A few years ago, DH & I were on a weekend trip to Milwaukee, just to get out of the crazy-busy area we live in and enjoy someone else's city for a while. When, much to my amazement, we discovered, it's a foodie's dream! Between Usinger's Sausage Shop, Mars Cheese Castle, JellyBelly Distribution Center, the amazing (free parking, too!) Public Market, and my personal favorite, The Spice House. While each of the stops has free tasting, I simply adore the spice house.
It was our first trip to Milwaukee, so, naturally the interstate is under massive construction and we get detoured onto a series of crazy one way streets, into the heart of downtown Milwaukee. As we're driving, I spotted the sign for Milwaukee's Public Market and begged DH to pull over into the nearby parking lot. I was so excited about the parking being free - it didn't quite dawn on me what I had accidentally discovered. Never having been to even a farmer's market, I was all excited about going to a market - even if it wasn't an open-air one.
Eagerly, I grabbed DH's hand and headed into the throng of people. The moment I stepped in, I knew I was in heaven. I could smell garlic, fresh baked bread, cookies, sausage, plump, ripened tomatoes, rich fudge, and sweet fresh citrus. I couldn't decide which direction to head in first, I was spellbound by the sight before me.
Luckily for me, the surge of people behind me propelled me forward, past the cookies and breads, past the smoothie stand and straight to cheese and sausage heaven. I spied a table of samples, a greedily grabbed a toothpick and selected a plump, tender piece of sausage, while DH dove into a spicy chipotle cheddar spread, armed only with his wits and some broken tortilla chips.
For the better part of an hour, we nibbled our way through foccacia and ginger spiced mandarin orange pieces, crunchy breadsticks dipped in dill cream spread, tequila black bean sausage, raspberry white chocolate bars, aged sharp cheddar, and maple-dipped popcorn. After all those samples, we ended up back where we started, and I glanced over my shoulder to where the densest part of the crowd was gathered.
In our haze of tasting, we overlooked a small booth of spices - as quaint as an apothecary, where people kept gathering, shoulder to shoulder, intent and focused. Not to miss anything, I abandoned the cheese & sausage shop, and scuttled over to the spices. I grabbed the first bottle that had SAMPLE printed boldly on the label and took a deep breath of the most intoxicatingly hearty scent I'd ever smelled outside of an Italian restaurant. Briefly I savored the robust tomato, deep garlic, and sweet, tangy onion scent before reading the label: Chicago Deep Dish Pizza Spice.
It honestly smelled like you were in the pizza. Nothing was the same for me again. I smelled Chinese 5 spice, gingerroot, orange zest, hickory smoked salt, toasted onion powder, Tahitian vanilla bean, coffee extract, and dozens of others. As I wove my way through the crowd, I noticed they had several bottles of cinnamon, from cinnamon sugar, to Cassia cinnamon (from China), to Indonesian cinnamon, and Mexican cinnamon. On each label, they gave a little of the history of the spice - so I quickly learned that cinnamon actually comes from the bark of a tree, depending on the region the cinnamon was harvested from would determine its flavor.
I closed my eyes and breathed deeply from the Mexican cinnamon. It's mild, earthy scent was soothing. Eagerly, I grabbed the Indonesian cinnamon and its darker, deeper, tangier scent assailed me, it was so heady and rich. Finally I grabbed the Cassia cinnamon - so sweet, bright, almost flowery - I had to have it. With a sweet tooth like mine, it was an easy choice.
Each spring or summer, DH & I dutifully head back to Milwaukee, in search of my next gotta-have-it spice, the next cookie recipe I simply have to imitate, the next elusive flavor to become enchanted with.
When I thought my cinnamon-sniffing days were dormant til warmer months, I was given 2 bottles of Madasgar cinnamon for Christmas, and my FIL even brought back cinnamon sticks for me from Mexico.
We soon learned that the Spice House had a retail outlet besides the booth in the market, so while we never miss a chance to graze our way through the market, every time we're in town, I head to the Spice House - wondering what will I discover next...
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3 Responses
  1. Amanda Says:

    MMMMMMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...cinnamon! If your cooking is anything like your writing style, eating at your house would be dreamy! The Spice House sounds great...are there any in our area?

  2. frugalsuz Says:

    Wow, that was such an amazing description I can almost smell everything myself! Yum, you totally made me hungry. :)

  3. There is a spice house in Evanston - never been to it, guess I love that one in Milwaukee with its old-time feel - like I've always imagined an apothecary would be like: scales for weighing, people measuring, pouring, funky glass bottles - for me it's more than shopping, it's an experience.

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