Every year more than 6,000 would-be gelato-entrepreneurs from all over the world descend on Bologna, Italy to learn about a trade that is flourishing even in the midst of the global financial crisis.
The Gelato University was established in 2003
At the Gelato University in Bologna, Italy – founded by the Carpigiani Company in 2003 - a group of students prepare to make their first gelato. In 2008, more than 6,000 people attended their weeklong courses from all corners of the globe.
Although Carpigiani - the world's largest manufacturer of machines for making gelato - saw its sales drop during the economic crisis, enrollments at the university have skyrocketed. "This year, the number of students has increased by 90 percent so far," Gelato University Director Achille Sassoli told Deutsche Welle.
Many of the students are out-of-work professionals looking for new lives
Moroccan student Zakaria works as a hotel receptionist in Italy, but like many other gelato students, he hopes to get into the gelato-growing business after completing the master-class. "It's a business that brings you so much money even here in Italy," he said.
Gelato beats recession
Even the heat of the global financial crisis could not make the demand for the sweet treat melt away. As a lot of industries struggled in 2008, the Italian market for gelato grew by two percent to 1.9 billion euros ($2.6 billion), according to Confartigianato, Italy's trade association for gelato makers.
The Italian version of ice cream seems to be gaining popularity because of its freshness, its use of natural ingredients, and its low costs. The industry is still growing, said Sassoli, adding "we are amazed that even in cities like Rome, Florence and Venice - where there are already a lot of gelataria – or ice cream parlors - there is still an increase." The increase now is in premium gelato. "We're seeing all of the new openings try to compete on quality by using fresh products. Many are also using regional recipes to produce gelato," Sassoli said.
But gelato is also expanding worldwide. In 2008, Italian gelato exports rose by 43 percent, and in the past decade, the Carpigiani Group's sales have quadrupled. The Italian treat is already popular in central and Eastern Europe, and now ambitious gelato-makers are setting their sites on Asia.
The wannabe cooks are aiming to spread the premium gelato taste around the world
Going back to school
According to Sassoli, the students that come to Gelato University are typically between the ages of 35 and 45. Some are architects, lawyers, art dealers and management consultants - professionals looking to make a fresh start after feeling the crunch of the financial crisis.
"After the course, I will open my own gelateria - I think in Brazil," says Cesar Antonio, a Brazilian who has been cooking in a London restaurant for the past two years. He says that gelato is popular there, but that Brazilians don't know how to make it in the true Italian style. The university has opened branches all over the world, but many students still insist on coming to the headquarters in Italy.
"If you want to learn to do sushi you go to Japan. If you want to know how to do gelato you come to Italy, so it's normal for us to see a true increase in our main premises which is here in Bologna," says Sassoli. Despite these tough economic times, the students at Gelato University are hoping this is the beginning of a sweet career.
Author: Vanessa Johnston
Editor: Ben Knight