Unique food and drink traditions, fabulous events, and Wisconsin’s most celebrated and prolific food products are at the heart of these five great food tours.
Door County Cherries & Fish Boil
Door County’s 300 miles of shoreline isn’t just pretty to look at and fun to play in, it’s also the force behind two Door County food trademarks: fish boils and cherries.
A fish boil is a dining experience only found in Door County, featuring whitefish freshly caught by local fishermen on Lake Michigan. Chunks of fish, potatoes, onions and salt are cooked outside in a large, boiling cauldron. Fish oils rise to the surface and when the Master Boiler tosses a little kerosene on the flames, it causes the famous “boilover,” spilling the fish oils over the side of the pot and leaving the fish steaming hot and perfectly cooked.
Door County cherry pie is always the prominent dessert. The moderating effects of Lake Michigan create ideal conditions for cherry growing, which has a history dating back to the 1800s and covers 2,000 acres in the area. Both sweet and tart cherries can be found in local farm markets and "pick-your-own" orchards in late summer and of course, make their appearance in pies, candies, jam, and other delicious treats.
The White Gull Inn dining room does a traditional fishboil dinner; fish and potatoes served with lemon, melted butter, garden fresh coleslaw, homemade breads and homemade Door County cherry pie for dessert.
Central Wisconsin’s Cranberry Highway
This fall tour captures not just the state’s forests turning from their summer green to their autumnal palette, but the crimson color of cranberries rising to the surface of flooded bogs. During the late September to early October harvest season, visitors can tour the cranberry-growing areas of Wisconsin Rapids and Warrens, by car, tour bus or bicycle, and see how this tart indigenous fruit is grown, collected and prepared. A 50-mile auto-route or a 24-mile bike tour mapped through the countryside around Wisconsin Rapids offers close-up views of the cranberries as they are harvested. Splash of Red Cranberry Tours offer guided tours daily Monday-Friday through several different area marshes. For additional inforamtion, visit the Wisconsin Rapids Area Convention & Visitors Bureau website.
In Warrens, tour the local bogs and stop at the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center and Ice Cream Parlor where you can indulge in cranberry pies, a cranberry scone or a cranberry chocolate chip cookie baked fresh in the Center's Taste-Test Kitchen. Also sample one of five flavors of cranberry ice cream, including “Cranberry Delight” (made with cranberry-orange relish) or their newest flavor, "Rockin' Choco Berry" (chocolate ice cream with chocolate-covered sweetened dried cranberries and cranberry revel).
Green County Beer & Cheese
Where else can you sample beers named Spotted Cow, Uff-da Bock, Fat Squirrel or Yokel, other than at the New Glarus Brewery, where tours and beer sampling are on tap for visitors? For cheese, head down the road to Monroe and make a stop at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern. The brave should order up the Limburger cheese sandwich the way the locals do, with mustard and onion on rye bread and a mint on the side. Or go safe with chili and a cheese sandwich, perhaps with a good local Swiss Emmenthaler. For dinner, the Chalet Landhaus Inn offers authentic fondue and Swiss cuisine from Swiss-trained Executive Chef Mike Neval.
Located in Milwaukee’s historic Third Ward district, Usinger’s Famous Sausage has been making authentic German sausage for over a century. Today, the fourth generation of Usingers produce over 70 varieties of old world sausage, including bratwurst and German-style wursts. Take a factory tour and purchase a few links to go.
If you can’t wait to get home to knosh, then stroll next door to Mader’s German Restaurant, one of Milwaukee’s most famous ethnic restaurants. Try Mader’s Bavarian Platter, a sampler of Usinger’s grilled bratwurst and simmered knockwurst in sauerkraut served with a slice of kassler rippchen (pork rib roast) and a potato dumpling.
For some fitting entertainment just up the interstate from Mader's and Usinger's, take in a Milwaukee Brewers game at Miller Park and witness the long-time tradition of the “Sausage Race.” These frankfurter mascots (bratwurst, polish, Italian, chorizo, and hot dog), representing Milwaukee’s real life ethnic melting pot, put on a race following the sixth inning.
Kohler Food & Wine Experience
Headlining celebrity chefs Tom Colicchio (from Bravo TV’s Top Chef) and Hubert Keller (French-born chef of Fleur de Lys in San Francisco) make Kohler’s annual Food & Wine Experience a popular event with culinary enthusiasts. About 5,000 “foodies” take part in a weekend filled with wine tastings, wine and spirits seminars, culinary demonstrations, gourmet food producers, specialty shopping, and cookbook signings. The event is all wrapped up in the fabulous setting that is Destination Kohler, which includes luxury accommodations at the American Club, relaxation at its finest at Kohler Waters Spa and window shopping at The Shops at Woodlake. A visit to the Kohler Design Center to dream up your fantasy kitchen (or bathroom, of course) is always a fun way to pass the time.
Still hungry? Find more local food and drink experiences around Wisconsin or share your favorites in the comments below.