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How Italians sold ice cream to the masses in Vienna

Residents of the Austrian capital have queued for more than 130 years to sample the Italian ice cream of the Molin-Pradel family, one of Vienna's oldest gelato dynasties.

How Italians sold ice cream to the masses in Vienna
Molin-Pradel family Ice-cream parlour is pictured at Schwedenplatz square in Vienna, Austria. credit: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“He helped democratise ice cream, which before was reserved for the wealthy,” Silvio Molin-Pradel says of his great-great-grandfather Arcangelo, who began selling it out of pushcarts in Vienna in 1886.

More than a century later, ice cream consumption among Austrians is higher than in neighbouring Italy.

And it was entrepreneurs like Arcangelo Molin-Pradel, born into poverty in northern Italy’s Dolomite Alps, who were among the first to benefit from the sweet tooth of the Viennese.

The high cost of sugar, milk and refrigeration — years before electric freezing was invented — meant ice cream was long reserved for aristocrats.

But ingenious Italians like the Molin-Pradels changed that, producing ice cream based on water and fruit extract.

Ice cream migration

Originally from Zoldo,  six hours from Vienna by car these days, the Molin-Pradels, like other families, were so poor that migrating for seasonal work was part of life — whether to work as seafarers, lumberjacks or ice cream makers.

Vienna became one of the ice cream makers’ first destinations outside Italy, says Maren Moehring, a history professor at the University of Leipzig in Germany.

The Italian migrants’ “frozen stuff” as some called it quickly became popular with ordinary Viennese.

This sparked the ire of Austrian bakers, who perceived them as “dangerous competition”, Moehring says.

In 1894, the ice cream makers got the right to open shops in Vienna rather than just selling ice cream from carts.

“The Viennese were already used to sweets… so it wasn’t hard to then serve this cold product,” Molin-Pradel, who keeps his recipes a secret, tells AFP as he stands in the back of his salon at Schwedenplatz.

At the central, tree-lined square in the heart of Vienna, the family still produces artisanal ice cream.

Each day in summer, about 5,000 customers order from dozens of flavours, ranging from traditional ones like chocolate and vanilla to avocado, lavender and hemp.

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“Every Viennese will tell you that ‘their’ Italian ice cream maker is better,” says Molin-Pradel.

“The colours must be pastel. It is a guarantee of quality,” he says, adding that the business has expanded, including selling their ice cream through some Vienna supermarkets.

Lasting tradition

Out of roughly 370 ice cream shops in Austria, about 40 are still run by Italians in the small Alpine nation of almost nine million people, according to the Austrian Economic Chamber.

Its data also show that Austria boasts an average per capita consumption of more than 60 scoops per year, or about eight litres of ice cream – more than in Italy, with an average consumption of six litres.

From one generation to the next, the gelato makers’ skills and knowledge were passed on, “which explains their success”, Moehring says.

While ice cream makers in earlier times would typically return to Italy to take care of the harvests in the Alps by mid-August, today the season lasts well into October.

Even today, Pradel-Molin goes on a pilgrimage to his ancestral home of Zoldo at the end of each season.

It’s still his source of inspiration to keep up with the latest flavours and other industry secrets, he says.

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FOOD & DRINK

Hugo, Almdudler and Radler: 5 drinks to try in Austria this summer

It is easier to face the summer heat with a proper cold drink in your hands. Austrians know that well and have created (or made popular) several delicious alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Here are five you should try.

Hugo, Almdudler and Radler: 5 drinks to try in Austria this summer

The debate of which is the perfect summer drink is undoubtedly a very controversial one.

While many people would argue that nothing can beat the Italian Aperol Spritz (which is also very popular in Austria), some would rather stay with a simple cold beer.

If you are team Spritz, then you should know that Austria has a love for things g’spritzt, with their own versions of sparkling drinks (with or without alcohol). However, for those who prefer a beer, the alpine country is home to several famous brands, including the Styrian Gösser, the Viennese Ottakringer, and Stiegl, from Salzburg.

READ ALSO: Five Austrian destinations you can reach by train to escape the heat

In any case, when living or visiting a new country, it’s always fun to try out the traditional dishes and, in this case, beverages.

Here are five drinks you should try during the Austrian summer.

Hugo drink summer drink austria

Hugo is a very popular (and sweet) summer drink in Austria (Photo by Greta Farnedi on Unsplash)

Hugo

Some say this is the Austrian answer to the Aperol Spritz, but its sweetness from the elderflower syrup makes it quite different from the bitter bright orange Aperol.

There is also a bit of controversy as to where this drink, which Austrians love to drink during a nice summer afternoon, originates.

Internationally, it seems to be widely accepted that this alcoholic aperitif comes from South Tyrol, a German-speaking region of Italy with deep Austrian roots. Ask any Austrian, though, and they will tell that just proves the drink is from Austria.

READ ALSO: Eight ways to talk about the heat like a true Austrian

Italian or Austrian, the sweet drink is made with prosecco, elderflower syrup, seltzer and mint leaves. Serve it with lots of ice in a large glass, and you have a perfect summer drink.

white wine drinks party

Mix your white wine with sparkling water and you get a refreshing gespritzt (Photo by Matthieu Joannon on Unsplash)

weiß gespritzt

This is extremely popular, relatively cheap even in fancy restaurants, and somewhat controversial, but take some white wine and add a little sparkling water (sometimes ice) and you get a weiß gespritzt, or a g’spritzter.

READ ALSO: The best Austrian wineries to visit this summer

Not everyone appreciates mixing your wine with water, but it makes for a refreshing and lighter drink. In Austrian restaurants, you might be asked whether you want a summer gespritzt, which means it has higher water content and, therefore, is lighter, or a “normal” one.

It is by no means an Austrian drink, and you may have to ask for a Weinschorle instead of a Gespritzter in Germany, but it is a popular drink in the German world.

gösser radler drink

Austrian brands sell some of the most popular Radlers in Europe (Photo by Jonathan Kemper on Unsplash)

Radler

A Radler is another drink that though not from Austria, is extremely popular here. Not only that but some of the most popular Radlers are sold by Austrian brands.

Traditionally, all you need to make a Radler is to mix beer and lemonade. However, the drink is also found bottled and sold by beer companies such as Gösser and Ottakringer. The mix has also expanded and you can discover Radlers with a citrus or berry mix.

READ ALSO: Austrian old folks toast success of ‘Grandma and Grandpa’ beer

It is a lighter and sweeter beer, perfect for enjoying the summer with a fresh drink that is not so alcoholic.

Mixing apple juice and sparkling water creates a perfect non-alcoholic summer drink. (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Apfelspritz

Following the Austrian love for adding sparkling water to drinks, a very common and non-alcoholic beverage is the Apfelspritz.

It is a mix of apple juice and (you guessed it) sparkling water. It is popular in Biergarten as a non-alcoholic alternative, with kids joining in on toasts with their apple and soda mix.

The drink is also very common in Germany (where it is known as Apfelschorle), Switzerland and Hungary.

READ ALSO: Cash and Schnapps: A guide to visiting pubs and cafes in Austria

almdualer gerhard schilling

Almdudler’s CEO Gerhard Schilling holds a bottle of the traditional Austrian drink (© Philipp Lipiarski)

Almdudler

Another option for a summer light and non-alcoholic drink is the Almdudler, which is technically the name of the Austrian brand that sells the famous carbonated soft drink.

The drink is a blend of 32 “natural alpine herbs, beet sugar and soda water”, according to the website. It has a very distinctive logo and can be found in almost all Austrian households – being one of the most popular beverages in the country.

Did we forget about your favourite summer drink? Then let us know in the comments below or send us an email at [email protected]

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