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Frozen custard is as signature to Wisconsin as fish fries, bratwursts and cheese curds, and it seems as though it would be readily available at large-scale local festivals like Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair. And yet it’s not. Why is this?
The equipment that’s needed to make custard versus ice cream may be part of the issue, according to OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo who co-wrote a book called “Milwaukee Frozen Custard."
“To properly make custard, one needs a proper custard machine, which is not the same as a soft serve machine – they work differently and create different consistencies. Custard machines are very expensive, which is why some custard stands choose to run custard mix through a soft serve machine,” says Tanzilo.
Plus, he says, most frozen custard stands are already booming in the summer months, so the urgency to spend extra time and money to participate in festivals is less of a draw.
“I suspect few vendors are willing to make the investment in a machine and dipping cabinet to store the custard in, on top of what are likely already significant investments in rent and fees to be on-site at a large festival, plus labor, insurance and other costs, especially at a time of year when their own stands are generally already doing large volumes of business every day,” says Tanzilo.
The Wisconsin State Fair has numerous ice cream items available, but does not offer frozen custard. Tess Kerksen is the Public Relations Manager for the Wisconsin State Fair, and she says the Fair would welcome a frozen custard vendor, but they’ve not been approached.
“We have not received a vendor application for frozen custard, nor have we found an interested vendor yet,” says Kerksen. “We would love to have frozen custard available for our fairgoers.”
(You hear that custard-making people?)
Cedar Crest Ice Cream is a long-standing tenant at Summerfest, and a few years ago they did offer custard, but only for one season.
“In 2018, Cedar Crest introduced various frozen custard flavors during Summerfest including #LUV Peanut Butter, Mint Mack Island, vanilla, caramel cone, butter pecan and strawberry cheesecake; all flavors were available in dishes and cones. We are working with our vendors to continue offering custard at Summerfest in the future,” said Dawn Lloyd, Food and Beverage Manager, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.
It seems, from this average attendee’s perspective, Kopp’s or Culver’s would be a great fit for the Big Gig. Thus, OnMilwaukee contacted Karl Kopp for commentary on why his beloved custard is not available at Summerfest, but did not hear from him at the time of publication.
Kurt Fogle is the co-owner of Dairyland, which is soon to serve scratch-made frozen custard.
“I have to say I never noticed that Summerfest and State Fair didn’t have frozen custard. At first it made me sad; Wisconsin is the best place in the universe for dairy, especially frozen custard, and it would be really cool to showcase that at both events,” says Fogle. “But after I started to think about the logistical differences between offering ice cream and frozen custard, it started to make sense.”
Fogle, like Tanzilo, believes the needed equipment is the main reason custard isn’t available in temporary or pop-up spots.
“To serve ice cream, you need a freezer, a sink, a couple of scoops and a cash register. Pretty easy and cheap to do," says Fogle. "In order to serve frozen custard appropriately, you would need all of that plus enough batch freezers to keep up with the demand. That’s big money, lots of electricity and triple the workforce."
That said, Fogle is inspired by this question and is not giving up on the possibility.
“I believe custard better represents our scene and should be front and center at every Wisconsin summer festival. Maybe someday we can help make it happen,” he says.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.