Ice cream politics

Rukab ice cream parlor in Ramallah, West Bank. Many Israeli people illegally cross the border to try that speciality

Ice cream has its roots shrouded in mystery, as happens to all those things that develop in parallel in many different places of the world (such as basic forms of communication and art, like tattoos).

As the legend goes, the first, strict ice cream was made by the Florentine Bernarndo Buontalenti, in occasion of the visit of the Spanish king Charles V. It’s 1559, since then Bernardo’s intuition will go far.

However, refrigeration and conservation techniques were already known basically anywhere, since thousands of years. From Egypt to Japan, from the Andes to Anatolia, drizzling ice and snow with milk, honey or fruit was very common.

The spread and circulation of the ice cream recipe only starts during Reinassance, though, when the Medici family begins to export it to France. The first parlor opens up at the half of the XVIII century in Paris: it’s café Procope, named after the owner Francesco Procopio, from Sicily. A few years later, another Italian, Filippo Lenzi, brings the ice cream into the United States.

The new Café Procope,in Paris, hair of the first ice cream parlor

Starting that moment, the ice cream fame becomes global, also thanks to the technological progress. In 1843 Nancy Johnson invents the first manual ice cream maker, cranked by a handle, perfected only five years later by William Young, who will make it mechanical. At the beginning of the 1900’s the first cone appears, its paternity is disputed between Italo Marchionni and Antonio Valvona, two Italian expats. In 1920 is the turn of the iconic ice cream truck, designed by Harry Burt from Youngstown, Ohio.

A part from Italy, homeland of the ice cream with 39 thousand out of the 60 thousand European parlors, two poles apart nations share a particular taste for this refreshing dessert: the United States, where most of the innovations came from, and the isle of Cuba – maybe it’s the only thing in common.

Fidel Castro was a great consumer of ice creams, he even made them come from Canada, to evade the embargo imposed by uncle Sam. It seems that the CIA even thought about using adulterated ice creams to poison Castro, like it was – along with cigars – his Achilles’ heel.

A line at the Coppelia. This ice cream parlor had been a symbol of Castroism for years

For sure ice creams are like an obsession to the líder máximo. He wants to outclass his enemies in quality and makes heavy investments for its production. For this purpose, he decides to import thousands of bovines from Canada, that will be mixed to the local races to obtain a new species capable of standing the isle weather. The Ubre Blanca is generated, a breed which in 1982 will set the world record for milk production: 110 liters per day. But that’s kind of an exception and the following experiments will fail.

One of the Castroist symbols is Coppelia, a parlor projected by the architect Mario Girona that can host up to a thousand customers, providing them with a huge variety of flavors. They say that the history of Cuban communism reflects the one of ice cream.

For instance, the USSR decline will affect the milk import, forcing the producers to use water instead – marking the ice cream quality decline. Another example is the introduction of the double currency, one for residents and one for tourists. Coppelia will adjust with a double line, one for the unprivileged locals and one for the foreigners. But that didn’t seem to bother much the population, happy to wait hours (leaving the shoes to keep their position) for their special award: the so called ensalada, five flavors and fifteen scoops.

Coppelia is an institution for the older generation, but now is a bit down both for the end of (Fidelian) Castroism and for the rising competition, brought up by economic liberalization. Younger people prefer multinational brands like Nestlé

A picture from the Ice Cream World Heritage contest, credits

Can an ice cream be so connected to politics enough to make tension between populations decrease? Probably no, but with the usual exceptions.

A lot of Israeli people defy the prohibition to cross the border with the West Bank just to enjoy a unique product of a parlor in Ramallah, named Rukab. Since the 40’s, you can find there a stretchy ice cream called dondurma, with Turkish origins, made with mastic.

Like in Cuba, is hard to separate everything from politics and when the situation in the middle-East precipitates, so does the business.

But the concept of an ice cream to overcome differences is trying to become stronger. Rome has been the stage of the Ice Cream World Heritage, a contest that uses this dessert as a symbol of peace and intercultural exchange. The first edition was won by the United States, thanks to a peanut butter flavor. The taste is immediately available, for the world peace we’ll have to wait a bit more.


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