'We are very "dare to be different" people'; She serves gelato in cheese country
Living in the heart of Wisconsin’s dairyland, Amber McComish is familiar with a number of the state’s cheesemakers. She knows several of them personally, and she has never had any interest in competing with them.
McComish grew up on a dairy farm. She met her husband, Joe, while working on his family’s dairy farm. Now they’re raising three kids on the McComish Family Farm in Darlington. Dairy is part of her every day. She knew wanted to make something delicious, and knew she had something after her first small batch of gelato.
Last April, the couple opened Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato, 333 W. Main St. in Darlington. They had lines down the street the first day, and she typically has 10 to 15 fresh gelato flavors available in-house. The business was named a top-five finalist in Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Main Street Makeover contest in February. This year, one of McComish’s goals is to exclusively use milk from her own cows.
Honoring Adda Howie (1852-1936), one of Wisconsin’s first female leaders in agriculture, McComish created a gelato called Lady Howie. The specialty flavor will be available through May 1, and 25% of proceeds from sales will go to Second Harvest Food Bank's Adopt-A-Cow.
Question: How did you develop an interest in not just making but selling your own gelato?
Answer: I grew up on a dairy farm. I actually met my husband when I started working for his family farm. I graduated from college in River Falls; at that time, the agriculture industry wasn’t strong. I am from Dodgeville. I started working for him because it was close to home. I ended up staying. We’ve been together 11 years dairying with his parents.
I split my time with the farm and here at our store. We also do wholesale with our gelato. We are very "dare to be different" people. We’re in the heart of the cheese area in the state. There are way too many good cheesemakers in the area. I don’t know if I could ever learn to make cheese like that. I tried different things. I started making yogurt. That didn’t go so hot. I got a countertop ice cream maker. That was OK, but there are a lot of ice cream makers. A friend suggested I try gelato. The more I learned, the more it fit me.
Q: When did you start? How do you see gelato as a growth product in Wisconsin?
A: I started making gelato on my countertop about 2½ years ago. I think there is room for different dairy products in Wisconsin. It is not that people don’t like gelato; they’re a bit scared. They like ice cream. They know ice cream. When someone calls it ice cream, I never get offended. This is a frozen dessert, and I’d say 90% of the people who do try it, they like it better than ice cream.
The fat content from gelato can be 5% to 8% and still be really good. It can get up to 20% in your premium ice creams. Also, the flavor is so much stronger in a gelato because of the fat versus air content. Ice cream has more air. Gelato has less. I feel you actually get more for your dollar.
Q: What do people need to know about your approach?
A: I don’t make it from my own milk entirely now, but I will. That is our goal for this year. Our gelato will just be from our milk, no added fat.
Q: Who was Lady Howie and why did she inspire you to create a gelato?
A: She (Adda Howie) is from Milwaukee. She became the first woman to serve on the Wisconsin Agriculture Board. She appealed to me, because in that time I was not aware a woman had served on the board. She was known as one of the most successful women farmers in America.
She was very vocal about what she learned about animal welfare and the dairy industry. There are pictures of her playing the mandolin to her Jerseys. She was super creative and not afraid to be different. That appeals to me as a dairy farmer and woman in agriculture. I milk cows. I manage the farm. She was here, and I didn’t know about her until I started looking into women in ag.
Q: What did you put together for the Lady Howie flavor?
I wanted this one to be so perfect. I have a Bourbon Jersey Caramel flavor. I decided to use that as my base, because Adda had Jerseys. I love bourbon myself. I added peanut butter sauce. I make my own. I added Reese’s eggs. It is really over the top; that’s where I went with this one.
Q: If people aren’t able to get to Darlington can they still get it?
A: I plan on this flavor being available until the end of April, mostly out of my store in the dipping cabinet. People can take a drive, come visit. Because of COVID, my wholesale went downhill. I work with Elmer Meats in Albany; they do deliveries not quite to Milwaukee. Then Marketwagon in Madison will also have it.
Q: How many flavors do you typically have available?
A: Usually I have about 10 to 15. Our anniversary is in April, and that one will be a cookie batter one. I do have gallons and half gallons, but you do have to order those. Just give us a call or reach out on Facebook.
Q: What should people know if they want to make the drive?
A: Darlington is a huge dairy part of the state. … It is a great way to get out of the city, and if you get to Shullsberg, just south of us, you have (cheesemaker) Chris Roelli. He also sells some of our gelato there (at Roelli Cheese Store).
Table Chat features interviews with Wisconsinites, or Wisconsin natives, who work in restaurants or support the restaurant industry; or visiting chefs.