Iowa Made: Beer, Bologna, Cheese, Chocolate, and Sauce!

Photos by Sean Dengler

By Sean Dengler

June 10, 2022

From the northwest corner to the southeast, proud Iowans have recommended new products for me to try and write about for Starting Line’s Iowa Made series.

So, I will again put my tastebuds to the test and try five new items produced right here in the Hawkeye State.

No matter my opinion, everyone should at least try these products to support a fellow Iowan.

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Milton Creamery

This cheese lives up to the name.

These delicious cheeses are made in the rolling hills of southern Iowa in the small town of Milton. Owned and operated by the Musser family since 2006, this creamery works with local dairy farmers to help produce their famous cheese. Milton Creamery is not a basic cheese shop. It offers a variety of cheeses from caramelized onion cheddar to quark—a German-style cream cheese—to a fire-breathing 4 Alarm Cheddar.

Sean’s Take:

I am not a spice guy, but for Milton Creamery, I tried to be one. I ate the 4 Alarm Cheddar. Outside of the standard cheese ingredients, this cheddar also included chili peppers, ghost peppers, jalapeno peppers, and chipotle peppers. 

After taking the first bite and giving it a few seconds, the 4 Alarm Cheddar began to live up to its name. My mouth was burning from this wildfire. I also tried eating the cheese faster. It did not matter. The peppers still hit my tastebuds with reckless abandon. If you enjoy spice, this cheese is for you.

Besides the peppers, the cheese tasted of high quality. This cheddar was not too thick or too thin, and it melted in my mouth. This cheese would be the perfect compliment on a cheese plate or the perfect cheese to startle an unsuspecting foe. 

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Countryside Bar-B-Q Sauce

This sauce is thick!

Made in Algona using the Chase family recipe that dates back to the 1950s, Countryside Bar-B-Q Sauce has made a name in for itself in the barbecue world. Despite no website to its name, an internet search shows Countryside is available at digital storefronts ranging from Amazon to Hy-Vee. No matter which sites Countryside was sold on, the high ratings were a constant!

Sean’s Take:

When you smell Countryside Bar-B-Q Sauce, it smells like every other barbecue sauce, but the taste is vastly different. The first noticeable difference was the goo. By goo, I mean the thickness. The molasses in this sauce makes it so it does not run off the meat. Another difference is the diced onions. These chunks provide a different texture compared to other sauces. 

Those with a sweet tooth will also enjoy this sauce. While it is not overly sugary to the point where I would end up on the floor 30 minutes later with a stomach ache, it is on the sweeter end of barbecue sauces I have tasted. Coupled with the thickness, Countryside stands out in the crowded world of sauces. 

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West O Beer

This is high-quality lake water!

This hobby-turned-business company was inspired by hand-crafting good beer to share with the community, according to Matt Matthiesen, who owns West O Beer with his wife, Michaela. West O offers a diverse selection of brews and it uses the best quality and most local ingredients whenever possible. However, its most valuable ingredient is the water it gets from West Okoboji Lake. West O Beer built its brewery on the lake to utilize the water’s softness and mineral profile, separating it from its competitors.

Sean’s Take:

I tried West O COCO Chocolate Stout. I have drunk numerous chocolate stouts and, to be honest, they are not my go-to beer. With this beer being the work jewel of West O, I had to try it. The COCO did not disappoint. This beer goes down smooth and does not possess the heaviness of other chocolate stouts. The COCO’s aftertaste is also not bad compared to others. 

The words “Canned for the Campfire” are on the can, and I could not agree more. Drinking this while sitting around a fire on a cool, fall Iowa night feels right. But, do not drink it quickly. This is a beer in which two or three in a sitting is the correct amount. 

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Betty Jane Candies

These aren’t your aunt’s chocolate-covered pretzels!

Founded in 1938 in Dubuque, Betty Jane Candies had traditionally sold goodies through its brick-and-mortar stores. According to a company spokesperson, this candy business exploded over the last five years after starting a wholesale and e-commerce department. This success comes from customers raving about the quality of the caramel, and the taste and texture of Betty Jane’s products being unlike any other candies on the market. 

Sean’s Take:

I tried the Betty Jane Candies’ Betty Bite’s and they lived up to what fellow customers raved about. If I had not eaten lunch, I could have eaten the whole package. The biggest key to the delightfulness of these candies are the pretzels. These are not the thicker, doused in chocolate and sprinkles pretzels that your aunt brings to a family reunion. 

These pretzels are thinner and provide the right amount of crunch. The pretzel is topped by a thick, almost solid caramel which adds a dichotomy of textures to taste. Usually, I enjoy a freer-flowing caramel, but, in this instance, the thicker caramel works best. Above the caramel is milk chocolate topped with sea salt.

When biting into a Betty’s Bite, you taste the chocolate with a hint of salt. Then, you are immediately hit by the thick caramel and finally, you feel the crunch from the pretzel. It all perfectly ties together. Unlike national candy brands, the consistency of the bite changes each time. This is great. With each bite, I got a different amount of pretzel, chocolate, and caramel. The bites kept drawing me in because I kept wanting to know the next consistency. 

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Boyd’s Bologna & Smokehouse

This bologna packs a lot of flavor!

This year marks 70 years in business for this Washington bologna maker and smokehouse. Boyd’s opened as a bologna business but diversified its offerings after it was acquired by the Statler family, according to second-generation owner Brandon Statler. It now sells many types of meats including elk and buffalo. Boyd’s products are made from ingredients you would find in your kitchen and there are no chemical preservatives, which makes for fresh and tasty meats.

Sean’s Take:

I am a fan of meat and this bologna hit the spot. There is a lot of meat packed into this small bologna ring. It took me a while to chew the bologna because there was a lot of meat in each bite. Eating smaller bites was a much wiser decision.

While I am not the biggest fan of bologna, Boyd’s tasted better than other bolognas I have eaten in my life. It does not possess an overpowering flavor, but it does have a slight spicy kick that hits the mouth after a few bites. This bologna contains a lot of flavor—especially compared to others—and stands out from other meats. Boyd’s bologna would be the perfect addition to any charcuterie board. 

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FYI, I wrote these two paragraphs before I talked with Brandon and he laughed at my bologna ignorance. This is fair because I was wrong. He suggested grilling the bologna and this was the best advice. The flavor now popped and the bologna was not as chewy. This made for a more enjoyable eating experience.

I also tried the cheddar bologna and it was delicious! The cheese flavor was a nice balance to the meatiness of the bologna.


Boyd’s Beef Bologna With Cheddar Cheese

Take Brandon’s suggestion seriously and grill this bologna! You will not be disappointed.


by Sean Dengler

Iowa Starting Line is part of an independent news network and focuses on how state and national decisions impact Iowans’ daily lives. We rely on your financial support to keep our stories free for all to read. You can contribute to us here. Also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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