Story by Barbara Angelakis
photos by Manos Angelakis
The nitty-gritty on Gelato
There are a few foods that are almost universally loved, and we at LuxuryWeb have written the history of several… coffee, pasta, olives, wine of course, cheese, ceviche etc., so attending the 2nd annual Gelato Festival recently held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, provided the motivation for me to delve into the history of our much beloved gelato.
In the day, artisanal gelato was a treat that one could only enjoy in Italy.
Thanks to innovative Napolitano’s, who packed their bags and their family recipes, and headed west, previously unobtainable Italian delicacies - such as brick oven pizza and gelato – landed at our proverbial doorstep.
Actually gelato was introduced in New York back in 1770 but with the invention of the hand-cranked freezer, ice cream became the popular sensation and gelato was pushed into the background of icy desserts. It wasn't until 1967 that gelato became readily available due to Luciano Rabboni’s development of PreGel, a mass-produced starter. Since then shops selling gelato have blossomed and the creamy treat is now widely available. Of course this is not truly made-from-scratch gelato, but still…
There is much controversy as to who discovered gelato - which in Italian literally means frozen - but has come to mean Italian ice cream since the advent of the creamy, flavorful treat has captured the hearts of one and all.
Some relate the development of gelato to a natural extension from the flavored sweet ices enjoyed by the nobility 4,000 years ago in China and 1,000 years later in Egypt. Romans also enjoyed icy desserts which the Arabs supposedly brought back from China and introduced in Sicily. It seems that our enterprising ancestors had found a way to collect snow and keep it in a frozen state during summer months when it was mixed with fruit juices to provide a cooling drink for the wealthy. There is debate as to when milk was added but it is commonly agreed that by the 16th century milk and cream were being added to the icy treats. In 1600, the Medici court of Florence, commissioned artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti, to create an opulent spectacular and dinner to host a Spanish delegation. He worked for months on the banquet and the crowning glory of the event was a creamy treat that he added milk and eggs to, which turned out to be the forerunner of gelato that we now know and love. Buontalenti was rewarded for his creativity by having one of the most popular flavors named after him.
Gelato, contrary to common belief, has less fat than ice cream which has a higher percentage of cream and eggs than gelato that is made primarily with milk and often without eggs. It is churned at a slower rate allowing for less air and a denser end product with a richer flavor due to the addition of quality natural fruits.
As in most home-grown recipes that are handed down in families, there existed many different and delicious versions. For some time gelato was only available to nobility or the extreme wealthy until in 1686, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, packed his bags and took his family recipe to France where he opened Café Procope in Paris and introduced gelato to the general public. The rest is history…
Back to the Gelato Festival which takes place this year in Jersey City, Boulder, and Chicago in August and Washingron DC on September 8-9, Los Angeles-Malibu on September 22-23, Dallas on September 29-30, Phoenix on October 20-21 and finally in Tucson on October 27-28. The festival is open to the public but with a professional judging component. Gelato chefs from around the world are invited to participate in the festival where their bespoke entries are judged on Presentation, Flavor, Structure and Creativity. At the Gelato Festival World Masters in 2021, the best artisan gelato chefs will be named in an international competition.
Not to overload my taste buds, I requested a spoon taste of each of the 8 competing flavors and the 11 available, but not competing, flavors. The festival offered unlimited amounts of all the flavors and after tasting all 19 offerings, I returned to get a cup of the Buontalenti, an absurdly creamy vanilla gelato and chat with its creator Niccolo Pomposi from Gelateria Badiana, London, UK.
Not sure it could be topped, I returned for a cup of Dark Chocolate Surprise by Giacomo d’Alessandro from Polosud Gelato Coffee Pastries, New York City, and the creamy, absolutely heavenly dark rich chocolate, turned out to be my favorite. As it turned out the Judges agreed and named Dark Chocolate Surprise the winner and Buontalenti in second place. Third place went to New York I Love You! By Noel Knecht, of Black Dog Gelato, San Clemente, California.
Other flavors, beautifully decorated were presented such as Peach-Mango with Calamansi, Italian Blueberry Cheesecake, Jersey Blues Pistachio and Fresh Ginger Gelato with Candied Pecans and Persian Paradise topped with pistachios and rose petals.
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