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Italy's Gelato University sees sweet spike in enrollments

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(Read caption) Many of today's unemployed see moneymaking potential in gelato, and they're flocking to learn the art at Gelato University in Bologna, Italy.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Ice cream with a hint of Parmesan and basil, anyone? It may sound unlikely, but concocting outlandish flavors is par for the course for an Italian “university” dedicated to the fine art of making gelato.

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Gelato University in Bologna is an offshoot of Carpigiani, a company that manufactures about 70 percent of the world’s gelatomaking machines.

The university was established seven years ago but has recently seen a 90 percent spike in enrollments as victims of the global recession seek to forge new careers.

“We start them off with a bit of history about gelatomaking and then teach them how to use and maintain the machines,” says Patrick Hopkins, the American director of the university, which was established in 2003.

More than 6,000 people attended the university last year. Courses range from beginners to advanced and cost €700 ($947) a week.

“A lot of them are senior businesspeople who have lost their jobs,” says Mr. Hopkins. “Outside Italy, it’s not as though there’s a gelateria on every corner. People taste Italian gelato and think to themselves: ‘Why don’t we have this at home?’ ”

For a recent course in mid-January, students came from all over the world – the United States, Australia, China, the Middle East, and South America.

One student, Seb Cole from London, now hopes to open his own gelateria in Brighton, on England’s south coast, this summer.

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“I’d been looking for a business opportunity for five years. I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, and gelato struck me as a really great product,” he says.

As well as learning how to make chocolate and vanilla ice cream, students experiment with more unusual flavors, including gelato made from olive oil, basil, and Parmesan cheese.

“In China, they’ve experimented with fish-flavored gelato,” says Hopkins. “Gelato is a platform for flavors – you can adapt it to whatever culture you’re in.”