A sweet road trip can give you a taste of what rural Wisconsin offers to cool your taste buds.
Looking for a cool reason to hit the road?
At least three Wisconsin family farms produce luscious frozen treats at their farmstead creameries, sometimes within view of grazing animals whose milk is the key ingredient for ice cream, custard or gelato.
A day trip to a creamery teaches farm-to-table lessons about the origin of food, and sometimes farm tours are possible. And a fresh-as-it-gets scoop or pint is the bucolic bonus for toddlers to elders.
“Best ice cream in the middle of nowhere” is the motto at Kelley Country Creamery, south of Fond du Lac. Karen Kelley earns national attention for her ice cream and has created several dozen flavors: Amie’s Amaretto (amaretto ice cream with chocolate flakes, maraschino cherries) to Zebra (vanilla with devil’s food cake). Among the more unconventional choices in the rotation: bleu cheese and pear, sweet corn, maple bacon. Then there are new flavors like Millie’s Magical Unicorn: strawberry and grape ice creams with swirls of marshmallow and unicorn bark, plus sprinkles.
The business felt more like a dream when meeting Kelley years ago at the family farm, established in 1861.
The farm wife had long wanted a home-based business and considered learning to make cheese or spin wool. She got serious about ice cream because she classifies it as “a happy food” and “affordable treat.”
Up went a bright red building with a sun porch and picnic tables, on a former alfalfa field, between U.S. 41 and the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Call it a build-it-and-they-will-come leap of faith, after Kelley took classes in ice cream making and business operation.
Within weeks, Kelley Country Creamery was going through more than a dozen 3-gallon tubs of ice cream per hour on weekends. Karen has since delegated the ice cream making to daughters Molly Seibel and Betsy Kelley.
A catering business flourishes too, with ice cream used in mini wedding cakes, fancy waffle bowls, cakes, pies, and more.
Standard flavors include Orange Custard Chocolate Chip, and 20 miles northeast of Madison is a creamy cousin, Orange Chocolate Bliss, made with bits of fudge at Sassy Cow Creamery, on the 1,700-acre James and Robert Baerwolf farms.
One farm is for traditional farming and cattle; the other is all-organic crops and cows. For sale at the creamery-café is a fat array of dairy products from this farm and others.
Brenda Brace, Sassy Cow’s ice cream maker for 10 years, said 50 flavors are available by the scoop or container. In her 2021 lineup of new flavors are Banoffee, Caffeinated Cow, Chocolate Malt, Chocolate Raspberry, Cotton Candy, Huckleberry, Lemon Cream, Minty Cow, Neapolitan, Root Beer, and Turtle Cheesecake.
Sweet experimentation happens in the northwoods, too. At North Star Homestead Farms, east of Hayward, sisters Laura and Kara Berlage are renaissance women who farm on the 100 acres where their grandparents lived.
They raise heritage breeds of livestock, grow ancient grains, tend to fish and plants all year in an aquaponics greenhouse, make cheese, can veggies, and more. Visitors come at designated times to hear music, eat pizza or a gourmet breakfast, and pursue art enrichment classes.
Kara learned to make gelato in Long Island, where master Italian gelato makers are the teachers. Her goal was to use milk from North Star’s sheep. “The instructor said he’d made gelato with many other types of milk, but this was his first time making it with the milk of sheep,” sister Laura said.
“While American ice cream typically has a butterfat between 12-16 percent, gelato runs 6-8 percent. That 6-8 percent is how the milk comes out of our sheep, so we were able to create a whole-milk product with gelato and not have to add cream.”
Other locally grown ingredients go into the treat: “A new flavor we’re dreaming up this year is strawberry daiquiri, with the fun addition of steeped fresh basil.”