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This Midwestern City is the ‘Frozen Custard Capital of the World’ 

by Mia McGill

A colorful sign reading "Leon's Drive-in, Home of the World's Finest Frozen Custard"
Photo Credit: Mia McGill

While you can find the sweet treat all over the region, it’s no surprise that this city in America’s Dairyland is home to some of the country’s best.

If you grew up in the Midwest, it’s likely that you’ve got at least one stand-out childhood memory of eating frozen custard. It’s one of those foods that can almost immediately manifest a nostalgic experience, like a ballpark hot dog or a state fair funnel cake—and of course, it’s oh-so quintessentially Midwestern.  

A hand holding up a plastic cup of frozen custard in front of a sign reading "Kopp's Frozen Custard"
Photo Credit: Mia McGill
The peach melba “Flavor of the Day” at Kopp’s Frozen Custard.

Although frozen custard is believed to have originated in New York in the early 20th century, it eventually found its home in the Midwest, specifically Milwaukee, Wisconsin—the unofficial “Frozen Custard Capital of the World,” with more custard stands per-capita than you can find anywhere else. And no, we’re not just talking a Culver’s on every block (though that would be great too)—you can take your pick of over a dozen different custard stands when you’re in town, and the competition of quality is fierce.

I’m basically a frozen custard expert. I grew up working at a custard stand, and it’s still my go-to summer dessert. I have some pretty high standards when it comes to custard quality, so believe me when I say that you will get some of the best custard of your life in Milwaukee.

An eggs-act science 

You may be wondering, what separates frozen custard from plain-old ice cream? Custard is required by FDA standards to have a certain amount of egg yolks, and is typically far more dense than ice cream, both of which help create the rich, creamy dessert we know and love. While eggs in your ice cream might sound a little weird, they actually help the dessert coagulate, requiring less freezing, which is what keeps it velvety and smooth for longer. 

A sweet treat, topped with good company

While many Midwestern towns and cities have custard stands, Milwaukee is unmatched in terms of quantity and variety.  

Founded in 1950, long-time Milwaukee favorite Kopp’s Frozen Custard is credited with being the country’s first custard stand to offer a “Flavor of the Day” beyond the regular chocolate-vanilla dyad. This rotating selection of flavors (Peach Melba and Grasshopper Fudge the day I went) keeps the experience new and special every time, and draws custard enthusiasts from around the region, and locals alike. 

A big part of the Milwaukee custard experience (and the Midwestern experience as a whole) is having your sweet treats paired with dinner fare—Kopp’s also makes possibly *the* best burger I’ve ever had. There’s something about the all-in-one experience of being able to get your dinner and dessert in one go, coupled with the flavor variety, that makes a place like Kopp’s the perfect summer hang. 

But you don’t have to have a dearth of different flavors to be successful—Leon’s, another Milwaukee staple claiming the title of “Home of the World’s Finest Frozen Custard,” keeps it tight with just vanilla, chocolate, and butter pecan (sometimes adding a fourth flavor on weekends), and serves up possibly the best sundae I’ve ever had. It has the perfect nostalgic drive-in vibe, and the parking lot is packed on any given weekend with folks of all ages with their trunks popped, enjoying both the custard and company. 

A hand holding up a plastic cup of custard with fudge, nuts, and a cherry, in front of a sign reading "Leon's Drive-in."
The “Super Sundae” at Leon’s Frozen Custard.

Keeping places like these open and in business is so important—they’ve become community institutions and serve as family-friendly and accessible third places in a way that’s becoming rarer and rarer these days.  

Milwaukee’s culture in particular is also a fantastic example of the Midwestern habit of finding something good (in this case, New York frozen custard) and completely embracing the idea of making it your own. Even though Milwaukee and the Midwest weren’t the birthplace of frozen custard, there’s no denying that it has, in fact, rightfully earned the title of “Frozen Custard Capital of the World.”