As summer winds down and fall approaches we start thinking about more than just heading to the lake or taking in a ballgame. This time of year is perfect for a quick road trip over to Wisconsin. This year will make for some great fall colors and some great Wisconsin cheese! As one might expect for a state known for its originality, there is no shortage of creativity among Wisconsin’s cheese makers. Some 60 artisan cheesemakers are currently producing more than 600 different types of cheese, including hundreds of complex, one-of-a-kind artisanal, farmstead, and organic varieties made by hand in small batches.
But what does all that mean for the traveler? Just as wine-lovers head to Napa Valley for their grand wine tour, the compass for the artisan cheese enthusiast – in fact, any traveler interested in authentic Wisconsin fun and food – points directly to Wisconsin, where its long list of master cheesemakers are passionate about their goods and share them proudly. Couple that with farmers’ markets, restaurants featuring regional ingredients, farm-fresh breakfasts at the local B&B, and tours of the breweries and wineries producing cheese’s most complimentary beverages – and you have an epicurean’s dream getaway.
Below are must-visit stops along the Wisconsin Cheese Trail that promises to delight any dairy-lover:
Many Green County cheese makers have strong ties to Switzerland, but few are as close as Roth Käse’s, which was founded more than a century ago in Switzerland, reestablished in Wisconsin, and is now under Swiss ownership once again. Roth Käse typically launches three to five new cheese products each year. 2009 products include Moody Blue (a handcrafted blue cheese delicately smoked over native fruitwood) and Montanella (a washed-rind Alpine-style cheese with a robust and earthy flavor). Self-guided tours are available with a viewing hall allowing you to observe the cheesemaking process.
Featuring some of Wisconsin’s finest cheese, imported cheese, specialty foods, and much more, Baumgartner’s, opened in 1931, is Wisconsin’s oldest cheese store. What do the locals order? Limburger with mustard and cheese on rye – with a mint served on the side.
Travelers can launch their culinary adventure at Fromagination, one of the state’s premier cheese shops. Though Fromagination offers international artisanal cheeses, as a certified member of the Slow Food Organization their primary focus is Wisconsin dairy products. Additionally, Fromagination offers cheese cooking classes, fondue events, gourmet lunch options, catering, and in-house culinary events.
The next stop is Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain. One of Wisconsin’s most environmentally conscious producers of organic and local cheese, Cedar Grove provides additive-free cheese from ecologically sustainable sources, including white cheddar, farmer’s cheese, pepper jack, and Colby. The company’s unique “Living Machine” performs biological treatment to wash water left after whey separation.
Master cheesemaker Joe Widmer is the third generation of Widmer’s producing the family’s renowned Brick cheese. Joe is adamant about sticking to the traditional method of brining the cheese, still using the same bricks his grandfather employed to weigh down the new cheese decades ago. Open during the week, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars Factory in Theresa features a guided tour.
Steeped in the history and tradition of Wisconsin cheese making, Trega Foods churns out some of the best feta, mozzarella, and provolone in the state. Simon’s Specialty Cheese, Trega’s Little Chute Retail store, is the place to go to browse 100 varieties of cheese.
Do you have other cheese shops or stops that we need to know about? Leave a comment below.
(Photos and Article provided by Explore Wisconsin)