Carpigiani Gelato University, a school for aspiring ice-cream makers

The renowned Italian ice cream has its own “university” that is attracting thousands of would-be gelatieri drawn by the allure of serving a product that people love to eat coupled with the economic benefits of running a gelato business.

Leonardo Scacchetti dreams of turning his café here to outside management so he can open a gelato store in Singapore. Jose Manuel Serrano has put his job as a boat designer in Alicante, Spain, on hold to learn the tricks of making and selling soft yogurt ice cream. And six months after receiving a degree in communications, 25-year-old Vanessa Zorio, has turned her back on Italy’s stagnant job market to open a gelateria in Mexico.

They were among the 30 people who enrolled for a weeklong course last month at Carpigiani Gelato University, a school for aspiring ice-cream makers founded in 2003. More than half the November intake came from outside Italy, some from as far as South America. There are courses nearly every week and up to 40 students will usually attend three courses in a row.

With high general interest in organic, locally produced and healthy food, Italian gelato strikes some people as something of a culinary panacea: It’s cheap to make, tastes great and comes with fewer calories than the competition—mass-produced ice cream that generally includes ingredients to promote a longer shelf life.

A student learning to make gelato at Carpigiani Gelato University.

The gelatieri boast their product is handmade. Fresh ingredients, such as strawberries, walnuts and chocolate chunks, have to be mixed and measured by hand and then stirred and blended by machine. The temperature is monitored and, of course, the product has to be tested for taste. A medium to large gelateria makes about 550 kilograms a day, about 4,400 scoops.

Gelato must be made fresh and is usually prepared daily in small quantities and served directly to the public. Flavors range from the traditional to the exotic—basil, dessert wine, green tea and parmigiano reggiano cheese.

While the costs connected with opening a gelateria vary depending on location and local market conditions, the price of equipment ranges from €30,000 ($39,405) for a pair of basic pasteurization and mixing machines to more than €70,000 for top-of-the-line products.

The icing on the ice cream cake, however, is the profit a gelateria can generate. A single kilo of gelato costs about €3.20 to make and sells for an average €14.50 in Europe, according to Andrea Cocchi, chief executive of Carpigiani SpA.

And with so much money in such cones, it’s no wonder the ice cream university is proving such a draw. “All things considered, factoring in costs for location, raw ingredients and personnel, an average gelato store can earn profits of up to 70% on its investment,” says Mr. Cocchi.

Some students study in their home countries, attending courses held in one of Carpigiani’s branches, but many make the trip to Anzola dell’Emilia, 15 minutes’ drive from the center of Bologna, to learn the trade directly at the teaching facilities the company has set up in its headquarters, where there are up to three full-time resident lecturers and up to 20 part-time. A basic weeklong course, excluding accommodation, costs €800.

Since the global economic crisis broke three years ago, Carpigiani’s gelato training, which opened in 2003, has experienced a boom in enrollment, moving from 4,000 students from across the globe to more than 9,000 for the 2009-2010 intake, with an average age of 35. During the same year, the Anzola dell’Emilia school also saw its Italian enrollment drop below 50% for the first time, with 66% of its students coming from outside Italy. For the first three months of the current year, 2010-11, the school has seen a 50% increase in enrollments overall.

Carpigiani’s mission to convert the world to the delights of the gelato is a solo effort, so far. While other companies offer training, these are one or two-day affairs to show how to work the machines. Carpigiani has a vested interest in creating more gelato stores and makers—it controls just over half of the global gelato maker market and has more than three-quarters of the Italian market—but the company says it wants everyone to eat gelato and its courses concentrate on how to make the product.

“We don’t make any money from our school,” says Mr. Cocchi. “At best we break even. Of course we hope that our graduates will buy Carpigiani machines, but they’re under no obligation. The important thing is that they provide people around the world with real, truly delicious Italian gelato. That’s the real goal we’re pursuing through our teaching programs.”

Loris Molin Pradel, President of the Italian Artisan Gelato Federation, says: “From what we’ve seen so far this year, we believe there has been a slight increase in gelato consumption in 2010, perhaps not as strong as 2009″—when the Italian market for fresh-served ice cream grew about 2% last year to €1.9 billion euros—”but still moving up… I suppose even when times are hard, people still want to eat their gelato.”

Students attending last month’s courses included Moreno Barbieri, a roofer from Scandiano, in the Reggio Emilia region, north of Bologna, “I work hard, usually 12 or 13 hours a day,” says Mr. Barbieri, “but the pay isn’t worth the hard life. I’m hoping I’ll have a better life as a gelatiere.”

Maurizio Indiano and Daniele Centamore are in their early 30s—the average age of a gelato student is 35—and are both from Milan. When the economic crisis hit, Mr. Centamore lost his job as a computer programmer, and Mr. Indiano’s efforts to run a pizzeria in Copenhagen went as flat as his product. Then they hit upon the idea of going into the gelato business together. “We both love gelato, and most importantly, it pays well. We want to open a gelateria in Scandinavia,” says Mr. Centamore.

To promote the international expansion of Italian gelato culture, Carpigiani has inaugurated “Gelato Pioneers,” a company-sponsored scholarship program. The 10 students who qualify for the pioneer scholarship receive extra business training, 50% financing for the cost of Carpigiani machines and free coaching during their first year of business.

The school cites a long list of success stories to inspire its students, one of whom is James Coleridge, a Canadian who opened his store, Bella Gelateria, in Vancouver in June. In the short time it has been open, Mr. Coleridge estimates that he has been able to earn between three and four times his operating costs of roughly €18,500 a month. “My costs are high because I have a premium location and I use the best ingredients, but that ratio should be achievable for anyone who runs their gelateria well,” he says.



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