It's one museum that promises a feast not just for the eyes, but for the taste buds as well.
A museum for ice creams - gelato in Italian - has opened in the town of Anzola dell'Emilia, just outside the northern city of Bologna, dedicated to the history, culture and technology behind this divine delight.
The 1,000 square metre ice cream museum is located at the headquarters of Carpigiani, a company that manufactures gelato-making machines. Brothers Bruto and Poerio Carpigiani founded the business in 1946 and a foundation was established in their names last year to promote the culture of artisan gelato as an important Italian culinary contribution.
Admission to the 1.5m euro ($1.9m) museum is free.
"To know the past, it also helps to feed the future," said Andrea Cocchi, CEO of Carpigiani, adding the ice cream museum was in the works for more than a decade. The project is part of a long-term investment to increase the awareness and production of Italian ice cream around the world, he said.
On a guided tour of the museum, it's possible to explore the history of iced treats. The ancient Romans used ice to chill their drinks, and sorbets were concocted by Arabs who created sugary, flavoured syrups poured over ice. Translated texts from Arab manuscripts dating from the 11th century are on display listing the recipes for pomegranate sorbet and a version with dates.
Tracing the roots
According to the museum's curator, Luciana Polliotti, the roots of the gelato created by artisans in Italy can be traced to banquets at the royal courts in Florence during the Italian Renaissance. It was at the court of noblewoman Caterina de'Medici where it was developed and brought out of Italy for the first time, to Paris.
|Italy opens world's first gelato museum
"The first recipe that I found of gelato was not really a recipe but more a presentation of ingredients from the 1600s by Lorenzo Magalotti, a Tuscan," said Polliotti, who is also a gelato historian.
"Most think that gelato was born from vendors selling it on the street, but if you look in history, it's actually a refined, luxurious product of Italian culture," she said.
During the 1600s, gelato was very expensive to create. The natural ingredients used to make it were not easy to come by. According to Polliotti, it was confined to the very rich.
Improved freezing and storage methods over centuries made ice creams available to everyone. Making it even easier to enjoy was the first ice cream cone patented by an Italian in 1903.
The Gelato Museum has more than 20 original ice cream machines, from bulky wooden barrels used to collect shaved ice to the automated ice-cream dispensers many are familiar with today. There are also thousands of historical photographs and documents detailing the pleasure derived over the years from this very Italian dessert.
A colourful collection of boxes used to store and transport ice cream cones hang on one wall and there are vintage ice cream cups and trade magazines on display. Bringing the items to life are video interviews with various personalities including lifelong gelato artisans and food technologists, keen to keep this gelato-making tradition alive in Italy.
|More than 20 original machines are on display at the museum [Gelato Museum/Al Jazeera]
Gelato enthusiasts are quick to point out that this Italian sweet is different from regular ice cream, as it has less fat content. Because gelato is made by artisans, many gelaterias or gelato shops create their own unique flavours.
The tour ends at a gelato lab where the Italian ice-cream is available for tasting. Besides the perennial favourites like chocolate or strawberry, at this museum shop the historical recipes listed in the museum can also be sampled. These ancient flavours are freshly made using natural ingredients with modern methods but they don't include any food stabilisers. One example is the Crema Italiana, a gelato made using milk, orange peel, cocoa and vanilla. It was created in the 1800s by the chef to Italian King Charles Albert.
For an additional 10 euros ($12.85), it's possible to take a short lesson at Carpigiani's Gelato University campus, which is right next door, and create your own gelato.
"It's an unforgettable experience for all the senses," said Polliotti. "Memory isn't just based on sight and sound but also our taste buds, which are often a stronger sense," she said.
"Here you can get to know history and you can taste it as well."