Chocolate Special - Part I

Chocolate Special - Part I

Chocolate can be consumed in various different ways: as a drink, as a bar, as an ingredient in sweets and, of course, as a gelato flavouring. Chocolate comes from the cocoa plant, an ancient species whose properties were already known to pre-Columbian inhabitants who used to eat and drink Xocolatl!

History of Chocolate

The first people to farm the cacao tree were the Mayans around 1000 BC. The plant then began to spread throughout Latin America, from southern Mexico to Guatemala, down to Honduras.
In pre-Columbian civilizations, the fruits of the cacao tree were exchanged as a valuable bargaining chip – a slave could be bought for 10 cocoa beans. After the Mayans, cocoa continued to be grown by the Aztecs, who ascribed mystical and religious value to the plant. High priests would present cacao beans as an offering to the gods during sacred ceremonies. The Aztecs were among the first people to make cocoa into a drink: they first roasted the cocoa beans, then ground them up and mixed them with water, spicing them up with pepper or chili to make Xocolatl, the ancestor of modern drinking chocolate. With its bitter and particularly unpleasant taste, according to the stories of the conquistadors, Xocolatl was used to relieve pain and boost energy. The Aztecs used to eat chocolate in solid form, pounding the cocoa beans against a stone until they achieved a thick granular paste.

Cocoa arrived in Europe thanks to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, recognised by the Aztec emperor Montezuma as the reincarnation of the god Quetzalcoatl who, according to a prophecy, was set to arrive on Earth in the year 1519. Among the many valuable offerings which Cortés received was a whole cocoa plantation. Drinking chocolate as we know it today is a European invention: the Spanish replaced pepper and chilli with sugar and vanilla to make it sweeter to drink. Around the seventeenth century, chocolate had spread throughout Europe and production passed from monasteries and convents to factories. At the same time, Turin became the biggest chocolate-producing city in Italy: even today, the area is still home to nearly half of Italy’s total production. The industrialisation process also made it easier to process cocoa: cocoa beans no longer needed to be crushed by hand, and steam engines managed to process large quantities of material. By the end of the 18th century, chocolate had gone from being a delicacy for the élite to a product that (almost) everyone could afford.

Brioche with gelato
Brioche with gelato

Sliced open and filled with gelato, with cream, or even with both, the brioche with gelato is a typical Sicilian speciality which has recently been exported to the rest of Italy; it is becoming increasingly common to see gelato shops offering this delicacy, with regional variations such as croissants and buns or the truly Sicilian “tuppo” brioche.

Vegan gelato, the new trend of Italian gelato-making.
Vegan gelato, the new trend of Italian gelato-making.

The last SIGEP, the International Homemade Gelato, Pastry, and Bakery Fair, in Rimini, saw a trend among all of the major companies in the industry to offer products – and in some cases an entire product line – for vegans. 

Part 2 - Pasteurization and homogenization of italian gelato
Part 2 - Pasteurization and homogenization of italian gelato

After selecting, assaying and processing the raw materials with the other ingredients, the next stages in making hand-made gelato are pasteurization and homogenization.

Part 3 -Maturation and Batch freezing of Italian gelato
Part 3 -Maturation and Batch freezing of Italian gelato

After pasteurization and homogenization, it is time for the mixture to undergo maturation and batch-freezing, which are crucial stages for a good hand-made gelato.

How to select ingredients for your gelato
How to select ingredients for your gelato

Why do manufacturer of ingredients for gelato parlours offer such a wide range of different bases? As user requirements differ so widely, the products are designed to help the gelato-maker to get consistently balanced mixtures, for creamier, more scoopable gelato.

Investments, costs and revenues in opening a gelato shop
Investments, costs and revenues in opening a gelato shop

Over the course of time, Italian gelato has earned itself a reputation for continuous innovation in production methods, technologies and ingredients, often dictated by the needs of both practising and would-be gelato-makers.

Differences between artisan Italian gelato, industrial ice cream and soft ice cream
Differences between artisan Italian gelato, industrial ice cream and soft ice cream

Often the differences between italian gelato, industrial ice cream and soft ice cream are not clear to everyone, even though in Italy the fact that there are so many gelato parlours as well as a history of hand-made gelato making would seem to facilitate this distinction.

How to make a good hand-made gelato
How to make a good hand-made gelato

Making gelato used to involve a machine known as a sorbetière, refrigerated using ice and salt, with the mix being batch frozen by hand using a long spatula-shaped stick. Luckily, things have changed quite a bit since then! 

Selecting the gelato ingredients
Selecting the gelato ingredients

Choosing the right raw materials is a fundamental part of making outstanding hand-made gelato: the finest milk, eggs and sugar, and the best semi-finished ingredients and semi-finished products are a key component in the creativity of every craftsman.

The role of semi-finished products in gelato-making
The role of semi-finished products in gelato-making

Compound ingredients for gelato or semi-finished products are mixtures of ingredients in powder or paste that the gelato-maker keeps by his side when preparing mixtures (stabilization) and giving them flavor.

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