written by: Olivia Kassner
The authentic Italian gelato shop that has swept Green Bay is making its way up to Door County. Sara Santaga, owner of Sara’s Artisan Gelato, is bringing her handcrafted confections to Fish Creek. Known for her gelato flights and endearing lavender brand, Santaga will have customers lining up Cedar street for her sought-after gelato.
The gelateria will be located in the lower level shops of the Whistling Swan Inn and Restaurant, which holds a special significance in the entrepreneur’s culinary journey.
“It’s come full circle,” according to Santaga; she worked at the restaurant as a line cook during her summers while finishing her culinary arts degree and saving up money to attend a gelato-making course in Bologna, Italy.
Santaga is returning to Fish Creek with more than just her experience and gelato; her brand following will be sure to frequent the new location.
“Sara’s is a great fit for the area. We served her gelato at our wedding, and got engaged in front of the Fish Creek Confectionary, so I love that I’ll be able to walk around this neighborhood with her gelato,” says Becky Smyth of Green Bay, who catered Sara’s Artisan Gelato cart for her outdoor wedding last year.
Some people are already sold on gelato, but Santaga hopes to appeal to those who have never enjoyed ice cream’s richer, denser Italian cousin. “Not a lot of people (in the area) know what Gelato is, so I want their first experience to be like how people’s experience is in Italy.“
Santaga’s own first encounter with gelato was in Italy, and it left such an impression on her that she returned in 2017 to learn how to make it herself. At Carpigiani Gelato University she learned that the true craft of authentic Italian gelato requires high quality ingredients.
While some gelatos are made with modern methods, pre-made powders, colorants, and flavorings to cut down on cost, the result is a lower-quality end product, which Santaga says gives gelato a bad reputation in the United States.
“I just want to stay true to the art of gelato” she says, which means handcrafting it in small batches using traditional Italian techniques and high quality ingredients.
“If I’m making a fruit flavor, I use 100% pure fruit; if I’m making pistachio I have to use the best pistachio paste.” Santaga’s gelato is made with dairy from Wisconsin farms, and she sources other ingredients locally whenever possible, like using neighboring coffee shop Village Roasters for her popular Espresso Brownie gelato.
Other rotating flavors in the case at Sara’s Artisan Gelato include Amarena Cherry, Brown Butter Pecan, Cinnamon Toast Cereal, Lemon Sorbet, and recently Twix Candy Bar, which Santaga challenged herself to attempt after seeing a gelato shop in Australia post about it.
She draws inspiration from other artisans, seasonal flavors, and her strong Italian roots.
“It took me a little bit to find my style,” she says of her flavor range. While pulling from traditional gelato techniques and flavors, she also experiments with her own modern ice cream-inspired recipes and uses familiar add-ins like Twix that customers love. “I like to be creative, that’s why I love culinary arts so much.”
With so many creations to decide between, the signature Gelato “Pick 6” Flight is a popular menu item. The custom wooden flight boards boast 6 flavors of your choosing, so you can sample multiple flavors at once, satisfying the most indecisive customers. The novelty of a gelato flight and the picture-worthy shop aesthetic turn gelato tasting into an event, making it an ideal spot for a group experience.
In addition to gelato flights, the menu includes hand-dipped waffle cones and cookies, both made in-house from scratch daily. Homemade fudge and caramel sauces can be also added to gelato or purchased - and possibly eaten - by the jar.
Since she opened her Green Bay shop just two years ago, Santaga has undertaken most of the day-to-day responsibilities herself. She only recently hired on another gelato maker so she could take more time outside of the kitchen to focus on running, and now expanding, her business. She’s already accomplished a dream goal which was to make it in Lambeau Field; she sold her gelato at the 2019 Packer games and will hopefully return again this year. Her gelato has quickly become part of the Titletown District experience, where it is served inside Ariens Hill year-round for a post-sledding treat.
So while we’re waiting to enjoy gelato in Fish Creek in the summer sun, we’ll have to settle for snow pants in Green Bay in the meantime.