Bernardo Buontalenti, First Inventor of the Gelato
The architect that made the gelato for the Medici
Did you know that the gelato was invented in Florence? The first inventor of the gelato was Bernardo Buontalenti, the architect of the Medici. Bernardo Buontalenti (Florence, 1531-1608) was a Florentine architect, theatrical designer, military engineer and artist. He was much employed in the design of fortifications, villas, and gardens. Moreover, he is considered one of the most important architects of the Mannerist period. To him we owe the Medici Villa in Pratolino, the Tribune in the Uffizi Gallery, the palace of Bianca Cappello in Via Maggio, the Forte di Belvedere, the “Grotta Grande” in the Boboli Gardens, the project for the new city of Livorno, etc.). Nevertheless, his name is also remembered for having created the Jewish ghetto of Florence. He was also a great mechanic and an excellent mathematician. Besides all this, he is also traditionally considered the first inventor of the gelato.
The first recipe of gelato
The Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici wanted him to organize an opulent banquet to celebrate the Spanish deputation. In fact, the Spanish ambassadors had to stand open-mouthed in front of so much splendor. So, Buontalenti invented a new dessert for the occasion. It was a frozen cream made with ice, salt (to lower the temperature), lemon, sugar, egg, honey, milk and a drop of wine. His cold cream was flavored with bergamot and orange. Actually, this was the ancestor of the modern Florentine ice-cream. Buontalenti was an expert of the ice conservation. He had indeed projected some cold storage room both in the Boboli Garden and in the Cascine area. Near the Fortezza da Basso (Medici Fortress) there is a street called Via delle Ghiacciaie (i.g. “ice-house street”). That street owes its name to the cellars covered with isolating cork and wood panels, with a system of canes that let the thawed ice flow down. In addition to this, Buontalenti probably even built a sort of manual whisk to whip up the cream.
Caterina de’ Medici and the gelato
Nevertheless, the gelato became famous all over Europe thanks to another Florentine, Caterina de’ Medici. She was the queen of France and wife of Henry II d’ Orléans. She brought with herself to the French court her favorite chefs from her home in Florence. She made the French discover this new refreshing dessert. Between the court’s member who accompanied the queen there was a Florentine chicken seller named Ruggeri. In the XV century, he Medici court had announced a culinary contest entitled “The most singular dish ever seen”. The winner was the one prepared by Ruggeri. It was a sorbet that was so much appreciated by the judged that they solemnly stated they had never tried anything that good in their lives. The chicken seller became renowned. He was called everywhere to make his “dolcetto gelato” (little sweet gelato). Therefore, he was a forerunner of modern gelato.
The first inventor of the gelato: Buontalenti flavor
Lastly, the name of the first inventor of the gelato has been given to a gelato flavor: the Buonatelenti. Also known as “crema fiorentina”, it is made of a base of egg cream and whipped cream. If you want to taste the real Buontalenti, you have to try the one made by Gelateria Badiani. You can find it in Viale dei Mille, 20r, Florence, but they also have a shop in London, at 42 Newington Causeway, South Borough. They have registered the trademark, after winning a challenge in 1960’s to celebrate the great Florentine artist recreating his original gelato.
To taste the best gelato in Florence book our Florence Food Tour! We always end with a delicious gelato at one of our two favorite places: Gelateria dei Neri and Perchè no!