Italy is set to declare war on ice cream sellers who pump compressed air into their mixtures to make them look fluffier, as the country seeks to defend the honour of its world-renowned gelato stands.
Under proposals being considered by the Italian Senate, ice cream producers who fail to meet strict quality measures, such as limits on the amount of air added to the mixture, could be hit with a fine of up to 10,000 euro (£8,000).
It is hoped that the reforms will have a chilling effect on cheapskate vendors posing as gelato artisans, who have been known to sell tubs which contain more air than ice cream.
However, the plans have also whipped up resentment among some “gelato masters” who argue that pumping air into the mixture is not necessarily poor craftsmanship.
The bill was proposed by six senators from the center-left Democratic and Italia Viva parties, who say it will better regulate the work of real ice cream artisans and protect consumer rights. The legislation also claims that inflating gelato with air goes against the basic rules of producing artisanal ice cream.
“Italian gelato is one of the gastronomic symbols of our country, along with pasta and pizza,” said socialist senator Riccardo Nencini, one of the bill’s supporters. “But our laws do not preserve artisanal ice cream and producers who make it.”
The draft bill, which has been assigned to the commerce and tourism commission in the Senate, also bans the use of certain cheap alternatives to fresh ingredients, such as artificial flavours, colouring and hydrogenated fats.
According to sector rules, ice cream should contain no more than 30 per cent air, which artisanal producers achieve by mixing certain ingredients vigorously.
However, industrial ice cream can sometimes be up to 80 per cent compressed air, which has been pumped into the mixture. Critics say that this means consumers end up “paying for air.” According to official estimates, the ice cream sector has a business value of about one billion euros and represents one of the strongest Italian brands abroad.
According to Stefano Ferrara, one of Italy’s top 50 ice cream makers listed by food and wine authority Gambero Rosso, some of those who call themselves artisans turn out to be people who cut corners.
“A law that protects consumers and real artisans would be useful,” said Mr Ferrara, who is considered one of the most innovative gelato makers in Italy for his research on locally sourced, natural ingredients.
“Many of us go to search for the best cocoa mass, the one that better fits our idea. But, at this point, it doesn’t make any sense to face the competition of those who use much easier methods,” Ferrara added.
However, not all ice cream artisans agree that the new law would address the real problem.
“The issue of inflating gelato is a fake one,” Alberto Manassei, one of Rome’s “mastri gelatai” [gelato masters] and owner of the well-known Gelateria dei Gracchi, told The Telegraph.
“Pumping air into ice cream is possible just by using some ingredients instead of others,” Mr Manassei explained, stressing that the real problem was the producer’s failure to use quality, natural ingredients.
“If you go through the list of ingredients, you’ll see that the key one is often the last,” said Mr Manassei, pointing out that many producers throw in an array of chemical additives, and sometimes don’t even admit to this.
“If the last thing you find in a pistachio ice cream is pistachio, then you have a problem,” he said