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Gold Among The Green: A Guide to Wisconsin Beer, Cheese and Wine
To hikers who trek the Rockies, Cascades, Sierras or other impressive mountain ranges, the Blue Mounds in southwestern Wisconsin may look like little bumps. But for a Midwestern urbanite like me, the rolling country makes a refreshing change of terrain.
And refreshing breaks are my focus: when I travel, I like to taste and sample while taking in the local attractions. A new map, the Taster's Guide to Wisconsin, highlights the state's best places to taste specialty cheeses, craft beer and wines. Here are a few destinations suggested as day trips starting from Madison, the state's capitol.
Drive northwest from Madison on Route 14, and you'll soon find Plain, WI, home of the Cedar Grove Cheese Co. The family-owned company produces more than a dozen styles of specialty cheese and squeaky-fresh cheese curds. Visitors are always welcome, and you can sample Cheddars, Raw Milk Cheddars, Butterkase, and other specialties. Cedar Grove was one of the first cheesemakers in the state to embrace organic standards, and has earned many gold medals.
South of Plain is an enchanting farm settlement in the "Nissedahle" or Valley of the Elves. The farmhouses and outbuildings of "Little Norway" cluster around a "stavekirke," or stave church. Made in Norway for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, a Chicago magnate bought the ornately carved stave church and rebuilt it in Wisconsin in the early 1900s. Local guides give tours of "Little Norway" from May through October - Sundays are colorful, as the guides wear traditional Norwegian costumes.
Stop in Mount Horeb, just a half-hour away, for a bite to eat at Schubert's Café and Bakery, famed for its Swedish rye bread and flaky potato lefse pastry. Meander across the street to the Mt. Horeb Mustard Museum, where curator Barry Levenson stocks more than 500 brands for sale, along with a collection of mustard memorabilia. Take in a stroll among the trolls: Mt. Horeb is known for its carvings of trolls that line the main street (also dubbed the "trollway").http://www.mustardweb.com/
If the quaintness of Mt. Horeb leaves you thirsting for more, drive down route 92 to New Glarus, a Swiss settlement just 20 minutes south. As you enter the village, veer off to New Glarus Brewing Co. for a terrific tour and tasting of craft brews. New Glarus Brewing Co. makes about a dozen different brews, half of which are seasonal. Try the Edel Pils, Cherry Ale, Spotted Cow Ale (summer), or the Uff-da Bock (a warming brew for early spring).
The president of New Glarus Brewing Co., Deb Carey, is also a graphic artist. Her designs decorate portions of the gift shop, loaded with beer and brewing-themed specialties. Brewmaster Dan Carey, her husband, has won dozens of gold medals for innovative renditions of classic world beer styles.
Several blocks away,
the New Glarus Bakery sells luscious stollen and other Swedish sweet breads. Or,
if hungry for heartier foods, try the tavern fare at Puempels, in business since
1893. For a traditional cheese fondue, try another Swiss venue, the Glarner Stube.
Enjoy the Stube's Nordic décor, rich with wood carvings, as you mop up
hot melted cheese with chunks of sourdough bread.
The charming Maple Leaf Cheese and Chocolate Haus in New Glarus also features Wisconsin chocolates, hand-made fudge, buttery caramels, and specialty food gifts. Be sure to try their premium cheeses, from aged cheddar to Monterey Jack laced with habanero peppers, Edam, Gouda, and many other varieties.
Follow Route 69 south on to Monroe, where you can sample German bock beer from the Huber Brewing Co. Fantastic local cheeses are made at the Chalet Cheese Coop (the only U.S. made limburger and smeared brick), the Maple Leaf Cheese Coop (Monterey Jack and more), and at Roth Kase (international award-winning Gruyere, Danish Havarti and Butterkase).
Bruce Workman, a Wisconsin master cheesemaker at Roth Kase, personally offers tourists an insider's view on the craft. As a young man, Workman aspired to be a chef, which triggered his interest in cheesemaking, which he says is just like cooking with milk, "just with bigger vessels."
"We built the plant with a glass-walled corridor for observation," Workman says. "Visitors can see us at work on weekdays in the mornings and early afternoons." Late afternoons are devoted to maintenance, cleaning cheese molds, and other tasks.
The tour attracts thousands of visitors, many of whom have never experienced the flavors of specialty cheeses. Says Workman, "I enjoy introducing people to new varieties for them to taste." A retail store at Roth Kase offers free samples on Saturdays, too.
Monroe is a haven for master cheesemakers in Wisconsin. For some cheesemakers, the three-year apprenticeship program through the University of Wisconsin is a chance to gain expertise, and for others, it's a chance to share their cheese knowledge and traditions.
For example, Myron Olson at the Chalet Cheese Cooperative, honed his talents in making Limburger, Baby Swiss, and other full-flavored cheeses for decades before becoming a master cheesemaker. Olson especially enjoys making Limburger, a full-bodied, aromatic specialty. "We've been making it at the Chalet for 60 years, and want to continue its tradition," says Olson.
For the traditional cheese experience, go to the venerable Baumgartner's, a double-duty venue with cheese shop in front, bar in back. Ask for the cheese sandwich, made with your choice of cheese. It's a hearty hunk of cheese between two slices of rye bread, served plain on paper. You can add sliced onions and brown mustard. With a glass of beer, you've got a meal.
While in Monroe, stop by the Green County Welcome and Historic Cheesemaking Center, housed in a former railroad depot on Highway 69. The Center is also the trail head for the Cheese County Trail, a 47-mile rails-to-trails conversion.
The multi-use trail wends through scenic rolling hills from Monroe and Green County through Lafayette County to historic Mineral Point in Iowa County. Unlike state-owned trails, the Cheese County Trail allows ATV's and horses, as well as walkers and mountain bikers. Trail passes and maps are available at the Welcome Center.
But where's the wine, you wonder? For those wine connoisseurs,
visit the Wollersheim Vineyard 30 minutes north of Madison. They have daily
tours, every fifteen minutes past the hour. Enjoy free samples, or buy a bottle
and sip it in the wine garden where they also serve niblets of Wisconsin cheese.
And finally, if you're in the area during the first full weekend in October, don't
miss Wollersheim's grape stomp!
A Taster's Guide to Wisconsin Cheese, Beer and Wine
After the Wisconsin Brewers' Guild ceased operations in 2002, it was unclear if the map would continue to be produced. Fortunately, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board continued their support of the map, and expanded its listings. For a current copy of the map, fill out an online request at:
"Let's go where there's cheese, Gromit." Wallace, 1995
The Green County Welcome Center - phone 1-888-222-9111
Uplands Travel Guide - phone 1-800-279-9472 - free guide to New Glarus, Mt. Horeb and attractions such as the Cave of the Mounds
Simple Stuffed Zucchini
Zucchini is used in this recipe by Laura
THE NEW AMERICAN CHEESE (Stewart Tabori Chang, 2000). You can assemble the stuffed zucchini in advance, refrigerate them and then bring them to room temperature before baking.
8 zucchini (about 2 pounds total), washed and cut in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 small cloves garlic, minced
4 large tomatoes (about 3 pounds total), cut in half crosswise, seeded and
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
8 ounces medium-aged Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (about 2 cups; or use medium-aged Provolone)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Scoop out the flesh of the zucchini, being careful not to break the skins.
The small side of a melon baller works well for this. Cut the flesh into
small pieces and set aside. In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over
medium heat. Add the onions and saute for 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook
until the onions are soft, 10 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and reserved
zucchini flesh. Cook until the zucchini softens and the tomatoes have
released their juices, about 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper, and remove from the heat. Let cool slightly. Place the zucchini shells in a baking pan. Fill them with the stuffing. Top each with about one-quarter cup of the grated cheese. Cover with foil and bake until the zucchini shells are soft, 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 5 more minutes, or until the cheese begins to brown. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.
Wisconsin Gruyere Fondue
A classic dish, similar to the house specialty of the
Glarner Stube, New
1 small loaf French bread
Assorted vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (broccoli, carrots,
cauliflower, zucchini, whatever you like!)
4 oz. Wisconsin Gruyere cheese, grated
8 oz. Wisconsin Swiss cheese, grated
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 large clove garlic, peeled
1 cup white wine
Kirsch liqueur - to taste, about 2-3 tablespoons
Cut 1 small loaf of French bread into bite size pieces. Grate 4 ounces of
Wisconsin Gruyere cheese and 8 ounces of Wisconsin Swiss cheese and mix with 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch. Cut 1 garlic clove in half and use half to rub the inside of the fondue pot. Mince the garlic and place it in a 2-qt. nonstick sauce pot on the stove. Add three-quarters cup of white wine to pot, heat slowly over low flame - just until it simmers, then stir in cheese mixture, one spoonful at a time, stirring as it melts. Add more wine if needed. When smooth, add Kirsch Liqueur to taste and mix well. Transfer to fondue pot. Light the fondue burner, and use fondue skewers to pierce cubed French bread and vegetables and dip in the fondue. Be sure to stir the mixture to prevent the fondue from burning.
Potato Gruyere Gratin
Lovely with grilled chicken or fish.
8 large red potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stemmed and minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, stemmed and minced
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
4 ounces Wisconsin Gruyere cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
1 and one-half cups chicken broth (or milk)
3-4 tablespoons butter
Spray a 9" x 12" cake pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spread half the
potato slices in pan. Sprinkle with half of the thyme, parsley, salt, pepper
and cheese. Dot with half the butter. Top with remaining potato slices. Pour broth over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the remaining herbs, salt, pepper and cheese. Dot with remaining butter and dust with ground paprika. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees for about one hour, or until top is browned and potatoes are tender. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
Lucy Saunders is a freelance food and beer writer in Shorewood, WI and Editor of www.beercook.com. Lucy is seeking home cooks who enjoy cooking with beer to profile on her website, www.beercook.com. Email her at email@example.com