The Culture Behind Italian Gelato

If I had known I could go to school where my homework was edible, I would have switched my major. I may have been a better student if eating ice cream was how I could earn my university degree.  On the outskirts of Bologna in Anzola dell’Emilia, Emilia-Romagna that’s exactly what students do. They travel from all over the world for Carpigiani Gelato University. Yes! There really is a school for eating studying gelato!

Here students slice fresh fruits of strawberries, cantaloupe, and banana, add  whole milk with just enough sugar, at just the right temperature for just the right taste. In fact, there is a science behind authentic Italian gelato. It takes precise calculation to roll out delicious results – a creamy texture, silky, smooth, and never entirely frozen to taste. I also had a hand in making my first batch with Gelato Master Luciano Ferrari (yes, that’s his real last name!)

Gelato Master Luciano Ferrari teaching the art of Italian gelato


James showing me how to slice the perfect kiwi to make Kiwi Gelato


Strawberry and Cantaloupe Gelato




Gelato di frutta


However, in the Gelato Lab, it’s not about merely scooping up delicious flavours. Sure, thousands of people travel to Italy each year for gelato (after all, it does taste better here and Italian gelato-makers know how to craft that perfect scoop) but the significance of this frozen dessert goes beyond indulgence in Italy. Gelato has become a way of life here and I loved being a part of it when I lived like a local in Bologna.

As a Social Tradition

Gelato has a way of bringing people together. Even before the first form of modern gelato was created (as far back as the 16th century) and distributed (the first scoop was served by Francesco Procopio in Paris’s famous and now oldest coffeehouse, Café Procope) royals and noblemen enjoyed frozen drinks together for special occasions. It created a sense of belonging. Today, at any given time of day, you’ll find Italians sitting in the piazzas, socializing with one another, and enjoying each other’s company over a cone or two.

To End a Good Meal

At the heart of Italian culture is food. Not just any kind of food but products that are local and in-season. Italians like to end a good meal the right way – with all natural sorbetto (a combination of fruit, sugar, and egg) to help cleanse the palettes or gelato “drowned” in espresso, known as affogato. Thanks to Kirsten and Dante, I had my first affogato in San Marino!

My first affogato in San Marino


During La Passegiata

Slow walks, strolling through the streets, and enjoying the city around them is an Italian past time and custom.  Unless it’s raining, it happens everyday and in every town. During the week, la passegiata in the evening marks the end of a workday. On weekends more families and children take to the streets throughout the day. Italians will change attire “to see and be seen”, swap news and gossip, and catch up with family and friends over gelato. Originally, the custom was practised by single women eligible to marry but la passegiata has become an integral part of everyday life. All ages from young children to adults participate in la passegiata and many cities will designate car-free areas for a safe passegiata.

For Better Health

In the 17th century, medical doctors actually discovered therapeutic value in gelato with positive effects on health and mood. It is high in proteins, calcium, and vitamin B2. It’s a healthier alternative to ice cream produced in the United States. Gelato is milk-based so it carries only about five per cent fat compared to ten percent in the industrial kind. It’s made with pure, all natural, in-season and local ingredients, and sits at a slightly warmer temperature than ice cream. The churning process is at a much slower speed, making it denser, filled with 25-30 per cent air rather than 50 per cent found in commercial ice cream. Real Gelato has no preservatives so the quality is lost after only 2 or 3 days compared to a 3-month shelf life in other ice creams. Conclusion: gelato helps you live longer!

As a Global Culture

What was once a dessert unique only to Italy, Gelato has now transcended beyond borders. Young entrepreneurs from all over the world travel to Emilia-Romagna to spread the culture of gelato around the world. During my visit, I met students from Japan, China, Russia, Holland, the United States, and Canada looking to export a 14,000 year old tradition and bring a new skill back to their own country.  Gelato is not just a part of Italian culture. It has become a global culture even non-Italians eagerly want to be a part of.

Elise from Singapore slicing oranges


Carpigiani Gelato University is not just about creating a tasty, creamy, frozen dessert, but the institution is actually preserving the tradition of gelato, history, health, and sharing the culture of gelato around the world.

Of course, if I was going to help spread the word it would be necessary for me to taste test a few.



After. My "OMG that was good" look


Thank you Luciano for teaching me the craft of authentic Italian gelato!

Gelato Master Luciano Ferrari and me


If you can’t make it to Carpigiani, you can catch them on the Gelato World Tour.

How to get there:  Via Emilia, 45 in Anzola dell’Emilia, Bologna



I was a guest of Emilia Romagna Tourism and Carpigiani Gelato University, and while all opinions are my own, they are solely responsible for the extra pounds I gained during my visit.


A Canadian journalist turned blogger, Cristina traded in the conventional 9-5 to live life by her own terms. Her passion for local travel and experiences has taken her to more than 25 countries and 50 different cities. She\\’s currently planning her next chapter of volunteer travel around the world.

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