The Gelato Festival Brings Frozen, Dairy-Free Treats to Santa Barbara

Photo by Irene Chen

Ziqiang Zhao

The Gelato Festival came to Santa Barbara to celebrate a classic European dessert from Oct. 20-Oct. 22. The fairly small festival took place in La Cumbre Plaza and brimmed with gelato aficionados, locals, and travelers.

Palm trees, gentle breezes, early fall heat, and sunshine make Santa Barbara the perfect place to celebrate gelato. Santa Barbara offers a contrast to chillier parts of the nation during the fall season. 

This marks the first year that the dairy-free, fat-free festival was held in the United States, which has been held in Europe for the past eight years. Santa Barbara was the second stop in the festival’s four-city tour, with the first stop in Boulder, Colorado and two others in Scottsdale and Tucson, Arizona.

Of course, happiness doesn’t come cheap. An all-inclusive ticket to taste the gelato was $25 for adults. Still, the ticket allowed one to taste a variety of flavors, and many generous vendors gave tasters multiple samples.

There were several carts with boxes of gelato, like the authentic Italian style, throughout the festival. Gelato chefs and industry leaders delivered speeches or presented introductory lessons about gelato from a small stage to several rows of interested listeners.

The chefs, dressed in professional suits, came from around the world. “What our challenge has been is that a lot of people in America don’t really know what gelato is,” Hoffius said at the opening ceremony. Many of the chefs shared an aspiration to introduce gelato culture to new people.

Gelato has a richer flavor than ice cream because it has less cold fat, which coats the tongue and blocks the taste buds. Also, gelato is softer and melts slower than ice cream does.

One of the best parts about the festival was that the gelato was fat-free. I always worry about the high calories and carbohydrates that come with desserts. However, the fat-free ingredients allowed me to convince myself that what I was eating was almost healthy. Jokes aside, gelato can be a more delicious, healthy alternative to ice cream or other desserts.

At the festival, gelato masters showcased a range of nontraditional flavors. According to the festival’s website, the competing flavors at Santa Barbara’s venue included rose, matcha green tea, and creamed corn and sugar.

Interested participants, professionals, and experts who bought the access ticket could vote for their favorite flavor at the end of the festival. The winner earns a place in a national contest and is titled the Best Flavor in America.

Fortunately for people with busy schedules, the Gelato Festival lasted for three days. Anyone could enjoy an afternoon with friends to taste exotic frozen desserts.