I’m a city girl, born and raised. Large cities, smaller cities ... whether living or visiting, I’m inevitably in a city. There have been very, very few deviations from that norm.
But two weeks ago, I was in Kiel, Wisconsin -- population 4,000 -- to learn about making cheese, the very cheeses you’ve read about (or will soon read about) in other articles featured in the Blade. Craig and I stayed just outside of Kiel in Chilton, which also boasts fewer than 4,000 residents.
And you know what? This city girl is missing small town America.
These are the types of places that I long to visit when I travel. Yet I’m inevitably on a freeway or on a train, speeding along to a big city adventure rather than taking the slow and scenic detours. I dream of pulling off the road and finding a mom ’n’ pop place serving luscious pies, the kind of place where you kibbitz with the staff and with the local folks. The pie crust is made with lard and the filling with freshly picked fruit; the topping is whipped with the purest cream.
Although we ate exceptionally well on our recent trip, we didn’t happen to find any pie.
But we did find Hilde’s Deli & Bakery one sunny afternoon, right on Main Street in Chilton. Handmade and locally-made products, both from within the town and within the state, were proudly showcased (including Badgers-themed pasta, ready for football season). The official state pastry, kringle -- buttery dough filled with fruit or nuts, rolled and shaped into a large flat oval ring, then topped with a glaze -- lay temptingly on shelves. Sprecher’s sodas were chilled and ready to drink.
Even better than the pizza Craig ordered or the fresh blueberry scone that I chose was the friendliness of everyone in the shop. One young woman was telling us that her first child is due this week, and we joked about different types of cravings. Hilde herself came over to welcome us, having heard we were visiting the area from Toledo, and telling us that while she’s originally from Romania she has family in Cleveland. An instant connection.
When she came out from the kitchen Hilde brought what she considered a humble offering, made, she said, with some leftover dough that needed to be used up. But we think she should add the creation to her already-generous menu: fried potato bread shaken in sugar.
The treats were light, not at all leaden as fried foods can sometimes be. The aroma was one of warm yeast and sweetness, combined. There was an initial, instantaneous roughness as the coating brushed the tongue, which was then immediately followed by the sugar melting into the tender bread.
We may not have eaten pie, but we certainly ate food that made us feel as though we were honored guests. I had been looking for the sort of place where, if you’re not a regular and you may not ever get back there again, you’re still treated like an old friend even when you’re a new face in town. And at Hilde’s, we certainly found it.
That night, we meandered over to the Scoops Ice Cream Parlor near our hotel, which serves handmade treats -- both the ice cream and the cones -- prepared on the premises. You’re greeted, as you walk in the door, with the fragrance of freshly made waffle cones, and also with the laughter of children who are excitedly choosing their evening’s prize.
The luscious, deeply rich ice cream -- butter pecan for Craig, salted caramel with fudge for me -- was just what you’d expect from a small shop in America’s Dairyland. We sat outside to eat our cones, enjoying a beautifully clear and slightly chilly evening just after the sun had set over cornfields and silos. It was peaceful and perfect.
In Chilton, we didn’t eat anything fancy or hipster chic, nothing trendy or exotic. But we thoroughly enjoyed the simple beauty of the food and, especially, of the town.