Area Artisans Ramp Up During the Holiday Season
By Molly Rippinger
As shoppers wait until the final hours to find the perfect presents, Wisconsin businesses have already put in time and a half to ensure there are enough locally-made gifts for everyone on the list. Check out the numbers to get a grasp of how much extra effort goes into crafting these 10 holiday specialties.
1. A Fishy Tradition
During the holidays, it’s not uncommon to see a line snaking through the door at Empire Fish as five times the normal amount of customers come in to stock up on seafood for seasonal dishes.
Although shrimp, crab, lobster, oysters and smoked fish make up the majority of sales, Kevin Conrady, Empire Fish manager, said they still get in about 200 pounds of lutefisk for holiday customers. A Scandinavian tradition, lutefisk is dried cod that is rehydrated in lye, rinsed and boiled or baked before being served with butter, salt and pepper.
11200 W. Watertown Plank Rd.
414-259-1330 • www.empirefish.com
2. Slice of the Season
The turkey may take center stage, but pies are a close second when it comes to the hierarchy of holiday eats. At Honeypie in Bay View, pumpkin and bourbon walnut pecan reign supreme with the hungry crowds.
The bakers at Honeypie roll out around 300 pies and go through hundreds of pounds of butter to meet the demands of Thanksgiving Day, which is 15 times more than the 20 pies they typically make on a daily basis.
2643 Kinnickinnic Ave.
414-489-7437 • www.honeypiecafe.com
3. Black Friday Brew
By the end of last January, Lakefront Brewery had already begun work on the 2015 batch of Black Friday, a 10-month barrel-aged imperial stout, which is only available on the day after Thanksgiving.
Lakefront produces 5,000 bottles and a few kegs of Black Friday for the one-day release. Last year, a line outside of the brewery along Commerce Avenue was 1,000 people deep at 8 AM. There wasn’t a single bottle to be bought by noon.
1872 N. Commerce St.
414-372-8800 • www.lakefrontbrewery.com
4. Christmas Cooking
At Lopez Bakery, sweet treats aren’t the top holiday sellers. Rather, this Mexican bakery serves up hundreds of their savory specialty—tamales.
For more than 40 years, the Lopez family has been making hundreds of chicken, pork or black bean and jalapeno tamales for the holidays. Like their own individual presents, tamales are a cornmeal dough stuffed with filling before being wrapped and steamed in corn husks. Traditionally, families spend the day making tamales together, which will be enjoyed on Christmas Eve.
Tamales are made fresh three days a week at Lopez Bakery, but they increase production during the days leading up to Christmas, making 600-700 tamales.
1100 W. Historic Mitchell St. • 414-672-1830
5. Marinated Merriment
It’s ordinary to find ham or prime rib on holiday tables across the country, but in Wisconsin it’s common to find uncles and aunts eagerly opening a jar of marinated herring. The tradition stems from the Scandinavian belief that eating marinated herring at the stroke of midnight on December 31 brings good luck to the New Year.
Ma Baensch in Riverwest has been making marinated herring for more than 80 years. Leading up to the holiday season, the workforce at Ma Baensch’s nearly doubles to meet the demand.
Each 24-ounce jar of herring is hand-packed and contains about 7 of the silvery skinned fish, which are wild caught in Nova Scotia. More than 50 percent of Ma Baensch’s annual sales are in October, November and December.
1025 E. Locust St.
414-562-4643 • www.mabaensch.com
6. Stollen Season
Once the leaves turn and the weather chills, customers at New Glarus Bakery begin begging owner Angela Neff to make stollen—a subtly sweet German bread that’s studded with dried fruit and
laced with warm spices.
New Glarus sells about 1,400 stollen during the holidays, which is an incredible increase from the 10 loaves they made annually during the 1970s. A single batch yields 62 stollen, but during the height of production, Neff and her crew bake a triple batch per day. From dough proofing to finished product, the process takes about 15 hours total.
With each loaf weighing in around a hefty pound and a half, New Glarus will sell more than 2,100 pounds of stollen in a single holiday season.
534 1st St., New Glarus, WI
608-527-2916 • www.newglarusbakery.com
7. Stocking Stuffer Success
For nearly 100 years, Niemann’s Candies in Wauwatosa has been crafting handmade candy canes for the holidays.
Once the weather cools, Jim Niemann, owner and third generation candy maker, begins cranking out batches of the hard candy. Niemann’s offers half a dozen varieties, but peppermint is by far the most popular flavor.
Each batch yields about 250 canes and Niemann’s typically makes 5 batches of peppermint. During the holiday season, they easily make 1,250 individual, or 625 feet total, of peppermint candy canes.
7475 Harwood Ave.
414-774-4940 • www.niemannscandies.com
8. Christmas Kringle
While Wisconsin’s official state pastry is certainly enjoyed year round, many people consider the oval treat an honored holiday tradition.
O&H’s kringles contain 32 layers of dough (18 on top of and below the layer of filling) and takes three days to make from start to finish. Pecan and raspberry are the two best sellers, providing an ideal salty sweet combination when purchased as a pair. During the peak of the season, O&H becomes practically a 24/7 production and can ship up to 25,000 kringles in a single day.
9549 S. 27th St.
414-856-1141 • www.ohdanishbakery.com
9. Dairy Decadence
Eggnog is a rich and creamy holiday tradition for many, especially here in the dairy state. At Sassy Cow Creamery, they rely on a herd of 450 dairy cows from Baerwolf Farm to produce enough milk and cream for thousands of gallons of eggnog.
In a 3-month time frame, Sassy Cow sells about 1,500 gallons of traditional eggnog and more than 2,500 gallons of pumpkin spice eggnog. Totaled, that equals out to about 64,000 cups of Sassy Cow eggnog being sipped in a single season.
Available at Multiple Locations
4192 Bristol Road, Columbus, WI
608-837-7766 • www.sassycowcreamery.com
10. Sausage for the Season
Since 1880, Usinger’s has been making, stuffing, smoking and selling their famous sausages in Milwaukee. Around the holidays, gift boxes are a popular way to sample some of Usinger’s most popular products, like beef summer sausage or salami.
The higher demand drives up daily production and forces Usinger’s to more than quadruple the number of customer service and shipping staff members. Typically, UPS swings by Usinger’s once a day in a regularsized truck, but during the holidays UPS parks a semi truck outside of the distribution center. In a single day, Usinger’s fills the entire semi with delivery orders.
1030 N. Old World Third St.
414-276-9105 • www.usinger.com
#2, #10 Photos by Molly Rippinger; #3 Photo by Joe Laedtke; Other photos courtesy of vendors
Molly Rippinger is a writer with a passion for the food and restaurant industry. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, she understands and appreciates what it takes to cook in the kitchen. Currently she is working towards a master’s degree in Mass Communication from Marquette University.