Editor’s Note: Contributing food and travel writer Mary Bergin provides periodic updates on Wisconsin destinations that are still open –though sometimes in modified form– and are available to ship their wares or will be open to greet you when this pandemic passes.
Farmers tend to toil without boasting or fanfare, knowing full well that little in life is guaranteed and success or failure can be a matter of timing, luck or weather more than skill and strategy.
The pandemic throws farmers and other entrepreneurs a new kind of curve, and it comes at an especially inopportune time for Sassy Cow Creamery, 20 miles northeast of Madison. The farmstead milk producer doubled its retail space last winter and quietly opened Farmhouse Kitchen café there in January.
About the only recent Sassy Cow media attention was for the addition of an outdoor “kindness cooler,” stocked with free containers of milk at a time when other farmers have dumped raw milk down the drain because of low demand nationwide.
This is not the way James Baerwolf, Sassy Cow owner, expected 2020 to unfold.
On his café menu are eight kinds of milk: banana cream, spiced cookie, chocolate raspberry, mint chocolate, strawberry fields, vanilla, chocolate and unflavored milk. Soup and sandwich orders include all-you-can-drink milk, served in glass milk bottles until stay-at-home orders turned all sales into carry-outs and curbside pickups.
“We lose sight of the fact that milk was a staple for all meals at one time,” Baerwolf said, to explain the unlimited-milk logic. “There’s no reason for us to get away from that.”
Soon Sassy Cow will release strawberry milk as a grocery store product because “with everyone stuck at home, extra variety helps.”
Soda is not a beverage option, but the Affogato is: a scoop of ice cream doused with two shots of espresso. Or substitute hot chocolate for espresso.
The simple café menu is rich with dairy products, primarily cream-based and other soups served with traditional and unusual grilled cheese sandwiches (including jalapeno cheddar with bacon, muenster with pepperoni and a pizza dipping sauce) that use bread from nearby Beans N Cream Bakehouse.
Cheeses made with the farm’s milk – butterkase, havarti, muenster, cheddar, jalapeno cheddar – are sold only at the Sassy Cow store. The partnership with Cedar Grove Cheese began a year ago.
At least six kinds of ice cream are sold by the scoop to a three-gallon tub. Newer flavors – black licorice, mango – are in addition to core flavors that include the signature Purple Cow (black raspberry with dark and white chocolate).
The retail shop, an artisan product showcase, is an essential business too. Think caramel-pear-cinnamon topping from R&R Homestead, Green Bay. Cheese curd batter from Willow Creek Mill, Valders. Meats from Fischer Family Farm, Baraboo, and Little Farmer Meats, Watertown. Tapped maple syrup, Stevens Point, by the bottle or drizzled onto an ice cream sundae.
“People are making a special trip when they come to Sassy Cow,” Baerwolf said, to explain the logic behind the expansion. “We want them to feel good about coming out all this way,” even though no one is encouraged to linger, for now.
Milk and cookies: What could be more soothing during an upheaval in life?
The entry from bakery owners Mike and Mary Vande Walle is their adaptation of a recipe published in the New York Times. An abundance of bittersweet chocolate and sprinkling of sea salt on top are what separate this cookie from the pack. It’s $25.95 for 12, which includes shipping.
The chocolate chip is Uncle Mike’s best-selling cookie but not the biggest talker. Mary Vande Walle says more than 1,000 frosted sugar cookies were shipped nationwide in three weeks, in addition to 12 dozen sold at each bakery daily.
What’s the big deal? On top of each cookie is an edible sugar-sheet photo of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the infectious disease expert. It’s $28.95 for eight, including shipping.
“Mike came up with it on the day after the quarantine started,” his wife said, “and they’re selling like crazy.”Check out which other bakeries remain open.
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