Have you ever tasted Limburger cheese? So you think you're eating a pair of regular socks. Then you realize you're eating your brother's socks.
How did I come to enjoy this delight? As it turns out, flights around the holidays to Costa Rican crunchy granola yoga ranches are unusually pricey when you attempt to book them a few weeks in advance. Vacation #1 scrapped. Vacation #2 born - depart home-base (Chicago) with my partner in crime and spend a few days enveloping ourselves in the beer and cheese of Wisconsin.
Day 1. Monroe, WI
In Monroe, I fell in love with an unattractive older swiss man, seduced by his cheese tour of the Roth Kase plant. Did I know that parmesan sat in the salt brine for 2 weeks? No, sir. I didn't even know what a salt brine was before this tour. I'd been consuming passionately but ignorantly for 30 years. The tour group discussed and debated what gave cheese it's flavor -- the cultures! the aging! the milk! the land! whilst I peppered them with questions and succumbed to the brain tingles.
The next morning we received a phone call from none other than the Renegade Cheesemaker of Wisconsin. Really. Google it. Friends call him Willie. He had received our voicemail on his home phone. "Whaaaaaat? We didn't know it was your home phone..." (Despite the voice that was clearly your young daughter's on the answering machine.)
We casually inquired could we meet him / upload multiple photos with him / tour his cheese cave / have him sign our cheese? He replied, "Well I'm not making cheese at the moment, since cows aren't in pasture." Ehem, since it's December. Hairflip--recovery. Of course we knew that as junior renegade cheesemakers. He graciously extended the offer for us to come back this summer to visit his cheese cave* and proceeded to spend nine minutes of verified call time offering up suggestions for the rest of our trip. "You must come back in the summer. To the farmer's market. Come when the farmers are setting it up. Come on a beautiful day." Willie.
*He doesn't call it a cave.
Day 2. New Glarus, WI
Before visiting a brewery you should eat, and before visiting the New Glarus Brewery you should eat at Glarner Stube. The whole place fills up at lunchtime, so you're best to get in when it opens at 11:00 a.m. Grab a seat in front of Rosie. She knows how to pour you a cold New Glarus beer--her husband works up the street at the brewery.
She won't know everything on the cheese plate, but she'll call out Gary from the back to walk you through it. The people here are kind. They share useful knowledge freely, like that the New Glarus Hotel you think you're staying at across the street is actually just a restaurant.
The brewery itself is clean and full of windows and they encourage you to talk to the workers. I got a little distracted by the attractive men in "quality assurance" but they maintained focus. New Glarus beer is in that sweet spot where they produce enough to distribute quite popularly across Wisconsin but don't sell outside state lines. "Drink Indigenous" is their motto and because it's just out of arm's reach, people in Chicago crave it. We loaded up the Honda Fit.
Day 3. Madison, WI
There is a cheese shop in Madison called Fromagination that makes me want to quit my job and become a cheesemongerer. Or at least update my online dating profile to reflect that I am now seeking Wisconsin bearded cheesemongerers. Or maybe I just should have left my number for the guy in flannel who worked there. Anyway--the cheese.
Many of us have been to great cheese shops. The knowledgeable staff seduce you with heavenly slivers of crumbly aged etc, etc, and a lighter wallet and heavy bag of cheese later you're on your merry way.
Friends--this shop was special. The love of the cheese was present--in the people, the decor, in the backbone of the place. Give it a try. You will see what I mean. But the man in flannel is mine.
Jessica Dixon manages a physician practice in Chicago. In her spare time she pursues aged goudas and adventures.