Italy Moves to Protect 'Artisanal Gelato'

Italy's desire to impose "standards of identity" threatens the food freedom of eaters.


Italian lawmakers have introduced a bill that would protect "artisanal gelato" makers by banning airier alternatives. The bill, sponsored by several left-leaning politicians, would also "make it illegal for Italian gelato sellers to use ingredients other than 'milk and its derivatives,' eggs, and fresh fruit."

"Certain phases of processing the product w[ould] also be regulated, such as a maximum of 72 hours allowed for the freezing of the ice cream at a maximum of 0 degrees," Forbes reports.

Should the bill become law, violators could face fines of more than $12,000.

As Italy magazine reports, use of the term "gelato" is not protected under Italian law. Neither does the law distinguish "artisanal gelato" from mass-produced gelato. The bill would change that.

"The bill rigorously defines what constitutes gelato and who can claim the title of artisan gelato-maker," Italy reports. "According to the bill, for gelato to be considered artisanal, it must be produced using high-quality ingredients and methods, and should not contain more than 30 percent of air, which artisanal producers achieve by mixing certain ingredients vigorously." Some of the bill's supporters claim mass-produced gelato can contain as much as 80 percent air.

As one might expect, pumping air into gelato gives the treat "a lighter, fluffier texture" and provides sellers with the opportunity to charge consumers less for the product. While the airier texture and lower price point may appeal to some consumers, supporters of the Italian bill are basically telling those people that their preferences are wrong.

In the United States, as I wrote last month, government-mandated food standards of identity, which rarely reflect dictionary definitions of the same food, often stifle innovation and competition. For those reasons, they're foisted on consumers by large food producers.

In the case of Italy, those in favor of the gelato standards are trying to protect smaller food producers. But the rationale for such legislation is cut from the same lousy cloth—protecting favored, incumbent interests.

What's more, consumers who want to buy artisanal gelato don't lack the means to find it. For example, over the years many writers have informed consumers how to distinguish between artisanal gelato and mass-produced gelato.

"Italian ice cream has always been one of the gastronomic symbols of our country, together with pasta and pizza," Senator Riccardo Nencini, one of the bill's sponsors, said.

Gelato has been an occasional source of controversy in Italy, where the desert was indeed invented (though it only later became popular when an Italian chef brought it to France).

In 2010, an Italian company's gelato ad depicting a pregnant nun was banned by British censors who claimed the ad was offensive to Catholics. In 2014, a magazine headline that sought to sexualize a government minister over the way she ate gelato caused a backlash. And in 2016, a writer for Rick Steves, the famed travel host and writer, reported on some rather absurd "gelato wars" taking place in Corniglia.

The current imbroglio over artisanal gelato is only the most recent Italian attack on food freedom. In 2017, I called out the nation over a host of new laws that indicated Italy was undermining its own food culture. Those new laws included crackdowns on food trucks and other street food, alcohol, frozen meals, food aromas, and purportedly "foreign" and "ethnic" foods. In that column, I lamented what I dubbed the country's "creeping food xenophobia" and cautioned that the country's "future as a culinary titan would seem to be in jeopardy." Now some lawmakers want to add gelato to that mix.

The potential Italian gelato ban comes as Romans are trying to wrap their heads around a new 24/7 pizza vending machine in the city.

While some are horrified by mechanized pizza, one Roman sees it differently, calling the gizmo "a friend of the market, not an enemy." Vending-machine pizza—just like airier gelato—is merely a choice, and one that should be protected.