Calliope: Ice Cream for Adults

Calliope Ice Cream ingredients
Photo by Eric Tadsen

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Of course some of us scream a little louder than others after opening the freezer to discover the kids have once again eaten what we thought was our own private stash of Graham Cracker Calliope Ice Cream. Even though it may be billed as “ice cream for adults,” this local, small-batch ice cream tastes so good it has a loyal following with parents and children alike.

Owner Staci Fritz knows this firsthand. As the mother of two boys, 11 and 14, she no longer takes for granted that the pints she puts in her freezer for demos will always be there when she’s ready to leave for work. That’s why she’s developed a separate freezer at home for her sons, who have a particular hankering for both the Graham Cracker and Lemon Lavender Calliope Ice Cream flavors. “Our Graham Cracker ice cream is probably our most popular because it is literally the best version of a graham cracker you’re ever going to eat,” Staci says. She compares the taste to childhood memories of eating graham crackers dunked in milk, and says the nostalgic flavor resonates with people of all ages.

Lemon Lavender, Calliope’s newest flavor, boasts a bright lemon base with a hint of floral that turns into a lavender explosion when your tongue hits a lavender flower. It’s a stark departure from a streak of spicy concoctions that Calliope has become known for, including Hot Peanut Butter (a Sriracha and creamy peanut butter mash-up), but is fast becoming a fan favorite.

Available at more than a dozen Madison stores, including Hy-Vee, Metcalfe’s, Ian’s Pizza, and several Chocolate Shoppes, Calliope Ice Cream in pint containers was launched four years ago after Staci and founder Jason Borgmann took Calliope to the retail level. The ice cream is made-to-order at Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Company, which then turns it over to Calliope for private labeling, sales, and marketing.

Back in 2011, Jason, an “ice cream artist,” began crafting microbatches of ice cream for Weary Traveler Freehouse on Willy Street in Madison. He soon became known for pushing the boundaries of typical flavors, making such recipes as caramelized onion and candied tomato ice cream. Customers loved it. “The lineup of flavors we have now really comes from the mad scientist roots that Jason put down at the Weary Traveler,” Staci says. “It was a matter of thinking about what flavors we could sell in a grocery store that people would be curious (or perhaps crazy) enough to actually purchase.”

Photo by Eric Tadsen

Today, Jason has moved on to new ventures, leaving Staci to take over the mad scientist reins and launch new flavors to retail each year. Calliope’s current lineup includes Hearty Breakfast, a cinnamon and vanilla base studded with salty, smoky bacon and a boozy afterburn from Madison’s own Old Sugar Distillery’s Queen Jennie Sorghum Whiskey. As Staci notes, “It only reinforces your notion that bacon does indeed make everything better.”

Then there’s Calliope’s Brandy Old Fashioned, which tastes like Wisconsin’s favorite cocktail, complete with brandy, orange, cherries, and bitters, only in frozen form with the added benefit of no morning hangover.

The ice cream that put Calliope on the map, however, remains one of Jason’s first concoctions and one of Staci’s favorites: Mexican Hot Chocolate. A rich chocolate flavor packs a spicy punch thanks to cinnamon and a noticeable kick of chipotle pepper. It’s the perfect pint of spicy ice cream you never knew you needed. “Once you stop thinking about just cookies and candy, you can really take ice cream anywhere,” Staci says. “And why not take it spicy?”

This year, Staci plans on demoing Calliope Ice Cream much more in area stores and has deemed 2016 the official year of sampling. “My goal is to foist spicy ice cream on people least suspecting it,” she says with a good-natured laugh.

Future goals include finding the perfect location for a local “scoop shop” where Staci could perhaps build a small production facility and sell a staple of eight year-round flavors with the goal of developing another four seasonal flavors that change on a whim. “Rotating short-run flavors would be really fun,” she says.

Staci has signed a letter of intent to work with the Garver Feed Mill, a historic landmark on Madison’s near-east side. The city is working with a developer to reinvent the old structure as an artisan food facility for bakers, brewers, and more, with additional acreage dedicated to orchards and gardens. Development is in the early stages. “It would really be ideal if we could ultimately have a presence in that historic building,” she says.

In addition, Calliope is now making its flavors in three-gallon tubs, perfect for restaurants looking to expand their ice cream menu. Several of Calliope’s unique flavors would make killer ice cream cocktails or signature desserts, and because it’s a locally made product, the ice cream fits well into Madison’s local dining scene. “I’d even be willing to work with an existing restaurant or shop who just wanted to set up a small, four-scoop station with Calliope Ice Cream,” Staci says. “Because who doesn’t want to shop and eat spicy ice cream at the same time?”

Jeanne Carpenter is a cheese geek and food writer living in Oregon, Wisconsin.