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Posted by portugalpress on August 25, 2017
Abroth – Giuseppe Minchella
Minchella ice cream cart

This summer has been particularly long and hot, and my family has substantially increased its consumption of ice cream. There is nothing more refreshing than ice cream to cool us from the inside out!

The varieties of ice cream available nowadays are overwhelming with new ones being developed each year. Here in Portugal, Olá ice creams are the market leaders with two thirds of all sales. Part of the Unilever companies and Jerónimo Martins (Pingo Doce supermarkets), that have an ice cream factory in Portugal, I was surprised to learn that they are the same company as the Walls ice creams in the UK.

Olá have been in business for 58 years, having started with 17 ice creams in 1970, which were sold from bags and carts in the streets. They now have over 150 variations.

The group is marketed in over 50 countries, each with their own brand name but with the ‘heart’ logo in common. Ice creams are adapted to local tastes such as the Cornettos developed in Italy and Magnums in Germany. Cornettos are the most popular ice cream with over 10 million sold each year in Portugal alone.

Did you know that some childhood favourites like the Super Maxi, the pirate Perna de Pau (wooden leg) and Epá, with the chewing gum at the bottom of the cup, are unique to Portugal? Still going strong after 30 years, with sales of over 15 million a year, I fondly remember these from when I was a child.

Ice cream has come a long way from ice flavoured with honey and nectar enjoyed by Alexander the Great in second century B.C. or the Romans’ snow, flavoured with fruits and juices.

Although nobody is attributed to inventing ice cream, it is said that Marco Polo returned to Italy with a sherbet recipe from the Far East that was developed as ice cream around the 16th century.

Ice cream was mainly for the elite until the advent of steam power and technological innovations that led to efficient production and freezing processes supported by motorised deliveries.

Our family has a special connection to ice cream as in the early 1900s, our Italian side, the Minchella’s, were ice cream vendors in London and Swansea. Moving from Italy to the UK in 1898, two brothers and their families made the long journey from Cassino to make a living selling ice cream and becoming street musicians.

Most Italian immigrants at the time took on these roles leaving Italy to escape the wars and poverty. The Minchella’s were actually mosaic workers but at the time could only make a living this way.

There was a large Italian population in London and families would make the ice cream in large vats, then sell it through the streets in hand carts.

The ice cream was a cooled down boiled custard mixture poured into an ice cream machine which consisted of an inner zinc container fitted inside a larger wooden cylindrical container. The space between the two was packed with ice and salt and the mixture was then cranked until the custard froze to form ice cream which was sold in small glass cups called ‘penny licks’, as each cost a penny. Customers would lick out the contents and return the glass.

Soon concerns arose as to the hygiene of this practice as cups were washed in dirty water or not at all in between customers. One newspaper reported that the Italians boiled up the custard mix in the same saucepans used to wash their clothes although another reported that, in fact, the Italian community seemed to have higher standards of hygiene than its British counterparts!

Life was not easy for the Italians and our family lived in the poor areas around Windsor, Croydon and Reading, eventually moving to Swansea. Some of the family would sell ice cream and the others were street musicians entertaining the crowds perhaps while these had their penny lick!

With ice creams being a seasonal product, especially in cold Britain, the Italians would change to selling hot chestnuts and potatoes in the winter months. There was a lot of competition and this led to many of the community relocating to other cities eventually establishing cafés and ice cream parlours all over Britain, many of which are still in business today.

With the worries over the ‘unhygienic’ penny licks and the fact that the cups broke easily, ice cream vendor Italo Marchiony had the idea and patented in 1896 in New York the use of a waffle folded into the shape of a cup. It became known as a “toot” perhaps because the Italian vendors encouraged customers to eat it all by saying “tutti” (all). The waffle ice cream cone soon replaced the penny licks, being more convenient and definitely more hygienic! Others developed and patented machines for making edible ice cream cones/wafers and mass production began, developing into the vast industry of today.

Nowadays, most ice cream consumed is purchased to eat at home but we like to go to our local ice cream shop, Gelados & Companhia in Carvoeiro, established and run by the Conduto family since 2005. It was a brave new venture for the family who had no connections to the ice cream industry. Every year Sílvia and her husband Carlos visit the international ice cream fair in Italy to keep abreast of new developments and get ideas for recipes.

With their two daughters, Ana and Carolina, they have made the business the success it is today. Huge queues form as people wait to choose from the 24 flavours on sale each time. The ice cream is homemade and in total the family has 80 different recipes, working with seasonal fruits and products.

I was fascinated to find out that there are hot or cold ice cream flavours which are sold according to the season. Mon Cherry and Whisky are saved for the winter months and for the summer the Caipirinha flavour is extremely refreshing!

Four local specialties, the Dom Rodrigo and Doce Fino made with eggs and almonds, rice pudding and the surprising bestseller fig, almond and carob ice cream, are always available. The only problem is knowing which to choose and whether to have it on their delicious crepes and waffles.

The Gelados & Companhia staff wear t-shirts saying “Life is better with ice cream” and with summer temperatures this year hitting the 40s that is certainly true!

So now you know!

By Isobel Costa

Isobel Costa works full time and lives on a farm with a variety of pet animals! In her spare time, she enjoys photography, researching and writing.



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