Not everyone knows that the Dolomites area in Belluno is considered to be the home of artisan ice cream, probably the most loved dessert and the most representative desert in the world with the Made in Italy label. It is an old, fascinating story in which intuition and tradition, emigration and entrepreneurial spirit, artistry and poverty are blended until they become an inseparable element of Bellunese identity.
This, in fact, is the place where the emigration of ice cream craftsmen from Zoldo and Cadore began, around the mid-1800s, that led to the spread of the ice cream trade around the world: first to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, then to Europe and finally to all continents.
They should be given credit for the spread of artisan ice cream and its culture even outside the wealthier classes. At that time, ice cream was in fact made only for nobles and well-to-do people: going around on the streets with specially designed carts, first in Italy and then abroad, made everyone aware of the goodness of this food.
Let us now add geography to this story. Let us talk about Val di Zoldo and Cadore, places rich in the raw materials for making ice cream, which are milk, cream, eggs, and berries, and suitable for refrigeration, with plenty of natural ice and naturally cool places even in summer such as caves and icy stream water.
Ice cream was made in special vats, frozen with ice and salt, and finally turned out into wooden vats that kept it solid. These were the same places that had to reinvent themselves and emerge from the local economic crisis caused by the depletion of iron mines and the decline of Venice. From being miners to ice cream makers, the road was not easy. But the people of Belluno are determined people, and the success they achieved, transitioning from travelling carts to permanent workshops, made Venetian ice cream famous around the world. Over the years, ice cream parlours with evocative names such as Venice, Dolomite, Gondola, Cadore, became synonymous with product quality, as well as the combination of tradition and innovation.
Not only history, artisan ice cream is still part of the identity of the Dolomites in Belluno. Generations of ice cream makers, not only in Val di Zoldo and Cadore but also in Alpago and Agordino, keep the tradition alive with a top-quality product in Belluno’s many ice cream parlours and a series of special events. Let’s ice cream is the Val di Zoldo festival that celebrates art of artisan ice cream every year. In the unique panorama between Pelmo and Civetta, you can watch demonstrations by master ice cream makers who, with restored antique machines from the late 800s, show us how artisan ice cream was once made. But also, tastings, educational workshops for children and a challenge to the world record for the number of ice cream scoops on a single cone.
Held every year in Longarone, at the centre of the valleys that are the locations of this ancient history, is the International Exhibition of Artisan Ice Cream. Established in 1959, it is the oldest trade show in Europe in the artisan ice cream industry.
For those who would like to learn more about this unique history between past and present, we recommend that you go to the MIM Belluno – Interactive Museum Of Migrations, where there is a room entirely dedicated to ice cream with film clips, pictures, and stories from the protagonists.