By Jeniece Smith
How do you find the finest fresh cheese curds in the state that produces more than a quarter of our nation’s cheese? Ask a Wisconsinite, of course!
Clifton Fadiman, a 20th-century American writer and radio/television personality, called cheese “milk’s leap toward immortality.” And in the words of one commenter on a Facebook-generated interest page for this Rudolph institution, “If God needed to answer for all that is gloomy in this world, his answer would be Dairy State Cheese.”
If you’re not convinced, you can see – and taste – for yourself. Watch a video of the cheese-making process and peer down on the factory from an observation level. Then try some fresh cheese curds, straight from the vat and still warm.
In addition to the aisles upon aisles of cheese in Dairy State’s store, you’ll also find an ice cream shop.
Pro tips: You won’t be able to pay with credit or debit cards, and there’s no ATM, so bring your checkbook or some cash along. Because Dairy State doesn’t have a business-run social media presence, you may want to call ahead to find out when to get the freshest curds.
The Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery formed more than a century ago to produce and peddle butter, and has been selling cheese curds for nearly half that time. The village’s namesake inspired a 1984 governor’s proclamation to christen Ellsworth the “Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin.”
The co-op creates about 160,000 pounds of white cheddar curds each day and is the official supplier of the annual Ellsworth Cheese Curd Festival, which touts “peace, love and cheese curds.”
Check out live music and a parade, buy crafts and bid in a live auction, get your fill of curds and beer, and – if you’re brave enough – take part in some cheese-themed competition. Winners of the curd-eating contest divisions will walk away with a trophy and cash prize, along with a cheesy food baby.
Pro tip: If you can’t wait for a trip to Ellsworth, check out the online store locator to see if a retailer near you carries co-op products.
The only cheese factory in Door County, Renard’s has two locations – one in Sturgeon Bay and one in Algoma – perched in the southern gateway of Wisconsin’s famed peninsula.
Free wine and cheese tastings are offered seven days a week, and you can register in advance to see the factory’s old-fashioned cheesemaking methods for a small charge.
Condiments, dressings and dips, jams, sausage, crackers, pickles, berries, sweets and wines from throughout Door County are for sale alongside Renard’s top-selling cheese curds. A deli at the main branch offers sandwiches, soups and pizza and serves local beers and wines.
Pro tips: Take a snapshot with the statue of Melvin the mouse, Renard’s mascot.
Located smack dab in the middle of the state and “home to the best cheese curds around,” Mullins bills itself as the largest family-owned and operated cheese factory in Wisconsin.
In addition to offering them fresh from the vats of its two production facilities, Mullins sells deep-fried cheese curds at its store. You’ll find two methods for deep-frying curds on their website, and can also submit your own cheesy recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take-and-bake pizzas, sausage, whey protein powder and souvenirs round out the store’s offerings besides cheese. Soft-serve ice cream is available seasonally in eight different flavors.
Pro tip: Mullins doesn’t offer mail-order cheese, so your best bet for getting some is to pay them a visit. The only days the store is closed are New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Factory tours are not available.
Our Facebook fans had good things to say about these cheese spots, too:
Want to learn even more about our state’s delicacy? Check out the A-Z of Wisconsin cheese curds.