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Milwaukee Pretzel Company Offers True Bavarian Pretzels

May. 30, 2017
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In Germany, Bavarian-style soft pretzels are part of everyday meals and are as commonplace as rolls sold behind bakery counters in American supermarkets. When Matt and Katie Wessel, founders of Milwaukee Pretzel Company, first discovered these large, tangy, browned pretzels while living in Germany, the couple savored not only the unique flavor but also the experience of socializing in a biergarten (beer garden) while pairing a pretzel with a mug of German suds. When the Wessels returned to Milwaukee, they could easily find German beer and sausage, but not a good pretzel, so they decided to make it themselves.

Matt and Katie are both Marquette University graduates with business and marketing backgrounds, but Katie had always liked to cook and had once considered attending culinary school. She researched the science behind baking, and the couple spent about six months developing a recipe that matched the pretzels they enjoyed in Germany. Different regions throughout Germany produce slightly different pretzels, Katie noted, so they married a few different regions of pretzels they liked.

German Fest seemed to be a natural place to launch their pretzels, so Matt and Katie contacted festival organizers in early July 2013 with the possibility of selling at the festival the following year. “We got a call back a day or two later, asking if we wanted to vend at the 2013 fest, which was two weeks away at that time. So we got our family and friends to help make 1,500 pretzels to sell,” Matt recalled. The pretzels were a hit, selling out before the festival’s end. Their wholesale business has snowballed ever since.

After working out of commercial kitchens in South Milwaukee (and later the Third Ward), the Wessels moved two and a half years ago to a 3,500-square-foot space on Holton Street near Capitol Drive. Approximately 20 employees craft one-pound and one-and-a-half-pound pretzels and pretzel buns using Esmach mixers and other German-made commercial baking equipment. Each pretzel is twisted by hand.

American soft pretzels—like the kind often dunked in gooey cheese sauce—use sugar as a flavor profile and are more dense and doughy; whereas, Matt said, their Bavarian pretzels get flavor from malt powder, rye flour, butter and low fermentation times. The production process involves showering each pretzel with a special solution that provides that tangy flavor and rich brown surface. The pretzels are slightly crisp on the outside and have a light, chewy texture inside. Few condiments are needed—except for maybe a little quality mustard for dipping.

Not to mention the impressive size of Bavarian pretzels! The one-and-a-half pounder is not much smaller than a car steering wheel and could be a meal in itself.

Milwaukee Pretzel Company’s artisan products are free from GMOs and preservatives.

The Wessels make business decisions that are best for the product instead of just focusing on profit. Katie said they’ve turned down larger projects that they felt they weren’t yet ready to tackle. The rewards of growing Milwaukee Pretzel Company have outweighed the work, and Katie said they also take great pride in employing local people.

Milwaukee Pretzel Company’s products are served at several local establishments, including Milwaukee Ale House, Rumpus Room, ABV Social, Mader’s, Bavarian Bierhaus, Good City Brewing and St. Francis Brewing Company and its Craft Beer Garden at Humboldt Park.

For more information, visit milwaukeepretzel.com.

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