36 hours for fresh ingredients such as mint, ginger, rose or jasmine. Plain water infuse more slowly than milk, so a citrus sorbet need the full 36 hours to transfer the flavour of the zest.”


The best-selling flavour worldwide is chocolate. “With chocolate the materia prima is essential,” notes the Maestro. “It can only be as good as what you put into it – 70 to 80 per cent cocoa content, with more coca butter, not vegetable fats! You’ve got to make your customers dream about what is in it.” And, of course, the singularly rich texture of gelato is due to the fact that there is less air in it than in ice cream, and it is kept at a higher temperature.


As the culture of gelato expands, says Ferrari “We must adapt to local customs and tastes. That might mean cardamom gelato in Mumbai or wasabi in Kyoto. You cannot transfer creativity,” says the Maestro, “but there are ways to stimulate it. Then each person develops it in their own way.”








Article written by Miriam Murphy,

Bologna For Connoisseurs - Issue 5,

Founder Dr. Alberto Masotti



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