Legend has it that Florentine Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589), exported the idea of Italian sorbets to France to the court of Francis I (1494–1547) when she went there to marry the Duc d’Orleans (who later became Henri II and she, his queen) at the age of 14. She reportedly brought her staff along to cook Italian delicacies, not trusting the cuisine of France (or perhaps, her enemies in the French court). Among her chefs was Ruggeri, purported to be the first professional gelato maker. During her month-long wedding celebration, he is said to have created and served a different ice daily, with flavors including lemon, lime, orange, cherry, and wild strawberry to surprise the royal banquets guests.
Whether the story is true is highly debatable, but what is fact is that since the 16th century, Italian gelato makers have emigrated throughout the world, spreading a craving for their frozen treats. After the two world wars, the fame of Italian gelato reached its peak only to fall back as American ice cream went into industrial production and post-war generations of Italians stayed home.
Now the manufacturer of arguably the best artisanal gelato equipment in the world, Carpigiani, located near Bologna, is seeking to spread the love of Italian gelato throughout the world by encouraging Italian gelato makers to emigrate once again. Through its Gelato University, Carpigiani is offering scholarships to Italians, who take part in the Gelato Pioneers Program, a set of courses that teaches aspiring gelateria owners how to make Italian gelato and sorbetto, as well as the business skills to start and run a thriving gelateria.
The catch? The Italian Gelato Pioneers must have the desire and the business plan to start a gelateria in a country, not their own. They must take Italian gelato to foreign shores.
The first graduating class, made up of twelve Gelato Pioneers, was honored on July 20 at the Gelato University with diplomas, accolades, prosecco, and, of course, gelato.
At the end of the four-week course, out of thirty students, the twelve (two working as a team) most talented and motivated students were reimbursed for the course. They were given apprenticeships, as desired, in thriving gelaterias and gained at least a week or more experience in Carpigiani’s own Gelato Lab, a working gelateria where innovation reigns supreme. Through Praxi, an international consultancy and training company with over 40 years’ experience, the Pioneers received business mentoring that will continue for 12 months. Finally, they were offered steep discounts on the Carpigiani equipment needed to start their own gelaterias.
“The project involves a double challenge,” said Carpigiani Managing Director Andrea Cocchi. “First, spreading the culture of home-made gelato around the world.” And secondly, he described the development of a “start-up model” to assist Italians to successful business careers, based on a quintessential Italian cultural food. “Carpigiani has decided to invest in people with the talent and motivation to win this challenge and is willing to place the strength of the international network that distinguishes it worldwide at their disposal.”
The Gelato Pioneers of 2011 are heading off to Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore, the United States, and Poland. “These twelve Italians have the passion and the talent to take the true culture of artisanal ‘Made in Italy’ gelato to the rest of the world,” concluded Cocchi.
The Gelato University was founded in 2003 as a training division of the Carpigiani Group, which produces around 70% of the world’s gelato and soft serve ice cream machines. The company offers 9,000 courses around the world in 10 languages.
Cocchi said the Gelato Pioneers project had so far been aimed at Italians, but the company wants to do more to promote Italian gelato around the world. Next year, the 2012 class of Gelato Pioneers may be expanded to include more finalists and to allow participants from other countries to compete for the top awards that aim to guarantee success as a gelato entrepreneur.