Farmstead ice cream shop near Fond du Lac

Karen Kelley has long wanted to open a home-based business on the family farm, and three years ago she got serious about pursuing that dream.

“I love to cook, bake and create,” she explains, so she studied value-added agriculture. Should she spin wool? Learn how to make cheese?

The farm wife chose a sweeter path – ice cream – and now Kelley Country Creamery sells up to 20 flavors from a neat red building with a sun porch that sits on a former alfalfa field and overlooks grazing Holsteins, plus the motions of everyday farm work.

Tim and Karen Kelley’s Oak Lawn Farm used to be relatively ordinary, for Wisconsin: 200 acres and 65 milk cows in a rural part of Fond du Lac County. More extraordinary is its history: The family business began in 1861 on a road once home to 39 Kelley families.

The new creamery sits a mile from U.S. 41 and faces a main thoroughfare into the Northern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest. Farmland is adjacent to a KOA campground.

Word got around, even before the campground opened for the season. The creamery has sometimes gone through 16 tubs (each three gallons) of ice cream per hour, with up to four dozen customers in line at a time.

“Ice cream is a product everybody likes, regardless of age,” Karen says, to explain why she chose this route. “It’s a happy food – you don’t find crabby people at ice cream shops – and an affordable treat.”

She consulted the University of Wisconsin about how to make ice cream, then headed to Gainesville, Fla., to learn how to run a successful ice cream business.

Milk from the Kelley farm is the key ice cream ingredient. The five Kelley children, ages 16 to 24, have influenced ice cream flavors.

Example: Carl’s Calf Crunch: caramel, hot fudge and peanuts mixed into vanilla ice cream.

Karen pushes the choices in less traditional directions, like the sharp-sweet matching of bleu cheese and pear. “It started as a joke but works well together,” the ice cream maker says.

Another unconventional hit: Maple Bacon, which uses maple syrup from Don Wolf’s nearby farm. Karen hopes to use bacon from the Eden Meat Market in the future, to make it a truly local product.

A sugar-free vanilla ice cream is part of her ongoing inventory, and the flavoring comes from Africa’s Madagascar. In the creamery is a commercial kitchen from which waffle cones, ice cream cakes and cookies for ice cream sandwiches (including an oatmeal-raisin-cinnamon) are produced.

Creamery and farm tours are possible, but only by appointment and for a nominal fee. Creamery tour customers can make up an ice cream flavor and get a coupon toward the purchase of a pint of it (newly made ice cream needs 24 to 48 hours of flash freezing).

Kelley Country Creamery, W5215 Hwy. B, Fond du Lac, is one exit south of the city, off of U.S. 41. For more: www.kelleycountrycreamery.com, 920-923-1715. Summer hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. After that, “we’ll see how it goes,” Karen says.

The grand opening, 1-3 p.m. June 19, includes ice cream samples, an ice cream eating contest and a wife carrying competition. Children can enter the “chew your cud” contest, which involves bubblegum ice cream.

North of Madison, another farmstead creamery thrives and welcomes visitors. Sassy Cow Creamery opened as a milk bottling operation in 2008 on the James and Robert Baerwolf farm, seven miles north of Sun Prairie.

Now other dairy products – including ice cream – are made and sold here by the brothers and their families. Like the Kelley operation, production occurs behind big glass viewing windows.

“Many consumers don’t know or recognize the ingredients in the food they purchase and consume,” the Baerwolfs observe, online. “We offer an alternative to that.”

The brothers farm their grandfather’s land in traditional and organic ways. About 20 percent of their 500-cow herd is kept separate and pastured in organic fields, so the creamery sells both organic and conventional (but hormone-free) milk.

Ice cream flavor of the month: Orange Chocolate Bliss. My favorite: Purple Cow (black raspberry, with chocolate chips). More than a dozen flavors are sold in single scoops to three-gallon buckets.

For more about Sassy Cow Creamery, W4192 Bristol Rd., Columbus: www.sassycowcreamery.com, 608-445-2010. Free creamery tours are 4-6 p.m. on the first Friday of the month. Store hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays. Look online for info about monthly farm and creamery tours.

Heading north? Tetzner Dairy Products in Bayfield County sells vanilla, chocolate, chocolate mint and cherry ice cream sandwiches made with milk from a farm that has been in the same family since 1891. Serve yourself, roughly 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and put what you owe into a payment box. The shed-like store is straightforward, and transactions typically are on the honor system because owner Phillip Tetzner’s family is busy farming.

For more about Tetzner’s, 30455 Nevers Rd., Washburn: www.tetznerdairy.com, 715-373-2330.

Interested in finding other outlets for earth-friendly travel? Check out the new “Green Travel Guide to Southern Wisconsin: Environmentally & Socially Responsible Travel” ($19.95) by Pat Dillon and Lynne Diebel, newly published by the University of Wisconsin Press.

Locally produced food figures prominently into this info-packed guidebook about all that helps define the diversity of Wisconsin.