On most summer days you can buy a gallon of fresh milk, witness the creation of ice cream or pet the baby goats outside Sassy Cow Creamery.
But this Saturday is even more special: It’s when you can also take a farm wagon ride, visit with Alice in Dairyland, tour Sassy Cow’s new 40-cow rotary milking parlor or simply get your fill of local pie and ice cream.
It’s all part of the dairy farm’s annual, end-of-season Ice Cream Social, held 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. A family-owned dairy farm located just outside Sun Prairie, about a 35-minute drive northeast of Madison’s Capitol Square, Sassy Cow held free public tours on Fridays through the summer (the last this year is Aug. 25) and will continue offering school tours and tours by appointment through October.
Saturday’s ice cream social, however, is something extra, a celebration of green pastures and prime ice cream-eating weather before autumn sets in.
“It’s important to us for people to see where their milk is coming from,” said Sassy Cow sales and marketing manager Kara Kasten-Olson.
“These are the cows that make the milk. We’re very transparent — I think that’s why we offer so many tours. There’s just not a lot of farms that people can go and visit anymore.”
Sassy Cow, which operates on 1,700 owned and rented acres, is home to 500 traditional and 200 organic cows. Its creamery produces a line of milk products, plus ice cream, all processed on site using milk from only from the Sassy Cow herd.
Those products and many other made-in-Wisconsin foods are for sale to the public in the creamery’s retail shop, housed in a shiny bright red building at W4192 Bristol Road, Columbus. Visitors can buy a towering, double-scoop ice cream cone for $2.50 (called a “small”), a large cone for $3.50, or a kid-sized cone for $1.50. There’s a variety of sundaes and ice cream sandwiches made on site, too.
A collection of antique milk bottles hangs on the walls of the shop, and there’s plenty of Sassy Cow T-shirts, hats, bags and other merchandise to take home. Refrigerated cases are lined with quarts and half gallons of Sassy Cow ice cream to buy, plus close to 100 varieties of Wisconsin-made cheese.
It’s not unusual for out-of-state visitors to leave with more than $70 worth of cheese to take home for friends and neighbors, Karsten-Olson said.
Sassy Cow used to make its own cheese, but now concentrates on milk, chocolate milk, heavy cream, half and half and 40 flavors of ice cream, she said.
The dairy voluntarily recalled its products last spring after a faulty booster pump seal was found during a routine plant inspection. No contamination was found, but the company stated at the time in a news release that “We always want to (err) on the safe side out of care and concern for our customers, as well as our peace of mind in the products we produce, therefore we have issued a voluntary recall.”
Karsten-Olson said that “Milk was pretty easy” to replace on grocery shelves after the recall, but removing ice cream and replacing it in nearly 80 retail locations was much harder.
“So it’s been a summer of catching up with ice cream,” she said.
Sassy Cow farmstead is owned and operated by brothers James and Robert Baerwolf and their families. The land was purchased by their grandfather in 1946, and the Baerwolfs’ parents, lifetime farmers themselves, still are involved in the family operation. James and Robert began dairy farming right after graduation from UW-Madison.
The Baerwolfs added the creamery in 2008 between the brothers’ two herds to handle all processing. Farm tours have been going on for many years, but the weekly summer Friday tours just started last year, Karsten-Olson said.
Today, a cheery playground just outside the creamery offers climbing equipment, toddler-sized tractors to pedal and a pair of pens holding big-eyed, photogenic baby goats and calves. Tour-goers meet at the building and are led to the fields in their own vehicles. There they see Sassy Cow’s new 40-cow rotary milking parlor, and can meet and even pet some of the dairy’s cows.
A school bus will shuttle visitors between the creamery building and the pastures during Saturday’s ice cream social, Karsten-Olson said.
“People don’t realize how close we are – we have a Columbus mailing address, but being just north of Sun Prairie people don’t realize we’re just a half hour from Downtown Madison,” she said. “We’re open year-round. Even in the winter, people can come out and see the bottling and the ice cream making.”