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Dairy Store

April 19, 2020

I was a transplant to Wisconsin back in the ‘80s, and while I lived there, I learned to love dairy products. It was the rare Wisconsinite who disliked dairy. Even the smallest grocery or convenience store carried cheese.  Once, out of curiosity, my husband paced off the display of cheeses at a small grocery in a northern tourist town. He measured out 120 linear feet of Wisconsin cheese. He didn’t bother pacing out the displays of imported cheeses. I began to believe in the seriousness of the local bumper stickers: Eat Cheese, Or Die.

It wasn’t long after our move from Chicago to Madison that I became a devotee of dairy. Cheese, cream, milk, butter — all fresh from local farms — were staples in our house. I loved them all, but most of all I loved the ice cream. Full butterfat ice cream in any flavor on offer at Bill’s Grocery was my drug of choice. Not only could I satisfy my junkie’s craving for ice cream at the grocery, but I discovered that southern Wisconsin also is home to a type of business I had never heard of: the dairy store. Basically, a dairy store was a place you could get a milkshake, cone, or sundae. You could also order a sandwich, but they’d look at you funny if you ordered one.


Babcock Hall’s Salted Caramel Toffee


One dairy store that sent native Madisonians into raptures was Babcock Hall. Like most dairy stores, it offered a full menu of sandwiches, but I never heard anyone rave about a burger and fries at Babcock. Rather, Babcock Hall was a sort of Mecca for ice cream lovers. If you lived in Madison, you made your pilgrimage to Linden Drive and ordered up an ice cream cone in your favorite flavor, or flavors, if you couldn’t decide and went the towering multi-scoop route.

I regret never having visited Babcock Hall’s Dairy Store when I lived in Madison, Wisconsin. The dairy plant and retail store help support University of Wisconsin’s Food Science Department. That I never handed over cash at the dairy store to support the school’s mission, I regret very little. What I regret is that I never once tasted Babcock Hall’s famous ice cream, and now that I live in a distinctly non-dairy state (I can’t tell you when I last saw a cow), I feel that omission keenly.

Now, it’s up to our local ice cream stand to distract me. The Chocolate Moose reigns supreme among ice cream shops around here, and their Moose Chocolate Shake is the best chocolate shake I’ve tasted. Time to drive on down, and get one.



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