Wisconsin’s cheese-making heritage dates back almost 200 years, and the state’s award-winning cheeses now boast world-famous status. The Culture Trip has scoured the state looking for the very best places to sample Wisconsin cheese, from restaurants and stores to cheese-making facilities and festivals.
Milwaukee’s Wisconsin Cheese Mart has been selling the state’s most famous export from its Westown locale for over 75 years. Today, it boasts more than 200 varieties of gourmet and award-winning cheeses — from artisan farmstead Uplands Cheese Company to famous Wisconsin cheese curds — alongside gift baskets and other local eats, available to buy from its retail or online store. On the anniversary of its 70th year in business, Wisconsin Cheese Mart opened the adjoining Uber Tap Room and Cheese Bar where guests can pair wine and locally brewed beers with cheese plates, grilled cheese sandwiches and homemade mac ‘n’ cheese.
Wisconsin artisanal cheese at The Immigrant Restaurant | Courtesy of Kohler Co
Marieke Gouda is the award-winning product of Holland’s Family Cheese. Visitors can try and buy some of the company’s acclaimed, handcrafted cheeses – including its award-winning Mature Gouda — at its on-site store and at a number of delis, stores and restaurants across the US. They can also take a guided tour of the Penterman’s complex, including its farm and facilities, to learn more about their successful cheese-making operation.
Located within the historic American Club hotel, The Immigrant Restaurant is an elegant, award-winning restaurant boasting a Wine Spectator-recognized wine list and six beautiful dining rooms, each paying homage to early Wisconsin settlers. Contemporary American cuisine with distinct European twists makes up The Immigrant Restaurant’s menu, and cheese fans can choose from a number of artisanal Wisconsin cheeses, which are also available at The American Club’s upscale adjoining lounge, The Winery Bar. Choose from over 40 individual cheese selections or a number of cheese flights like the ‘Tangled up in Blue,’ featuring blue cheeses from Carr Valley Cheese Company and Roth Käse.
Widmer’s Cheese Cellars is known for producing some of the best stirred-cured Wisconsin Colby, aged cheddar and classic Wisconsin Aged Brick in the entire state. Visit Widmer’s small retail store to stock up on cheeses like its award-winning caraway Colby or 10-year aged cheddar, or book a tour of its ‘make room’ where visitors can see talented cheesemakers in action preparing cheese curds and pressing Widmer’s signature brick cheese.
Green County Cheese Days, the Midwest’s oldest food festival that attracts on average over 100,000 people, recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and is the place to go to experience southern Wisconsin’s rich cheese-making heritage. Held every two years in Monroe, the three-day festival features a cheese-tasting tent were attendees can meet cheesemakers and try and buy their wares alongside plenty of food stands selling local delicacies like deep-fried cheese curds and cheesecake-on-a-stick. There are also cheese-related activities like ‘old world’ cheese-making demonstrations and a cow-milking contest with the festival culminating in the Swiss Colony Cheese Days Parade, led by a herd of Brown Swiss cows.
Fromagination showcases Wisconsin’s artisanal cheese-making culture while offering visitors a place where they can fully experience the state’s best export. Hundreds of cheeses are available to sample and buy, and the store’s expert cheese mongers are on hand to suggest perfect beverage and food pairings while budding cheese aficionados can learn more at one of Fromagination’s classes or tasting sessions. A lunch menu featuring salads, soups and gourmet sandwiches showcasing Wisconsin cheeses is offered on weekdays.
Clock Shadow Creamery is Wisconsin’s first urban cheese factory, and at its Walker’s Point location, guests can buy its products — including its delicious, award-winning quark — alongside other artisan Wisconsin cheeses, and take a tour of the factory to learn more about the cheese-making process.
Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern is the state’s oldest cheese store. At Baumgartner’s store, customers can pick up local and imported cheese alongside specialty meats and accompaniments, but a visit wouldn’t be complete without popping next door to its adjoining tavern and trying its legendary Limburger cheese sandwich.
Restaurant, American, Pub Grub, Beer, Wine, Vegetarian, Fast Food, $$$
The Old Fashioned, Madison | Courtesy of Old Fashioned
The Old Fashioned is a popular downtown Madison restaurant modeled on supper clubs and taverns with a focus on local comfort food classics crafted from Wisconsin grown produce. Wisconsin cheese abounds on the restaurant’s menu from its rotating artisanal plates — featuring cheeses paired with the likes of deviled eggs, dill pickles and salami — to dishes like its popcorn-topped beer cheese soup and beer-battered, house-made cheese curds. The local theme extends to The Old Fashioned’s drinks list with plenty of Wisconsin brewed beers from the likes of Sheboygan’s 3 Sheeps Brewing and Milwaukee’s Lakefront Brewery.
A fourth-generation family-owned factory, Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese is an award-winning cheese producer. An on-site cheese store sells a range of Henning’s own cheeses and its popular flavored cheese curds, but if you try just one variety, make sure it’s an award-winning Henning’s cheddar — available regular or blended with ingredients like chipotle or cracked black peppercorns. There’s also a cheese museum showcasing vintage cheese-making equipment, and guests can watch fresh cheese curds being made at the factory by Henning’s expert cheesemaker on weekday mornings.