In Wisconsin recently, I had cause to give the descriptive ‘new’ some thought. I knew that New Jersey was named after the Channel Island of Jersey and had always thought that New York was the American version of York – but not so. It was apparently named after the Duke of York. Had I known that Glarus was a canton in Switzerland, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised to hear that New Glarus in Wisconsin was called after it, too. But I didn’t know so I was surprised … surprised to see so many cows in an American town.
It was originally settled back in 1845 by some 108 Swiss pioneers who came to the USA in search of a better life; Switzerland was experiencing a depression of sorts at the time. Since then, others have followed – and still follow – to the point that Swiss-German is still spoken, the street signs are bilingual, and people can dance the polka. If you look up, you can see cows, too. Twee? Yes. But who am I to criticise – there are enough plastic leprechauns around the world to make anyone blush.
But all things Swiss aside, the town is most famous locally for its beer. The New Glarus Brewing Company‘s signature brew is – yes – Spotted Cow. But it also has some other unusually named offerings like Two Women and Moon Man (CG, EZ, ZsG – you get samples; GG you get the marketing mags :-)) We did a self-guided tour and commented both on the clinical lack of smell and on the rather expensive samplers on offer in the tasting room. Just as well I’m not a beer-head.
There are more than 100 microbreweries in the state and some vineyards, too, which surprised me given how bleedin’ cold it was. Hardy grapes they must be indeed. [I was delighted though to nab a bottle of Death’s Door – that good Wisconsin gin so highly recommended by my gin man at Castle Leslie – and at just $22, it put the amount of tax levied on Irish booze into stark perspective.] New Glarus was deserted – practically. But it didn’t take much to imagine how jammed it would be in the summer. Best avoided at the height of the season methinks.
But there was more to new than New Glarus. While in the state, I was introduced to a Brandy Old Fashioned for the first time and learned that WI drinks more brandy per year than all other states combined. The BOF comes in two forms – sweet and sour. For the sweet, you put a sugar cube in a glass and sprinkle with bitters. Then add an orange slice and a maraschino cherry. Add some ice, top with brandy and a splash of club soda. For the sour, just replace the cherry with an olive; my preference. I had quite a few over the course of my few days in state and the best was definitely in Norm’s Hideaway– a fab neighbourhood bar on the lakeshore in Fort Atkinson, where I had my first ever Friday night fish fry. Walleye is a new fish favourite. Served with potato fritters and apple sauce, it was quite the mix. There was a wait – there’s nearly always a wait, but as Norm himself says: Sit back, relax, and look at the wait as a time to enjoy a cocktail of choice and the company of those you’re with instead of getting impatient at us for being busy! I didn’t need to be told … not even once.
So a Brandy Old Fashioned and a down-home fish fry headed up my list of ‘new’ only to be beaten into second and third place, respectively, by frozen custard. Yep – frozen. Not the yellow runny Bird’s Eye stuff served piping hot that I grew up with or the lumpy cold stuff that goes into custard tarts but flavoured frozen custard that in my case took the form of a Turtle Sundae – frozen vanilla custard, warm caramel, topped with salted pecans and the dreaded cherry (ever since someone told me that maraschino cherries were preserved in formaldehyde, I’ve detested the things). Culver’s has been serving up fresh frozen custard since 1984. Their’s is an interesting story. My first was courtesy of the lovely GB – a must-eat, he said, and he was right. My second was at the rival Kopp’s in Milwaukee. That one was so big (three scoops) that I had to share with MJP – herself a Kopp’s fan. On a mission now to find the best in the state, my third was from the award-winning Michael’s in Madison – which unlike the other two venues, ticked all the boxes in my imaginary American diner (a hat-tip to BP for the recommendation).
But taste tells. And in the end, it was the Kopp’s one that did it for me. Perhaps because I got extra pecans. I wondered at my nephew’s mission to find the best hazi lemonade in Budapest when he visited last summer – but he has something there. The search for the best certainly adds flavour to a holiday.
This week, as I bask in the warm glow of the extra poundage that came with such hands-on research, I’m grateful for the new experiences, the new tastes, the new flavours, the new friends. Life doesn’t get much better.
And one more cow…