Amber McComish displays a freshly made container of McComish Family Farms Fresh Bourbon Jersey Caramel Gelato, ready for sale. McComish and her family make gelato on their 200-cow dairy farm near Shullsburg, Wis.
Amber McComish displays a freshly made container of McComish Family Farms Fresh Bourbon Jersey Caramel Gelato, ready for sale. McComish and her family make gelato on their 200-cow dairy farm near Shullsburg, Wis. PHOTO BY DANIELLE NAUMAN
    SHULLSBURG, Wis. – A desire to add diversification to their family’s dairy farm, along with the desire to do something new and different, led Joe and Amber McComish to enter the world of gelato making.
    The McComishes along with their three children, Hunter, 6, Killian, 5, and Meara, 1, and Joe’s parents, Tim and Kim, milk 200 dairy cows on their 2,000-acre family farm near Shullsburg, Wis.
    “We started researching doing value-added for about three years,” Amber McComish said. “We first started out looking at cheese, which is kind of the natural product. It takes a lot of time and money to do that, business-wise and to get all the licensing for myself to be able to do that.”
    With the state of milk prices, the McComishes wanted to start their journey in creating a value-added product as soon as possible.
    “The whole reason we are doing this is for our kids. We just don’t want them to have to worry about milk prices in the future,” McComish said. “We want to be self-sufficient, and not wait for any laws or the government to fix things.”
    While they were searching for the value-added product that would best suit their needs and fit their business, a friend suggested they look into making gelato.
    “Once we started looking at gelato, the more we looked, the more we liked it,” McComish said. “It’s a product that can be made from our own milk. There is no by-product; it’s just our milk and ingredients.”
    Gelato is an Italian frozen dairy dessert that McComish said is denser and creamier than American-style ice cream. It contains more whole milk than cream, and is typically served warmer than ice cream. It has a fat content of about 5 to 7%, compared to ice cream which can go as high 18%.
    “Gelato tends to have a stronger flavor because there is not as much fat or as much air. The flavor is more intense,” McComish said.
    The McComishes began searching for a creamery to work with, making gelato from the milk produced on their farm. They were unsuccessful locating a creamery to work with, so McComish made the decision to start making gelato on her own, using purchased whole milk, in March.
    “I literally started with a countertop freezer, an ice cream maker, and started putting stuff together,” McComish said of the beginnings of her gelato making. “It was a challenge; things like finding a place to get flavors and things like that because I was so small. They didn’t take me seriously.”
    After working with the process of making gelato in her own kitchen, McComish decided it was the right product for creating a value-added business for their farm, and she set out to begin to create the new business.
    She worked with the Center for Dairy Research and the Southwest Wisconsin Small Business Association, learning how to launch the business. Eventually she located a business incubator in Platteville, Wis., with a certified kitchen she could rent space and time in, and began making McComish Family Farms Fresh Gelato in earnest.
    “The help I’ve received from those entities has helped me quite a bit, to get started and get going this fast,” McComish said.
    From a recipe standpoint, McComish started perfecting her own style of vanilla, which serves as the base for the other flavors she has developed.
    “Once you have the base flavor, it’s a matter of just adding ingredients to it to create new flavors,” McComish said. “It’s not necessarily a science, but an art. You just have fun with it because it is a dessert, a treat.”
    The flavors McComish has developed to date include her original Classy Cow Vanilla, Highly Calf-enaited, Irish Mint, Amaretto Cherry, Over the Moon, Bourbon Jersey Caramel and French Cow Pie.
    McComish keeps detailed records of her recipes and the ingredients used in each batch of gelato she creates.
    She has been working to get her gelato into area restaurants and stores, and she has also been catering events, providing her gelato as a special dessert. One local restaurant that serves McComish Family Farms Fresh Gelato has been creating frozen cocktails with the gelato, in addition to serving it as a dessert.
    She packages her gelato into 6-ounce, 8-ounce and pint-sized containers for sale in stores and for restaurants. She also uses steel trays to prepare the gelato for her catering events.
    During her three-year research period, McComish began to build a social media presence for her family’s farm to help build name-recognition.
    “I’ve developed a Facebook page, getting people to follow us, as advocates in the industry to practice getting myself out there,” McComish said. “You literally have to put yourself out there as a business to be successful.”
    In addition to creating an image for the family farm, McComish began to work on the creation of a logo that would be used for marketing the gelato.
    “I found I have a niche for marketing and branding, which is kind of fun,” McComish said of her work to create the value-added business.
    Within the next year, the McComishes plan to bring the production of their gelato on to their farm by creating their own certified kitchen in a refer trailer. This will allow them to transition from using purchased whole milk to using milk produced by their own cows.
    “It’s been fun to showcase our cows in the marketing,” McComish said. “We are hoping to use the Jersey milk with the higher fat content, which is perfect for gelato.”
    In addition to creating an on-farm processing facility, McComish hopes to have a food truck in the future to help facilitate the catering events.
    This winter, McComish hopes to travel to Italy, the home of gelato, to attend the Gelato University near Bologna, Italy. She hopes to learn more of the intricacies of gelato making, particularly how to make gelato incorporating fresh fruits, with an eye on being able to use local fruits next summer.
    McComish is excited for the future of her family’s dairy farm and said the creation of the gelato business has added a new layer to that excitement.
    “I really like telling our story and that is what this spanned from,” McComish said. “We took a problem, and found a way to solve it.”