For Heavy Table’s first-ever Snack Exchange, we corresponded with long-time friend of the site Christian Krautkramer and his wife Allison Grady.
A Wisconsinite who has also spent years in Minnesota, Christian was well-positioned to send us an array of local snacks from the Milwaukee area and respond in a poised manner to the barrage that we lobbed back in return.
(For future Snack Exchanges, we’re hoping to hit Door County, WI, Madison, WI, Iowa City, Fargo, Thunder Bay, and more… stay tuned.)
Without further ado, an assessment of Christian’s snacks:
FROM MILWAUKEE TO MINNEAPOLIS:
Bittercube: Door County Hops Bitters & Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters
Nick Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz might be best known for running the bar program at Minneapolis’ Eat Street Social and developing the cocktails at Milwaukee’s Blue Jacket, but it’s Bittercube, their Milwaukee-based business, that fuels the booze. Purveyors of seven types of cocktail bitters, among the better selections is the subtle, floral Door County Hops Bitters and the fruity, cocoa-like Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters.
Taster: Clean, strong, natural flavors that stand up in a cocktail. The Hops Bitters have a profound bright pungency, and the Cherry Bark Vanilla Bitters have a kick of sour cherry that is bold without being sweet.
Usinger’s: Summer Sausage
Milwaukee without Usinger’s is like New York without Katz’s Deli — a little bit of the city’s soul would vanish. Appropriately, the smokehouse that has been giving this Wisconsin tailgate staple it’s distinct flavor in the old-world way is housed on German-themed Old World Third Street.
Taster: Classic Wisconsin summer sausage: tender, even texture without being mushy or liquidy, a sweet spice kick, and a notably smoky finish.
Sprecher: Beer-Flavored Kettle Chips
Seemingly a gimmick from this well-known Milwaukee brewery, these chips actually have high snackabilty with a mix of sweet and salty flavoring on a high-quality potato chip.
Taster: The beer flavor (provided by real powdered beer!) sometimes gets lost in the middle of this chip, which largely has a salty / honey-kissed flavor profile more akin to a beer nut. But that’s not a bad thing, really — it’s got a profound crunch and the honey kick is welcome.
Anodyne: Guatemala CODECH Co-Op Coffee
Although Collectivo Coffee (formerly Alterra) and Stone Creek Coffee may be larger, Milwaukee’s best roaster is probably Anodyne. Just expanded into a second cafe with a larger roasting capacity, this Guatemalan medium-roast with notes of cherry and cocoa is indicative of the style that Anodyne does best.
Taster: Austere, clean flavor without being unwelcoming — this provided a lovely morning cup of coffee. We didn’t get the cherry notes, but a nutty cocoa presence was definitely present.
Larsen Bakery: Vegan Cherry Kringle
Kringle, a Danish-style flaky breakfast pastry filled with fruit and frosted, seems to be a particular regional delicacy of southeastern Wisconsin. But just as folks mail-order the ubiquitous King Cake of New Orleans, the Kringle of Racine often finds its way into homes across the country, particularly around Christmastime. Several bakeries may vie for the title of “best,” but Larsen’s version can’t be doubted.
Taster: This was not the world’s finest Kringle, but neither did it fall into the abyss we feared based on the “vegan” and “Larsen” labels on it. (My wife, Becca Dilley, has family in Racine, and maintains that the only serious contenders for best kringle in town are O & H and Bendtsen’s.) This could have been flakier and a bit thinner — instead, it was fairly heavy and a bit gummy, but the cherry flavor was present, and the icing / crust / filling ratio was thrilling, along the lines of a decent jelly doughnut.
Indulgence Chocolatiers: Outpost Coop Bar and Vanilla Bean Malt Bar
Artisan chocolate makers have cropped up in just about every major city in the last 5 years; Milwaukee is no exception. Indulgence makes outstanding chocolate and sells them on its website and also locally through its shops and through fine grocers, including Milwaukee’s Outpost Coop, with which it paired for a special 40th anniversary bar (dark chocolate & blueberries). Another outstanding choice, the Vanilla Bean Malt bar, combines semi-sweet chocolate with the flavor of a vanilla malted milkshake.
Taster: Becca found the malt bar too sweet and insufficiently cocoa-kicked, but I enjoyed it — its vanilla sweetness grew on me as I munched. And the chewy, super-wild tasting blueberries in the dark chocolate bar made a good concept into a great one.
Rishi: Earl Grey Lavender
Rishi has become one of the country’s most respected tea purveyors. This version combines a classic, Earl Grey, with the floral notes of lavender.
Taster: Super mellow and relaxing. Palpably decreased my risk of stress-induced heart attack as I drank it.
Madam J’s Sticky Fingers: Raspberry Jalapeño Jam
Milwaukee’s Jeanine Becker has been selling her Wisconsin State Fair-winning preserves since 1998, and over a dozen varieties can be found in area grocery stories. Raspberry Jalapeno is one of the more interesting and delicious versions.
Taster: I’m certain that this will be up someone’s alley — but it’s not to my taste. Real jalapeño is so insisently present that the fruit side of the jam is a bit hard to appreciate, or even taste.
Becky’s Blissful Bakery: Salted Beer & Pretzel Caramels
When the aforementioned chocolate maker set up shop in a town near you in the last few years, across the street was the artisan caramel and toffee maker. Becky incorporates two great Milwaukee food traditions — pretzels and beer (an organic British-style extra-special bitter from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery) — into a high-quality, addictive caramel
Tasters: These really worked for us. Caramel first, but the crunchy / light texture of the pretzel was evenly spread throughout, and the taste of beer was subtle and back-loaded, but definitely present. It’s a charming concept, charmingly executed.
FROM MINNEAPOLIS TO MILWAUKEE:
Barsy’s Smokies (Almonds)
Taster 1: Delightfully smokey without tasting like bitter bacon, as smoked almonds almost always do. Taster 2: “A little bit of BBQ flavor!”
Minneapolis Institute of Arts Honey
Taster 1: Clean; floral; not too sweet. So cool that it’s grown at the Art Institute. Taster 2: “It’s good! It’s smooth.”
White Hot Chocolate from The Cocoa Company
Taster 1: Lighter than normal hot chocolate … perhaps a little too sweet. Not my favorite, but I don’t like “white chocolate” generally. Taster 2: Had a slight coconut flavor, unexpected but delightful. Would drink again with a smaller-than-recommended scoop.
Talmadge Farm Pickles
Taster 1: Such a great combo of sweet and spicy. A lot of kick but really welcomed it. Would eat the whole jar in a sitting. Taster 2: “No, thank you — I don’t like spicy.”
Alemar Cheese Company Good Thunder Cheese
Taster 1: Amazing. The finish does catch you a bit off-guard, but it’s so grassy and buttery that you keep going back. Taster 2: “Whoa — that’s a bit strong!”
Pearson’s Caramel Nut Goodie
Taster 1: Not overly caramel-y, which was fine. Really good chocolate. Taster 2: “Delicious, although if you try to break it apart you don’t get enough of the caramel — it’s all in the middle.”