Today’s NYTimes Dining Section has a book review of “The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese” by Jeffrey P. Roberts, which can act as a de facto guidebook for touring cheese enthusiasts. While the review focuses on New England, we know full well where the center of American cheese production is: Wisconsin (not California, never).
So let’s say you want to hop in the car and drive to Wisconsin to see some cheesemaking and sample the product hot off the presses. We can’t blame you - we’ve succumbed to the urge many a time. How to fulfill? Consider lovely Dodge County, Wisconsin: it’s around two and a half hours away by scenic US-41 (Lake Shore Drive all the way, baby!) and stuffed with cheese manufacturers of all shapes and sizes.
Two of these stand out to us, at least based on their descriptions on this website about factories and tours around the state. The first is Widmer’s Cheese Cellars in Theresa (920-488-2503), where the Widmer family has been making cheddar the same way for 80 years - pressing the curds with bricks, by hand. The website is quite informative, and factory tours can be arranged in advance.
The second spot is the Specialty Cheese Company in Lowell (920-927-3888). They don’t do tours, and their retail store consists of “a few cheeses in a little cooler” (actual quote!), but check it out: they’ve invented something called crunchy baked cheese, made only from cheese and featuring almost no carbohydrates. Apparently, creating this crime against nature involves a 17-step baking process, each step more sinister than the last. If that’s not shocking enough, they also have “Popped Cheese,” that somehow emulates the airy crunch of popcorn…with cheese, and cheese alone. We’re really stunned by all this…and who said Wisconsin doesn’t have a robust high-tech industry?
What if you have an aversion to going it alone, and you’d appreciate some guidance before committing to driving several hundred miles. Well, you’re in luck. This weekend, Learn Great Foods is conducting a cheese tour in south-central Wisconsin, hitting farms like the Bleu Mont Dairy, and dining at the Chalet Landhous Inn. You couldn’t get more Wisconsin if you tried. The day runs $95, and you can register at (866-240-1650).
The great news is, it won’t really matter if the cheese is good or not, because you’ve had an adventure. Maybe you’ll go to a cheese store in the middle of some small town or on some small road, and the cheese they’ll have is less fresh and interesting than what you can get in Chicago. But the people will look different, the air will smell different, and you will feel different. Then you can get some Nepalese food in Madison and come home, having accomplished something.
A Guide to America’s Cheese Trail [NYTimes]
Wisconsin’s Crown of Cheese Lies Within California’s Reach [NYTimes]
Wisconsin Cheese Factories and Tours [Wisconline]
Widmer’s Cheese Cellars [Official Site]
Specialty Cheese Company [Official Site]
Learn Great Foods [Official Site]
Bleu Mont Dairy [Official Site]
Chalet Landhous Inn [Official Site]
[Photo: Specialty Cheese Co.]