Edible Travel Green Wisconsin – Wine, Cheese and Beer

By Carla Minksy

Fruit of the Vine

A nip of wine in the evening – sounds good doesn’t it? Clover Meadow Winery in Shell Lake is one of just 13 certified organic wineries in the U.S. Winemaking is a century-old tradition for the family who runs it, the Gannons, and they continue to use the ancient methods developed in 3rd century abbeys and monasteries. Interestingly, it all started with a field of sweet-smelling clover, planted for its vital nutrients. Clover Meadow is also “off the grid,” producing 100 percent of its own energy needs. Go for a wine tasting, of course, but also make time for a tour that will give you a look at their working green operations. When asked what their most popular wine is, daughter and COO Alexia Gannon said it’s a four-way tie, with a sweet rhubarb wine, nouveau-style Bluebell grape wine, blackberry port wine, and cranberry raspberry blend neck-and-neck in sales. “My parents bought this land and decided to move here from Chicago, then planted orchards, which evolved to wanting to run a winery,” explained Alexia. Her two brothers also help with the business. Check out their calendar of free live music performances too. They’re staged outside in the warm weather months, as are the wine tastings. “It’s a beautiful, bucolic setting,” said Alexia.

Iron River is where you’ll find White Winter Winery, maker of hand-crafted meads or honey wines, using locally produced pure Wisconsin honey and fruit. Did you know: Mead is the oldest fermented beverage in the world? The owners here try to source everything they can within a 150-mile radius. And the corks used in the bottles are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Organic Cheese and a “Living Machine”

The cheese makers at Cedar Grove Cheese craft four million pounds of traditional and specialty cheese each year, all of it made without artificial hormones or genetically modified ingredients. They buy milk from some 30 Wisconsin farmers, all of whom have pledged not to treat their cows with synthetic growth hormones. And they have lots of organic cheeses, too, including the only squeaky organic cheese curds available. As for their green practices, there’s one that’s gotten a lot of attention – it’s an invention of their own called the “Living Machine” greenhouse, an eco-system of natural microbes and hydroponic plants that naturally cleans the water used in making cheese, one of the biggest waste products at a cheese factory, before it goes back into the earth. Cedar Grove Cheese offer tours of the factory and the Living Machine, so why not take advantage of both.

Quaff a Beer

Hey, it’s Wisconsin, where craft beers reign supreme, so it’s more than O.K. to quench your thirst responsibly with a brew. The Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee was started by brothers Russ and Jim Klisch. The Klisch family has roots in the beer industry – their grandfather worked for Schlitz. Lakefront Brewery’s claim to fame, aside from making tasty microbrews, is that they have the longest running organic beer in the country which they started brewing in 1996 – it’s their Lakefront Organic ESB for Extra Special Bitter. Show up on for an environmental tour led by Russ. “I spend the first five minutes acting like Al Gore so they hear the environmental message, and then they get the regular tour, so they get some beer,” Russ offered lightheartedly. On a more serious note he added, “There is a social conscience when people buy products and breweries are a very important part of this. Our beer drinkers listen to their beer company, which means we can influence people.” Along with their Lakefront Organic ESB, you might want to try their Local Acre Lager, the first beer since Prohibition to be made entirely with ingredients grown and processed in Wisconsin.