S. Crispino
  Ice-cream - a complicated
but fascinating history.
  If we go back to the beginning there is considerable confusion about times, places and people. We do not know who invented the ice-cream we now know and love, but it is a "scenario" with a number of "actors", all of whom Italian. But we can narrow the choice down to three contenders: Ruggeri and Buontalenti, both from Florence, and a Sicilian, Procopio dei Coltelli.
We do know however that sweets and fruit juices have been refrigerated
ever since ancient times by many peoples and all social classes, especially in Asia Minor.
We may quote the Bible and the story of Isaac that offers Abraham goat's milk mixed with snow, telling him to "EAT and DRINK: the sun is torrid and you can cool down."
We may deduce that it was a sorbet-type iced milk, otherwise they would have said only "DRINK".

king Solomon
Thus was it Abraham that first tasted ice-cream? Maybe. And although with reservations, some scholars of the holy scriptures state that when harvesting the grain in Palestine landowners distributed blocks of snow to their servants. As in later times, this snow was collected and compressed in the winter in ad hoc constructions so that it would last until the summer. It appears that even King Solomon consumed quite a lot.
When there was no snow man still managed to "make" ice, discovering a way to obtain it: by rooms, where water vapour would freeze on the rocks. In Egypt the Pharoahs would offer their guests silver chalices divided into two halves, one containing snow and the other fruit juices. In ancient Rome we discover the first recipe for a kind of ice-cream, written by general Quinto Fabio Massimo, which soon became popular.
  In Rome snow was brought from Terminillo, and also via ship from Etna and Vesuvius, two immense reserves that for centuries provided a flourishing trade, with the supply of the raw material to the popular "Thermopolia" dotted here and there along the streets and ever busy with thirsty wayfarers, and to imperial palaces. Nero is believed to have had an indigestion of snow, just like Elogabalo, at whose Court enormous amounts of frozen drinks were consumed.
With the fall of the Roman Empire and the arrival of the Middle Ages many (if not all) of the delicacies that had been common to many different peoples were lost.
Ice-creams disappeared too, but not in the East, where the invention of iced drinks continued to be developed. It seems that one of Muhammad's disciples discovered a way to freeze fruit juices, putting them in containers that were then placed in other recipients full of crushed ice. This system, carefully perfected, remained in placed for centuries, indeed until refrigerators were invented, as a base for the preparation of ice-creams.

At that time ice cream was brought back to Europe from Eastern countries. Arabs re-introduced this tradition, which started again from Sicily and was called SORBETTO, originating from the Arabic word SCHERBET (sweet snow) or - according to other interpretations - from the word SCHARBER (to sip) and deriving from the Turkish term CHORBET, sherbet. Ice-cream grew much lighter and more refined through Arab invention: sugar and new fruit juices, mainly citrus fruits, were added. Arabian creativity reached its zenith in Sicily, so rich in fruit and snow, and started a new trend.
In Northern lands the crusaders returning from the Holy Land would bring back precious recipes, and "ice-cream" came back as a new discovery on rich men's tables. Marco Polo brought it back to Venice and had new ideas, such as replacing snow with a mixture of water and saltpetre. But the real diffusion of ice-cream started from Sicily, through the ice-cream makers who had learned their art from the Muslims, adding a touch of their fantasy to it and spreading it about to Naples, Florence and then Milan, Venice and up to France, Germany and England, while in Spain sherbet was known through the commercial links between Portugal and the Eastern Countries.
16th century: the Renaissance. Here are the names of those who made the history of Italian ice-cream. Ruggeri, a chicken farmer, occasionally a cook, unexpectedly entered the contest "the most amazing food ever seen", sponsored by the Medici family for the most famous cooks in Tuscany. Ruggeri, quite embarassed, shyly asked to be admitted. He would make a frozen dessert from almost forgotten recipes adding a bit of his creativity. The jury members were conquered by his "sorbetto" They said "we have never tasted anything so delicious". So the winner became famous and was sought all over the country.

Caterina De' Medici


Caterina De' Medici, who was about to marry Henry, Duke of Orléans and future king of France, expressly wished to take Ruggeri over to France with all her cooks and confectioners. She liked to say he was the only Italian who could humiliate the French at least in the art of cuisine. At that time Ruggeri was the most wanted cook for any important feast, he was taken by Caterina's soldiers and directly embarked on the ship to France. In Marseilles, during the wedding banquet, French people came to know his ice-cream, his recipe for "ice made with sweet and flavored water". It was 1533 and he was asked to set his creativity free to invent new recipes to surprise royal banquet guests.  
He thus started to give different shapes to ice cream, creating real miniature monuments with his still secret recipe. Caterina refused any gift or sum of money offered in exchange for her treasured Ruggeri but fame was like hell for him. He was hated and boycotted by all the cooks in Paris and one night he was even assaulted, robbed and beaten! He then sealed his own recipe in an envelope which he sent to Caterina adding the following farewell note: "with your permission I want to go back to my chickens, hoping people will finally leave me alone. I hope they will forget me and will just be pleased to enjoy my ice-cream". Caterina de Medici's cooks were therefore lucky enough to get an ice-cream recipe that could be made all over France. Still during the 16th century in Florence, Bernardo Buontalenti, a famous archictect, painter and a sculptor, loved cooking as a hobby and he consequently discovered ice-cream. The time came when he was charged to organize luxurious banquets to surprise and amaze Italian and foreign guests. Banquets were obviously very important and Buontalenti introduced his "fabulous frozen desserts", a result of his personal invention and by far superior to what had been produced till then. They were made with zabaglione and fruit, they became a real craze and his recipes spread the art of ice-cream making from Florence to all over Europe and beyond. The real ice-cream making business started with Procopio dei Coltelli. He was from Palermo, or more probably from Acitrezza, a fishermen's village north of Catania.
Procopio used an invention made by his grandfather Francesco, a fisherman who spent his leisure time working on an ice-cream machine which could improve the standard quality at that time. One day he finally made it but, since he was too old, he left his invention to his grandson. Later on Procopio, who had begun to feel tired of his fisherman's life, started studying on his machine, he made many attempts and experiments and he finally decided to set off to seek his fortune. He arrived in Paris after many failures and further improvements. He discovered how he could use sugar instead of honey and how he could mix salt with ice to make it last longer, thus improving dramatically the quality of ice cream, and he was welcomed by Parisians as a brilliant inventor.


Late-19th century ice-cream seller
  He opened a shop in 1686, called Cafè Procope. Since he was so successful he soon moved to a new and larger place (nowadays in Rue de l'Ancienne Comédie) right in front of La Comédie Française. His Café specialities were "frozen waters" (granita), fruit ice-creams, anisette flowers, cinnamon flowers, frangipane (a cream sauce), lemon juice ice cream, orange juice ice cream, strawberry sherbet. Procopio was granted a special licence by Lewis 14th, which gave him exclusive rights for the production of those desserts. This place became one of the most popular meeting points all over France. Voltaire, Napoleon, George Sand, Balzac, Victor Hugo used to go to the cafè, which is still a boast for Paris. So the "industrial" diffusion of ice-cream started from Sicily. In 1750 Patrick Brydone, a scottish nobleman, wrote: "Etna provides snow and ice not only to Sicily but to Malta and to a major part of Italy as well, thus creating a very consistent commerce. In these sunburned places even farmers can enjoy good ice creams during the summer heat and in every feast organized by the local gentry ice-cream is a major feature. Sicilians say that a snow shortage would be more painful than a corn or wine shortage. You can often hear that this island could no longer be inhabited without the snow from Etna, since now people can't do without what is actually a luxury good". Summary taken from "scienza e tecnologia del gelato artigianale" (science and technology of ice-cream making) by Luca Caviezel - Chiriotti editore