Five years ago, Paola Richard moved to North County from her native Rome with the goal of opening the most authentic Italian-style gelato shop in the region.
The result was Gaia Gelato, which Richard opened in 2015 with her cousin, Cristina Amoroso, in the Carlsbad Village Faire center. Although she was pleased with the store’s success, Richard said adopting a healthy California lifestyle in recent years taught her that Italians could also learn something from Americans.
That’s the story behind GelatoLove, an ambitious frozen dessert business Richard opened Tuesday in the Carlsbad Gateway Center industrial park on Palmer Way. The 2,500-square-foot headquarters is part research-and-development lab, part gelato-making factory, part retail shop and part gelato school.
GelatoLove is still in the research-and-development stages of creating its signature product, an Italian-style gelato made with a low-calorie natural sweetener called allulose.
Allulose is derived from fruits including figs, kiwi, raisins and jack fruit and has 10 percent of the calories of sucrose (cane or beet sugar). The result is a gelato product that tastes the same and has the same creamy mouth feel of traditional gelato, but with a third of the sugar calories, said Panther Wilde, a research chemist who serves as GelatoLove’s ingredient scientist.
Another benefit of allulose is that it isn’t metabolized in the same way as sucrose so it doesn’t trigger the same spikes in blood glucose levels. It’s been commercially produced in South Korea since 2006 in a granular form that looks just like table sugar.
Richard said she believes the resulting made-from-scratch product, which has no additives or artificial ingredients, is even more ideal than the Italian original for calorie-counting, health-conscious Californians.
“This is a blending of everything we know about food with the Italian tradition of gelato. We don’t want to deconstruct the traditions but we think people are ready for something like this,” she said.
Before moving to North County in 2014, Richard was a Rome-based journalist and international media consultant for Italian ministries and environmental groups. She was successful, but longed to move to California. As a teenager, she had trained with a synchronized swimming team in San Francisco and always dreamed of returning. The best way, she realized, was to open a business here selling an Italian product she and her cousin, a trained gelato chef, knew well.
In the short term, Richard’s goal is to test a number of recipes and flavors with customers who visit the shop at the front of the R&D space. Eventually, she would like to expand the business, opening multiple GelatoLove shops and selling the product wholesale to restaurants, bakeries, coffee houses and high-end markets.
To merge old-world recipes with cutting-edge sweetener food science, Richard hired Filippo Cianciosi, a third-generation gelato chef from Italy. His grandfather opened the family’s first gelato shop in 1918.
Cianciosi ran several shops in the Italian town of Riccione, but in recent years he’s traveled the world as a consultant, training chefs and business entrepreneurs in the art of gelato-making.
On a vacation in the U.S. three years ago, Cianciosi met his future wife, Rachel, a nurse in Huntington Beach. Just days before their wedding last year, he got a call from Richard, who had heard about his consulting travels from a friend. She asked if he’d like to come to work for her as the company’s lead gelato chef.
“I told her, ‘you read my mind.’ I’ve been teaching all over the world but I wanted to be part of something bigger here,” Cianciosi said.
Cianciosi said he remembers learning the craft of gelato-making from his father as a little boy and over the years he has developed many trade secrets. But working with allulose was like starting over, because the ingredient doesn’t have the same chemical properties of sucrose.
“At first it wasn’t so good,” he said. “It was too fluffy, then it was too melty. It took a long time to get it right. Now, if you taste it you can’t tell the difference from regular gelato, but it tastes super clean and healthy.”
Right now, Cianciosi is focused on fine-tuning flavors, which now number 12, though he’s always coming up with new varieties. He’s most proud of his pistachio flavor, an old family recipe, and he’s also fond of his espresso flavor.
GelatoLove is priced at $4.50 for a 4.5-ounce cup, $5.75 for 6.5 ounces and $7 for 8 ounces. It’s sold by the paper cup and also in reusable clear plastic screw-top tubs, which customers can bring back for refills to save a few trees, Richard said.
The Carlsbad location, with two $35,000 Italian gelato-making machines, has room to grow as orders begin rolling in. But Cianciosi said it will always be an handmade, artisan affair with every container packed by hand.
Eventually, Cianciosi also plans to conduct gelato-tasting and -making classes onsite.
“Gelato is still a big mystery to Americans,” he said. “I want to teach people the secrets of gelato.”
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Closed weekends.
Where: 5661 Palmer Way, Suite C, Carlsbad
Phone: (760) 816-8260