Cress Spring Bakery Pizza Night
By Erica Krug | Photos By Erica Krug & Dan Walkner 0
A pale half moon hung over the dark hills of Vermont Township Wednesday night as a steadfast few lingered by the fading bonfire at Cress Spring Bakery's final pizza night of the 2015 season. The dimly-lit chalkboard menu was full of scribble marks; as supplies ran out, staff handed chalk to patrons in line and asked them to cross things off. No more arugula. No more mulled wine. No more Aubergine pizza, with its promises of garlic-marinated eggplant and cherry tomatoes.
Slipping out the side door and sinking onto the grassy hillside after the last pizza came out of the oven, soft-spoken bakery owner Jeff Ford said it was their second busiest night of the season, which started in May of this year. It may have been the unseasonably warm temperatures or the lack of predicted rain, but most likely the large crowds of people who flocked to the country one final time came for the experience of dining al fresco in a gorgeous setting. And, of course, the pizza.
Located about 40 minutes from downtown Madison and nestled into a wi-fi free valley, Cress Spring Bakery isn't the easiest place to get to if you just have a hankering for pizza. But that didn't stop the crew at Cress Spring from making close to 5,000 pizzas on Wednesday nights throughout the summer for hoards of hungry people.
"I think that people who live in the city are generally looking for excuses to get out in the country, and I think in Dane County we tend to have an adventurous population who are always on the lookout for something new," Ford said.
Baker Morgaine Reinl said that the idea for a pizza night at the bakery was born out of unofficial pizza parties they had been throwing for friends and family for years. Reinl said that the energy at those parties was so lively and fun that they decided to make it an official event and open it up to the general public. And while Ford said he and his crew were pretty confident that people would travel to the country for pizza, he said there were always some doubts that anybody would show up. Ford recalled the first pizza night in May, when his dad was helping out and unsure about the whole venture.
Another baker, Jessica Light, said she remembers leaving the bakery one time around 5:00 p.m. and "feeling like a salmon swimming upstream against the flow of cars coming in from the other direction."
As word spread, crowds got bigger each week and figuring out how to meet the needs of customers in an efficient manner was a constant adventure, Ford said. He gave a lot of credit to his staff for their creativity and cheerfulness while meeting challenges. Reinl said one of the most fun things was getting to develop pizza recipes and new desserts that they wouldn't have been making if it wasn't for the weekly event.
As the summer went on, the menu evolved based on what was in season; as the days got shorter, strawberry lemon tarts and ice cream sandwiches gave way to pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. Ford said that throughout the season the most popular pizza was the Three Little Pigs with bacon, sausage and pepperoni. Other crowd-pleasers included the Afternoon Delight—fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, arugula, soppressata and prosciutto—and the Baker's Favorite with caramelized onions, mozzarella, cheddar, gorgonzola, and toasted walnuts.
Ford said they definitely plan on continuing their pizza night next year and hopefully for many years to come. While they strive each week to make the customer experience better, he doesn't have any major changes planned for next season, except maybe the addition of some lawn games, a trail map to encourage people to explore their 110 acres and a shelter in case of rain (somehow it didn't rain on a single pizza night this year.)
As the owner of a successful bakery that focuses on using high-quality ingredients, Ford knows you shouldn't mess too much with a good thing: Make delicious food in a beautiful place and people will show up in droves.