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History of gelato

3000 BC

Asian cultures discovered they could consume crushed ice and flavorings.

2500 BC

Egyptian pharaohs offered to their guests a cup of ice sweetened with fruit juices.

30 AD

Romans began the ritual of eating the ice of the volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius, covered with honey.


Marco Polo travel to Asia and learns about the Chinese who are using milk, ice and flavors.


Roggieri wins the Medici court contest with a simple sorbet or what was called dolcetto gelato: frozen desert.


Bernardo Buontalenti invents gelato for the Grand Duce welcome Spanish guest with a cream flavor of bergamot, lemons, oranges and chilled with a mixture of his own invention.


Giovanni Basiolo, introduces gelato to the streets of New York.


Hand-crank freezer is perfected in America and changes the way the frozen desert is made.


Gelato is an age-old delicacy that dates back thousands of years. The earliest beginnings of frozen desserts are recorded in 3000 B.C. when Asian cultures discovered they could consume crushed ice and flavorings. Five hundred years later, it became a custom for Egyptian pharaohs to offer their guests a cup of ice sweetened with fruit juices. Italians joined in as the Romans began the ritual of eating the ice of the volcanoes Etna and Vesuvius, and covering it with honey.

Marco Polo, celebrated explorer and historian who returned to his homeland bringing tales and records of his incredible journey to China. Among his possessions were the recipes for Chinese ice creams which were made not from shaved ice, but by using milk primary ingredient. This innovation kick-started the Italian ice cream industry, marking the beginning of the ice cream that we know and love today.


It was during the Italian Renaissance when the great tradition of Italian gelato began. The famed Medici family in Florence sponsored a contest, searching for the greatest frozen dessert. A man named Ruggeri, a chicken farmer and cook in his spare time, took part in the competition. Ruggeri’s tasty frozen dessert of sweet fruit juice and ice (similar to today’s sorbet) won the coveted award, which immediately put Ruggeri in the spotlight. The news of Ruggeri’s talent traveled quickly and Caterina de Medici took Ruggeri with her to France. Caterina was convinced that only he could rival the fine desserts of French chefs – and had to make his specialty at her wedding to the future King of France.

In the late 1500s, the Medici family commissioned famous artist and architect Bernardo Buontalenti to prepare a beautiful feast for the visiting King of Spain. Using his culinary skills to present an elaborate and visually pleasing display, Buontalenti presented the King of Spain with a creamy frozen dessert that we now call gelato. Buontalenti is considered the inventor of gelato.

But it was Sicilian fisherman Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, a famous restaurateur, who made gelato famous all over Europe. Procopio moved from Palermo to Paris and opened a café that soon became the hub for every novelty, from exotic coffee, to chocolate, to a refined gelato served in small glasses that resembled egg cups. The Procope, as the café was known, soon became hugely successful and gelato spread throughout France and into other parts of Europe. Procopio also created the first ice cream making machine, which then allowed gelato to be made on a larger scale.


Gelato made its way to the Americas for the first time in 1770, when Giovanni Basiolo brought it to New York City. At this point, there were two types of gelato – one made by mixing water with fruits such as lemon and strawberries (also known as Sorbetto), and another made by mixing milk with cinnamon, pistachio, coffee or chocolate. By 1843 Nancy Johnson invented the hand-crank freezer and changed the way Americans made this frozen dessert. The freezer kept the liquid mixture constantly in motion and kept it cool throughout, making a product that was no longer granular, but creamy. This is where the history of industrial ice cream began, as the product contained more air and was less dense. In Europe, a certain Fuller did the same, and now gelato became creamier and less icy than its predecessor.

At this point, gelato was available to the masses, not just from gelaterias but from street vendors with carts.

The progressions went rapidly from there. In 1896, Italo Marcioni invented the first cone mold. In 1927, Otello Cattabriga of Bologna patented his new machine, which was essentially a perfected electric batch mixer. This mixer still operated with ice, but “automatically” produced a superior product. The final advance in gelato production came with refrigerated batch freezers, which allow for a consistent and rapid production of gelato.

In the ‘60s, the industry began the production of pastes and powders to flavor gelato. These are called semi-lavorati (or, in Italian, “pre-worked”). These additives make the job of the gelatiere much easier, but at a cost: quality is lowered and offerings are standardized, reducing true variety. The use of these semi-lavorati products increased steadily until the trend reached its peak in the late ‘90s. The trend then reversed with the Slow Food movement taking hold, resulting in a return to value fresh ingredients and artisanal methods. And that’s where we come in, here at Delini gelato.


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