Last weekend I went to Rimini to be a judge at the finals of the World Gelato Tour. When I first received the invitation I saw that it was coming from Carpigiani. In case you haven’t heard of them, they are the folks that make what is generally considered to be the Ferrari of professional gelato making machines. I had always wanted to visit their ‘Gelato University’ and since this was part of the trip, I said yes pretty fast. Plus? I really wanted to visit Rimini.
As it turns out the Gelato World Tour also had another sponsor: Mec3. Billing themselves as ‘the genuine company’ they are the biggest producers, world wide, of ingredients used to make ‘artisan’ gelato. One of their most famous flavors at the moment is Hello Kitty. (Kind of makes you question their definition of artisan, right?)
The event I was invited to judge was the final round in a world wide competition that had been sponsored by these companies. 24 gelato ‘artisans’ from around the world met in Rimini to slug it out, with flavors that included everything from rose petals to aged bourbon. For the most part they were they were pretty good. No Hello Kitty in sight. My favorite, surprisingly, was one from Bahrain made with rose petals (I’m usually not a big fan of floral) that was delicate and rich at the same time. I also loved the entry from Canada that used Maple syrup as the sweetener for a lemony gelato that was surprisingly salty. And of course I loved the entry from Texas that mixed bourbon with pecans. You can read all about them here and see who won the various prizes.
What was it like judging 24 gelati in one sitting? While it may sound like a delicious amount of fun, it was actually quite rigorously organized. And keeping your palate fresh for that long is no easy feat. Chunks of bread helped to tone down the sugar and cold overload between bites. It was definitely a learning experience.
What I came away with, though, was the sense that most of the 24 gelati were much richer, and way sweeter, than any of the artisan gelati that are being made in Italy today. So while it was an interesting event, and I’m glad to have participated, most of the gelati I tasted (which are supposed to be winners in a world wide competition) didn’t have much in common with true, small batch, artisan Italian gelato that I have come to know and love from Milan to Sicily. I think the massive scary ice cream cone that stood guard over the festival grounds kind of summed it all up. When Italian culinary traditions make their way around the world, they tend to be reinterpreted in new , surprising and sometimes exaggerated ways.
The next day, having recovered from more gelato eaten in one sitting than I thought physically possible, I headed over to Bologna to visit the headquarters Carpigiani, which I loved. Our first stop was the museum, which was full of gorgeous gelato paraphernalia, including beautiful tins that were used to hold cones, vintage ice cream cups and antique molds used to shape savory gelati in the early 20th century.
I also got a chance to sit in on one of the basic courses at the Gelato University for future gelato makers, which kind of made me want to go back to school. It was all very scientific and the teacher talked about ratios of sugar to fat. (I’m sure that later on in the week he eventually got to the part about adding stabilizers and Hello Kitty flavoring, but as my friend Faith pointed out “you just have to block that part out of the course, which is actually quite thorough.”)
My favorite part of the day was getting the chance to see the Ferrari of gelato makers in action. We helped to make up a batch of 100% natural – using only three ingredients – strawberry gelato. We made an entire batch of 2 kilos of gelato in 8 minutes.
And ate it in under 2.
Yes. I actually managed to eat more gelato.
I visited Carpigiani Gelato University as a guest of Carpigiani, who paid for my travel and hotel.