Postcard: the Carpigiani Gelato University

Home to the first university in Europe, the enchanting city of Bologna is affectionately referred to across Italy as la dotta, or "the learned one".

It has also been dubbed la grassa - "the fat one" - in recognition of the local appetite for eating exceptionally well. It's the perfect place to study the science behind Italy's favourite feel-good treat.

Established much more recently than the University of Bologna (which first opened its doors in 1088), the Carpigiani Gelato University (founded 2003) is the world's foremost educational institution for learning how to make top-notch gelato like an old-school Italian artisan, and I've signed up for the first module in its month-long "Become a Gelatiere" training programme.

Over the coming five days I will sample more frozen dessert than in my previous five years. I'll swoon over vanilla, hazelnut, pistachio, tiramisu, chocolate, almond, milk stracciatella (think chocolate chip, but not quite) and other flavours. I'll melt over sorbets of tangerine, strawberry, pineapple and "kibana" (kiwi and banana). In a dozen cases I will rustle up the stuff myself. Sweet!

This is not a cookery course set among the fragrant olive groves of rural Tuscany, where students practise while sipping a fruity Brunello di Montalcino and nibbling on bruschetta. The curriculum is intensive, business-like and held in classroom and laboratory, and it is a magnet for would-be gelato entrepreneurs from across the globe.

My class of 14, for instance, includes natives of Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Honduras, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Britain and the US. The age range spans more than three decades, the youngest being 25-year-old Indonesian Tiffany, while the most mature is Othman, 58, a veteran Saudi Arabian Airlines pilot who took voluntary redundancy in 2012. All aim to start their own gelato businesses once back home.

Achieving that will take know-how, and in coming days gelato master Stefano Tarquinio will divulge the secrets of gelato taste, structure and texture. Tarquinio will teach us how to balance sugars, and how air incorporation affects flavour intensity. The amount of chemistry and maths involved is a surprise, and a calculator is essential.

Though the days are long, most evenings a few classmates get together for dinner, meeting at Bologna's most notable landmark.

The 15th-century Piazza Maggiore is a picturesque square located in the charming heart of the old city. As well as la dotta and la grassa, Bologna is also referred to as la rossa - "the red one" - and the city's architecture - from the Renaissance and earlier - boasts a warm palette of terracotta and cinnamon, of dusty pinks and burnt oranges.


Once gathered, the group wanders in search of a traditional osteria for an aperitivo and a feed. Exquisite fresh pasta dishes are usually the order of the day and dinners are followed by a lazy stroll in search of frozen perfection - Bologna has more than 300 artisan-quality gelatarias, at least one for every 2000 inhabitants.

According to the university's director, Kaori Ito, a taste for quality gelato is growing worldwide, and the institution now caters to 7000 students a year. Interest from Australia, south-east Asia and South America is on the rise.

What's more, Ito says, gelato has proven recession-proof.

"People started looking at their lives, their jobs, and started looking for a change," she says, adding that more than a few students are free spirits that want out of the rat race.

"Many have just decided to follow their dreams."

The writer was a guest of the Gelato University.