After four years of due diligence and market research that included visiting hundreds of dairy plants and retail operations, Karen Kelley and her family celebrated the grand opening of their farmstead ice cream factory this past weekend. Located just a mile off Hwy 41 south of Fond du Lac, Kelley Country Creamery is an ice cream oasis in the middle of dairy country.
The Kelleys craft 61 different flavors of ice cream - everything from Bleu Cheese Pear to Maple Bacon to old-fashioned Whitewash Vanilla. Customers pull up to a rustic-looking retail store, order their ice cream (I'd recommend adding a home-made waffle cone), and eat it while sitting in one of the many rocking chairs on the front porch, or inside an air-conditioned lobby.
The Kelley's ice cream tastes different (and I would argue better) than most ice creams you've ever had, because 1) it starts with farm-fresh, non-homogenized milk from the Kelley herd of 65 Holsteins, 2) is created into a mix at the local Lamer's Dairy, and 3) is then combined with top quality local ingredients to create a premium ice cream that truly tastes homemade.
In fact, if you've ever made homemade ice cream, you'll recognize the taste right away. Milky, creamy, just pure dairy - I tried eight different flavors on Saturday and never discovered a kind I didn't like. It reminds me of the ice cream we used to make in elementary school - when our teacher would bring in her own little ice cream maker, and we'd combine all the ingredients, mix it vigorously and have home-made ice cream for an afternoon treat.
About 1,500 people turned out for the grand opening on Saturday, enjoying ice cream, free t-shirt give-aways, a kids tent with activities and various games, all with the backdrop of the Kelley's serene herd of dairy cows grazing in the background.
The day started with a noon ceremony, in which Jim Gage of the Dairy Business Innovation Center presented Karen and Tim Kelley with a letter of congratulations from Ag Secretary Rod Nilsestuen and a plaque from Governor Jim Doyle.
Karen then introduced her entire family, all smartly outfitted with Kelley green shirts. Kids Amy, Betsy, Heidi, Molly and Clark all seem to have a hand in the business, with Betsy even quitting her full-time marketing job at Miller-Coors to come home and help mom run the family business.
The highlight of the day had to be the "Wife Carrying Contest", in which husbands carried their wives over their shoulders through an obstacle course. The wives wisely wore bike helmets (a few dropped on their heads - ouch) - but everyone seemed to be having an exceptional time. Later on, the brain freeze ice-cream eating contest attracted several contestants and a good time was had by all.
The next time you're in the Fond du Lac area, be sure and stop by the Kelley Country Creamery. Not only do the Kelleys make great ice cream, they sure know how to throw a good party.