In my last post, I told you about my week-long italian course in Florence and how I completely fall in love with the town. During my stay, I did my class at Koine Centre, a language centre not far from Basilica di Santa Croce. In this centre, other than language classes, sometimes they also organize cultural activities such as visits to theater or historical attractions such as traditional gelataria!
The activity was divided into two parts, the first was some introductions to the history of gelato and gelataria and then our teacher brought us to ice cream tasting in one of the oldest gelataria in town.
It was told that the first refrigeration technique was brought to the west by Marco Polo. He discovered the technique in China in 13th century and brought the knowledge back to Italy and Sicily. In the south, the Sicilian did a different variant of gelato but sans crème which is known as sorbeto. The italian gelato known nowadays started when the Medicis family held a contest (much like today’s Master Chef, i guess) in order to look for a great dish. A man, named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cuisine amateur, put forward his frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice and won the award. Catherine de Medicis really liked his idea and brought Ruggeri with her to France.
Two most famous names related to gelato and sorbeto are Bernardo Buontalenti and Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli. The first was one of the greatest artist in Tuscany who had beautifully worked for Medicis family and contributed not only to develop gelato machine but also architect for various beautiful buldings in Pisa, Livourne and Sienna. Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, on the other hand, moved from Palermo to Paris and opened the first gelataria in history, Café Procope. Gelato then was introduced to “normal” people and not only to aristocrats and their courtyard. Of course, the price was still high but he definitely made gelato more accessible.
So after our short course on history of gelato, we went to Café Vivoli at Via dell’Isola delle Stinche. The café was opened in 1929 by Serafino Vivoli and started as a simple coffee place. With his brother, they then added ice cream to their menu and it became a hit.
We had the chance to visit the preparation room at Café Vivoli accompanied by our guide (unfortunately I forgot her name), a longtime employee there. With a mixed of italian and english and a lot of gestures, she explained step-by-step how gelati and sorbeto are produced. Of course, there are machines to help them in the production steps but the recipe and know-how are still the core of their success.
I got then two scoops of sorbeto for a reasonable price of 2,50€. My choice was lemon(limone) and strawberry (fragola). I love their natural taste without being too sweet. Some of my friends add whipped cream on the top but I prefer them simple and straight. It was absolutely perfect!
So that is my experience with the gelato history and visit to gelataria. I really had a great time as I got the chance to explore and learn one of italian most famous attraction.
Do you know any interesting stories on gelato? Do share your favorite gelataria in the comments, who knows, I could try them next time I’m travelling!
Via Dell’Isola delle Stinche, 7r, 50122 Firenze, Italie