McComish Family Farms and Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato, A Complementary Pair
Meet the Farmer. Know the Cows. Love the Dairy Good Treats!
A few years ago, Lafayette County Farm Bureau members and dairy farmers Amber and Joe McComish were looking for a value-added product to complement their dairy farm and their working agreement with Joe’s parents, Tim and Kim McComish.
Not one to shy away from a challenge, Amber tried making cheese, yogurt, ice cream and eventually gelato, a frozen dessert with an Italian origin as far back as the 14th century.
“When I started making gelato, Joe exclaimed that he thought it was something I was good at, and it might be the value-added product we were looking for,” said Amber.
In a state that measures its ice cream by how much butterfat it contains, gelato is different and offers a delicious alternative.
Amber explained that gelato is made with less fat than ice cream. It has five to seven percent fat content whereas ice cream’s fat content is 10 to 12 percent or even more. Gelato is churned slower and has about 25 percent air while ice cream can be as much as 50 percent air. Gelato has a smooth silky texture, whereas ice cream has a fine crystal texture. Another difference is gelato is served at 10 degrees and ice cream is served at 0 degrees.
Realizing the need to diversify because of the crisis in Wisconsin’s dairy industry, the couple relied on their Irish heritage and faith in their dreams and worked with staff from the Platteville Business Incubator to create and slowly develop Lucky Cow Gelato, a wholesale business that sells gelato to local restaurants, gas stations and grocery stores.
“Just as gelato is churned slower, we took our time to build our business and used local resources,” said Amber.
Last April, during the pandemic, the couple opened Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato at 333 W. Main Street in Darlington. Just weeks ago, they purchased the building that they are currently in, which was built in 1808 and housed a bakery for 28 years.
“Knowing our customers and realizing what they wanted, coffee was an easy complement,” added Joe. “The only places to get coffee around here were fast-food restaurants or gas stations.”
Amber laughed and added, “The first day, we had lines down the street. We certainly knew what our customers wanted.”
Almost a year later, Amber and her staff offer 10 to 15 fresh gelato flavors including Classy Cow Vanilla, French Cow Pie, Strawberry Sorbet, Lemon Sorbet, Butter Pecan, Royal Apple Pie, Irish Mint, Cookie Monster, Razzle Dazzle Raspberry, Amaretto Cherry, Bourbon Jersey Caramel and Highly Calf-Enaited. Bakery items include scones, muffins, donuts and nutritious energy bites. Additionally, they offer mac and cheese specials on Fridays, quiche, bagel kits and new to the line-up, grilled cheese sandwiches. Iced and flavored coffees include cappuccino, latte, breve, whipped coffee, iced coffee and even Farmer Joe’s Cold Brew.
“Lucky Cow offers some non-coffee drinks, too,” said Joe.
Earlier this year, Lucky Cow Coffee and Gelato was named a top-five finalist in Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Main Street Makeover contest and New Business of the Year.
In March for Women’s History Month, Amber created Lady Howie gelato to honor Adda Howie, one of Wisconsin’s first female leaders in agriculture and the first women to serve on the Wisconsin Board of Agriculture. The specialty flavor includes peanut butter, bourbon and caramel.
“It’s one of my favorite flavors,” added Amber who takes every opportunity to advocate, promote and inform her customers about agriculture. “I want them to connect with our cows, our farm and our family.”
Because of the construction in Darlington this summer, the couple is taking the business off Main Street in a customized food trailer that will be parked near the Cheese Country Recreation Trail, a very popular trail that meanders through southwest Wisconsin’s Driftless Area.
“This year, one of our goals is to exclusively use milk from our cows,” added Amber, who earned a bachelor’s degree in dairy science with a management option from UW-River Falls. “Because of the logistics and cost, we haven’t used the milk from our cows exclusively. We want to change that.”
Lucky Cow is closed on Sundays and Mondays to accommodate family time and herd health checks. Amber is responsible for managing herd health and keeps an extra protective eye on a few of the Jerseys in the Holstein herd similar to Adda Howie’s care for her Jerseys years ago.
On the family farm Amber also takes care of the calves.
“The calves are fed three times a day and when they are three months old, the calves are moved to my parents’ farm where the calves are cared for until they are a year old and then they are brought back to the home farm,” explained Amber.
Joe’s responsibilities on the farm include mechanic and herd manager.
“I’m also the overall crops guy,” said Joe.
The McComish Farm no-tills just about everything, including corn and beans. No-tilling is a conservation practice that keeps carbon in the ground. The soil is tested regularly so they know what the nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium levels are.
“We knife in manure and it saves on fertilizer cost for the next year,” added Joe.
The process of knife injection also puts manure right where it needs to be preventing run-off.
The feed, silage and ground corn are mixed. The feed is tested so they are sure the cows have every nutrient they need. They grow everything except some of the protein sources that they purchase, for example, distillers grains, which come from ethanol plants. Everything else is farm grown.
In 2014, Amber and Joe joined Farm Bureau to meet other farmers and to enjoy other activities off the farm. Amber serves as the secretary/treasurer and Promotion and Education committee chair for the Lafayette County Farm Bureau. She also participated in the 2019 WFBF Leadership Institute.
“What a great program,” said Amber. “I credit the leadership institute with lighting a fire to continue with the business plan for Lucky Cow.”
By serving on the county Farm Bureau board, Amber serves her community by advocating for agriculture and providing opportunities to connect local consumers through Promotion and Education, the fair food stand or scholarship committees.
“Advocating for agriculture by selling dairy products at Lucky Cow is our focus, something that my husband and I want to do for our family and something that’s going to make our family more sustainable on the farm,” said Amber.
When asked about future plans, Amber said that getting the trailer up and running and working on processing their cow’s milk are the major focus.
Amber added, “Once those goals are met, who knows what we might come up with.”
Story originally appeared in the June | July 2021 Rural Route. Story by Marian Viney, photos by Lynn Siekmann.