By Mel Grau
Special to TravelWisconsin.com
What’s the best way to explore Wisconsin’s cheese-making tradition? Visit a historic cheese factory for a tour and a taste! You can watch cheese curds being made and ask questions of the cheesemakers themselves. These seven, small, family-owned cheese shops have showcased Wisconsin’s distinctive dairy for a century or more. Plan to visit early in the morning for the freshest samples, and wear closed-toed shoes for the factory tours.
For the ultimate cheese-making tour experience, visit Union Star near Appleton. You’ll get to walk through the tiny factory to learn how milk from local dairies becomes squeaky cheese curds. Union Star was founded in 1911, and it remains family owned and operated. Locals return for the fresh curds, cheddar and flavored Muenster cheese.
Though Weyauwega Star Dairy may not be a hole-in-the-wall, the fourth-generation, family-owned cheese factory is indeed off the beaten path. Be sure to try their feta and parmesan when you visit. Plus, their famous string cheese was once featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest string of cheese! At the store, you’ll find local goods beyond cheese, like beer, ice cream and milk in glass bottles.
The oldest cheese factory on our list, Brunkow Cheese excels with flavored, baked and spreadable cheese. After a tour, you’ll want to take home their Brun-uusto Baked Cheese with garlic or jalapeno. Brunkow Cheese is located about an hour southwest of Madison in the scenic Driftless Region.
Tradition is essential at Widmer’s Cheese Cellars. This family-owned cheese factory from the 1920s still makes brick cheese with actual bricks from decades ago. You can watch the whole process from the observation window and sample their award-winning Washed Rind Brick Cheese.
Now part of Noble View Creamery, the blink-and-you-miss-it Beechwood Cheese factory near Sheboygan features both traditional recipes and novelty cheeses. You can peek in at the process from the observation window and try free samples. Fan favorites include Chicken Soup Cheese, Mango Peno and Screamin' Mimi Habanero Jack.
For a small-scale, 100-year-old cheese factory, Cedar Grove exemplifies sustainability. Your tour at Cedar Grove will not only focus on the organic, hormone-free cheese-making process, but also on Cedar Grove’s commitment to environmentally-friendly practices. Call ahead for a tour and look forward to trying their award-winning artisan cheese varieties like the Sheep Milk Feta and Donatello.
Ellsworth is all about the cheese curd – it’s considered the “Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin” and it hosts the annual Cheese Curd Festival. Of course, the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery champions the fresh, squeaky cheese, too. Their classic white cheddar cheese curd is renowned, but you’ll find other curd flavors like taco, garlic and ranch at the creamery. You can also pick up their cheese curd brat from the store.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to fresh cheese in Wisconsin. Keep exploring here.