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ITALIAN ICE CREAM

ITALIAN ICE CREAM It is one of the oldest-known foods and according to the greater part of food historians, it originated in Italy. This food is ice cream, with its origins going back to classic antiquity. The Greeks and Romans used to savour fruit purees mixed with snow and sweetened with honey. These were the first "sorbets", and were very different from nowadays the ice cream. As no method of freezing liquids had yet been invented, snow and ice collected during the winter months were conserved in underground storerooms and covered with layers of straw, serving as insulation. Conserved for a long time in this way, the snow was then able to be used during the summer to satisfy and refresh the palates of avid consumers.

The father of modern ice cream was the Florentine architect, Bernardo Buontalenti. It is said that he served ice cream for the first time in1459 at the opening banquet of the Belvedere Fortress in Florence. However, even if ice cream did originate in Italy, its triumph took place in Paris thanks to a gentleman from Palermo, Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, who moved to Paris in 1660 during the reign of Luigi XIV, the Sun King. He opened a café in the French capital, making it different from all the others, turning it into a centre for many new ideas and presenting to his clientele new exotic drinks from across the ocean: coffee and chocolate and sophisticated ice creams of a spherical shape, all served in crystal goblets. Thanks to these innovations, the Procope café - still existing today in rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, Paris - became a fashionable meeting place and its ice creams caused a sensation.

In the 18th century, ice cream crossed the Atlantic and landed in America, which was still under British rule. It seems that the merit can be attributed to another Italian, Filippo Lenzi, who opened the first American ice cream shop in 1777. The success of ice cream proved to be unstoppable, and its consummation spread to such a point that it encouraged a new invention: an ice cream machine operated with a handle, first thought up by Nancy Johnson in 1846 and patented two years later by William Le Young. It was a simple but efficient device, thanks to which the mixture, kept in continual movement, was cooled down in a uniform manner, its end product being a soft and creamy ice cream instead of the hard and grainy product it had been until then. It was thus that the history of industrial ice cream began. Then the cornet arrived, originating in 1904, really just thanks to chance: during the Saint-Louis Universal Exhibition, an ice cream maker - it seems also in this case an Italian - found himself out of ice cream goblets and so he made use of rolled up wafers.

Americans are today still the largest consumers of ice creams: 32 kilos a year per head. According to a world classification, the British are next, while the Russians take up third place, with 25 kilos per head. The Italians are further removed, and are content with 10 kilos per head. But Italy recuperates on the production side. In Italy, in fact, there are 32 thousand firms in the sector providing work for around 160 thousand people, counting employees and owners of artisan firms, with an overall production of 560 thousand tons of ice cream. 330 thousand tons are produced by artisan firms, while the remaining 230 thousand are produced by means of an industrial type of production: an impressive turnover which last year achieved a quota of 3.8 billion euro. This year's forecast is that the sector will record a 5-6 percent increase in consummation, with overall sales which could verge on 4 billion euro. At an international level, the Italian ice cream industry is witnessing a level of exports equal to 14 percent of production. The industry, however, has had an active trading balance for decades. In addition, 45 percent of Italian production can be attributed to artisan-produced ice creams, recognised to be the best in Europe. And there are large numbers of Italian artisans who, like Procopio in the 17th century, started up their activities abroad, above all in Scandinavian countries.
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