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Troy Milbrath has owned Mullen’s Dairy for six years and recently signed a contract to sell ice cream under the Bucky Badger brand. <br />

Troy Milbrath has owned Mullen’s Dairy for six years and recently signed a contract to sell ice cream under the Bucky Badger brand.
Photo By John Oncken

The malted milk shake is alive and well

Dec. 13, 2012 | 0 comments

The chocolate milk discussion continues across the land:

• Athletes increasingly see it as a great recovery drink after running a marathon or ironman competition;

• Children and adults love it for the taste; and

• Some health authorities see it as too sweet and calorie laden and a good many schools across the land have banned it for whatever reason.

I'm not an authority on foods and never was, but I remember as a young child that my dream (food wise) was to have a full quart of store-bought chocolate milk all to myself.

Yes, mother regularly mixed Kraft Chocolate Malted Milk Powder from the big, square tin cans with our farm milk, but it wasn't the same. It just wasn't as smooth, and sweet as chocolate milk from the store.

But, my mother, seemingly like all mothers of the era, had the feeling that chocolate milk in a carton or bottle bought from the store had something wrong with it, Just what, I never figured out.

My love for chocolate milk never left but at some point in my life was surpassed by a passion for chocolate malted milk shakes bought at soda fountains in drug stores, the former Bancroft Dairy in Madison and most country restaurants.

Over the years, the drug store soda fountains and the one at Bancroft Dairy were closed and many restaurants junked their malted mixers and a true, genuine chocolate malted milk shake became ever harder to come by.

In fact, a couple of generations of young people grew up without ever tasting a true "malt" and in many parts of the country asking for a malt at a restaurant or cafe draws only blank stares.

Yes, many fast food outlets make milk shakes, which might take on the appearance of a malted - big paper cup and a mixture of soft serve (or something) - which you drink through a straw.

But, they are not the same. First off, you can't drink a true malted milk shake through a straw, it's too thick because the shiny metal container is half full of ice cream and secondly, it doesn't contain malted milk powder.

Just what is a true malted milk?

Ideally it begins with a tall, metal container that fits under the special mixer. Then comes the ice cream (vanilla is best) and lots of it (2-3 scoops), a goodly amount of chocolate syrup and a little milk (half cup or so) followed by the malted milk powder (a tablespoon or so).

The steel container is put under the mixer for a couple of minutes and mixed to the consistency of concrete, but not so much as to melt all the ice cream. Pour a small amount of the now malted milkshake into a glass and leave the rest in the metal container. This will be eaten with a spoon or directly from the now-cold metal container because it's hard to pour.

Only a hardhearted health nut would call this anything less than the perfect refreshment. Yes, I guess there are quite a few calories in the malted milkshake but as we always said, "nothing so good could be bad for you."

You can make a milkshake without using the malted milk powder but it means settling for less than perfect.

And, yes, you can make a malted milkshake at home but I've found that those made by an expert at a restaurant or ice cream shop are always a bit better than home made. Why? I don't know.

Kelly Bock, who attends Madison College in pursuit of a registered nursing degree, has been making malted milk shakes at Mullen's Dairy and Eatery in downtown Watertown for two years and is an expert malted milk shake maker.

She has had good training in the person of Troy Milbrath, the chief ice cream maker and owner of Mullen's.

Milbrath, who taught history at Kimberly High for a couple of years and then was a stockbroker in Watertown, bought the revered Mullen's six years ago.

Working at the popular eatery and ice cream parlor was not a new experience for him. After all, he had worked there for four years while in high school.

I'm not sure anyone knows if Mullen's has served malted milk shakes (and sundaes, banana spits and ice cream cones in a true cone shape) for all of its 80 years of existence, but I'd bet on it.

"This is the best job I've ever had," Milbrath says. "I love working with people and seeing them enjoy our food and ice cream."

You can buy Mullen's ice cream in quarts or half gallons. "We sell a full quart and a full half gallon," he says. "That's different from most ice cream today that contain less than a full quart or half gallon, but look the same.

After 80 years of ice cream making and selling it locally, Mullen's premium ice cream will soon be available statewide under the "Bucky Badger" label.

"We realized the need to expand beyond our bricks and mortar in Watertown," Milbrath says. "We are excited to offer our home-made ice cream through a brand that is known statewide. "

Mullen's Dairy employs 19 (25 in the summer) "malted milk shake" makers and is open 360 days a year.

Crystal Creek Dairy House

Then there is the Crystal Creek Dairy House a couple miles east of Beaver Dam on Highway 33, owned by Bob and Lois Cramer. The Cramers both worked at Purity Cheese in Mayville until it was sold to a Texas company who made major changes in the company.

In 1979, the Cramers, seeing an uncertain future with the cheese company, bought a little country restaurant that also sold cheese and had at one time made and sold ice cream although the equipment was long gone.

The Cramers, neither who had and experience running a restaurant, learned fast and by 1983 again purchased ice cream-making equipment and began featuring "old fashion malts" as their specialty.

When we last wrote about the Cramers and their Crystal Creek Dairy some eight years ago, their 24 seats at the counter and a few tables were crowded at mealtimes and there always seem to be people eating or buying cheese.

And, yes, old fashion malts are still a main attraction at breakfast, noon, supper and all day long.

The Cramers live next in a house that at one time was the site of a farmer-owned cooperative that made Limburger cheese. "It's long gone," Bob says. "But, the original foundation remains under the current house."

Although the Cramers are sort of retired, they are working at the restaurant or making ice cream every day.

Bob rises at 3 a.m. and gets the day's soup and main dish started; Lois gets to the restaurant an hour or so later. Their daughter Roxane is there several days a week and her son Tony cooks part time while attending technical school auto mechanic training.

Their customers are rather stable: "There's a breakfast bunch and a lunch group," Bob says. "Some of each come back for supper and there are people from all over that stop in. It's all word of mouth and the malteds."

Yes, the malted milk shake is alive and well. Just ask the folks who own or eat at Mullen's or Crystal Creek Dairy. Better yet, stop in and try one. It will make your day.

John F. Oncken is owner of Oncken Communications, a Madison-based agricultural information and consulting company. He can be reached at 608-222-0624 or e-mail him at jfodairy@chorus.net.

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