This Wisconsin Chef’s Frozen Custard Celebrates The Terroir Of The Badger State

Food & Drink

As food lovers, we often associate terroir with wine, envisioning vineyards and aromatic wine. But terroir can transcend beyond the grape.

Chef Kurt Fogel, co-owner of Dairyland Old-Fashioned Frozen Custard & Hamburgers in Milwaukee, firmly believes Wisconsin’s exceptional dairy heritage elevates it to the center of the hamburger and frozen custard universe. “We have the best dairy in the world; why wouldn’t we have the best ice cream as well?” says Chef Fogel.

Frozen custard quickly found a natural home in Wisconsin due to its rich history traced back to Coney Island and the Chicago World’s Fair, fueled by the state’s top-notch dairy. Chef Fogel aims to take frozen custard to new heights by infusing it with terroir, capturing the region’s essence in each spoonful through ingredients and flavors true to Wisconsin.

Dairyland Old-Fashioned Frozen Custard & Hamburgers was founded in 2022 by Chef Kurt Fogel, his wife Katie, and Joe McCormack. With a team of dedicated chefs, they are committed to preserving Wisconsin’s rich hamburger and frozen custard culture. They explore the creative process with curiosity and dedication, infusing the concept of terroir to create unique Wisconsin flavors in their exciting custard creations. “Our frozen custard program is simple,” says Fogel. “We buy the very best milk and cream from Sassy Cow Creamery in Columbus, WI, and we balance that with enough egg yolk and sugar to create an unbelievable texture that highlights the flavor of the milk and cream.”

How Frozen Custard Came to Wisconsin

Frozen custard’s origins can be traced back to 1919 in Coney Island, New York. According to Travel Wisconsin, this delectable dessert, made with eggs, cream, sugar, and flavoring, quickly gained popularity in the Midwest during the 1930s. Wisconsin’s proximity to milk and easy access to ice set the stage for the state to become a frozen custard production hub, with its abundance of small dairy farms ensuring the availability of fresh ingredients.

Milwaukee, in particular, witnessed the rise of iconic frozen custard stands like Gilles, Leon’s, and Kopp’s in the late 1930s and 1940s. These establishments played a significant role in shaping Wisconsin’s love affair with frozen custard.

Crafting a Foundation of Flavor

Unable to find a Wisconsin-based mix maker that guaranteed the origin of the milk, he decided to create their mix. Chef Fogel’s training at the French Pastry School with Jacquy Pfeiffer, an ice cream mix formulation expert, proved invaluable. Crafting their mix gave them a distinct advantage and allowed for endless creativity. Chef Fogel explains, “If you are forced to buy a premade mix, then you aren’t able to make any flavor you want. You can only make what the flavoring companies supply.”

After crafting their custom mix, Chef Fogel draws inspiration from Wisconsin’s iconic flavors like cranberries, maple syrup, and Door County cherries. “When seeking inspiration, we start with major holidays and have crafted flavors for friends and employees on their birthdays. But most of all, we strive to keep it fun on the surface,” reveals Fogel.

Since opening in 2022, they have created over 120 unique flavors, including Mariah Cherry, which includes Door County cherries from northeastern Wisconsin. Another seasonal flavor, Blueberry Pancakes, features pieces of blueberry pancakes and tapped maple syrup. Wisconsin is famous for its maple syrup production.

“Our ‘just cause’ is to support the Wisconsin dairy industry, from the farmers to the cheese makers and everyone in between,” says Fogel. Through their commitment to supporting the Wisconsin dairy industry, they work with an array of local farms, ensuring that each batch of frozen custard captures the true essence of Wisconsin’s terroir.

“If that doesn’t cover the state’s terroir, I don’t know what would,” says Fogel. “We’re as enthusiastic as the end user; we only need not screw things up. As long as we continue to work with makers as passionate as we are that steward their craft like we do, that’s all we ever have to do.”

The Science of Terroir

According to Lauren Grant, a Culinary Food Scientist and founder of zestfulkitchen.com, those genuinely interested in exploring the terroir of dairy products go beyond the standardized supermarket brands. Grant emphasizes that these brands often rely on milk from cows with similar diets, resulting in a consistent but potentially flavor-limiting product, as the pasteurization process may eliminate flavor-contributing microflora

In addition to the environment and farming practices, Grant explains that a cow’s diet plays a crucial role in shaping the flavor of milk. The region where cows are raised determines the type of plants they consume, and factors like farmed feedstuffs versus grazing freely in diverse pastures influence the flavor profile.

Each of these factors, among many others, impacts the chemical composition of milk and will change the sensory characteristics of the milk produced. “When you taste fresh milk or custard made from fresh milk,” says Grant, “you are directly experiencing the terroir of a region.”

As Fogel and his team create custom flavors weekly without restrictions, the evolution of flavor combinations comes naturally to him and his team. “We approach the process like curious children. The attention to detail, the work—these come automatically,” explains Chef Fogel. “So when we make a flavor like Cap’n Crunch Crunchberry, we do it with the dedication of French-trained dairy farmers who don’t want to have their 4H cards revoked.”

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