Texas Farmers Market Leaderboard January 2021

Italian Ingenuity

By Mary Stanley
Owner of the Turtle Restaurant, Gelateria and Enoteca, Brownwood

During trips to Germany and Italy, my husband and I—like many travelers to the region—got hooked on gelato. Of course, since there were no gelaterias in our hometown of Brownwood at the time, to satisfy our palates once we’d returned home, we purchased a Bravo gelato machine for our restaurant, and, in the process, inadvertently discovered the Salone Internazionale Gelateria, Pasticceria e Panificazione (SIGEP). 

SIGEP is a gelato, bakery, pizza, coffee, chocolate and pasta trade show held every January in Rimini, Italy. Located on the Adriatic Sea, Rimini is a crowded beach resort in summer, but in winter, it’s relatively empty except for SIGEP guests. Except for the occasional foghorn booming, then echoing, in the harbor, the town is quiet. Because there are no crowds to navigate, we always take the opportunity to leisurely explore the city when we attend SIGEP each year.

We enjoy visiting the Tempio Malatestiano—commissioned in 1447 by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta as a monument to his lover, and third wife, Isotta degli Atti. The massive central doorway, designed by Alberti, was influenced by the Arch of Augustus—the oldest triumphal arch in Italy. Inside are Giotto’s Crucifix, frescoes by Piero della Francesca and reliefs by Agostino di Duccio.

We also make time for Rimini’s City Museum—an 18th century building that served as a Jesuit college and hospital. It has more than 40 exhibition rooms with art and artifacts from the 11th to the 20th centuries. Just a few steps from the museum is the Domus del Chirurgo (c. 200 AD)—the house of a Greek surgeon named Eutyches. Over 100 of the world’s oldest surgical instruments were found in this archeological site, some of which look remarkably modern.

Rimini is a lovely, visit-worthy destination on its own, but is an even more attractive destination for us because of SIGEP—considered to be the pinnacle of all international trade shows of its kind. The length and breadth of the show are breathtaking; there are five airplane-hangar-size halls devoted to gelato alone! It takes days to walk the exhibits, and it’s impossible to attend all of the seminars, demonstrations and competitions—making it difficult to choose what to see during the four days of the show.

There’s a definite theme that’s imbued in almost every new machine, tool and exhibit we see there. The Italian ethos is that small-scale producers (like us) are vitally important to the culinary culture, and should have as equal access to the innovations that help preserve time, money and food as the big guns of the industry. This ethos is a facet of SIGEP that helps smaller producers remain competitive, and it helps unique regional cuisines stay alive for future generations. 

We stop by the Irinox booth at SIGEP because of their reputation as the world’s leader in blast freezing—a highly efficient way to preserve food. Italian ingenuity wins us over with their multiple-use, highly engineered equipment. The computer that manages the operation of the Irinox Multifresh is preprogrammed to blast-freeze products, thaw them as if they were never frozen, chill or freeze soups, dry pasta, pasteurize and more. For example, it can effortlessly go through a full-production cycle of making croissants—from chilling the dough, to freezing the formed croissants, to timed overnight proofing. Irinox engineers even took the heat generated by the freezer compressor and put it to work under the control of the Multifresh computer center to cook sous vide, under vacuum. A system like this allows us to save nearly everything we make and process excess seasonal produce so that it remains in the freshest condition possible. The initial investment becomes insignificant when compared to labor and food-cost savings.

Another SIGEP addition to our kitchen is the Dominioni Punto & Pasta’s Italia-Mini—a multi-purpose pasta machine based on one of the oldest machines in history: Archimedes’s Screw. Basically, it’s a motor-driven screw that extrudes pasta dough through bronze dies designed specifically for caterers or small restaurants such as ours. With the wide noodle die, we extrude long sheets of fresh dough, load them onto the ravioli attachment, then fill a tube with homemade filling. A few minutes later we have piles of ravioli in the shape of the die we installed. This sure beats hours of hand rolling and filling, and they still taste as if Mama made them because the ravioli is our own recipe and the ingredients are fresh and pure.

Italian food and its production are a fusion of history, art and culture over the past centuries. Visiting Italy challenges a visitor’s interpretation of what “old” means. It also sheds light on how many generations and nuances it takes to build a business, an industry, and especially a culinary culture. Luckily, the Italians understand that all of the pieces of the puzzle are important—big or small.

For more about SIGEP, visit en.sigep.it