Wisconsin is serious about its cheese—and not just the kind that Green Bay Packers fans wear on their heads on game day. Wisconsin makes some of the best artisanal cheese in the state; if you need proof, just look at the trophy cases at our award-winning dairies and creameries.
Wisconsin is home to more than 50 artisan cheesemakers, including hundreds of varieties made by hand in small batches. Bring your appetite: Follow this itinerary to find some of the best cheese (and cheese-adjacent stops) in the southwestern part of the state.
Day 1: Madison
Taste & Shop: Fromagination
Travelers can launch their culinary adventure at Fromagination, one of the state’s premier cheese shops. Though Fromagination offers international artisanal cheeses, as a certified member of the Slow Food Organization their primary focus is Wisconsin dairy products. Additionally, Fromagination offers cheese cooking classes, fondue events, gourmet lunch options, catering and in-house culinary events.
Lunch: The Old Fashioned Restaurant
After shopping, visitors can sample Wisconsin’s culinary heritage with lunch at the Old Fashioned. Inspired by the traditions of Wisconsin taverns and supper clubs, The Old Fashioned pays tribute to the foods and spirits that make the state famous, from Door County cherries and artisan cheese to beer and bratwurst.
Taste & Shop: Dane County Farmers Market
As the largest producers-only farmers’ market in the country, the Dane County Farmers’ Market showcases Wisconsin’s culinary spirit in this is a downtown gathering of 300 vendors selling produce, flowers, baked goods, artisan cheeses, honey, meats and more every Saturday.
Dine: L’Étoile Restaurant
Tory and Traci Miller’s L’Étoile, bringing exceptional French-based cuisine with a Midwest flavor to Madison. Through multiple partnerships with a large network of small-scale farms, the focus of the menu is local and regional ingredients.
Stay: The Speckled Hen
Travelers looking for gracious hospitality and earth-friendly lodging will find it easily at The Speckled Hen in Madison. Travel Green Wisconsin-certified and located just miles from the capital and campus area, the inn offers guests a luxurious and sustainable lodging option on 50 acres of property that is home to sheep, llamas, wetlands, trails and orchards.
Day 2: Green County
Day two could well be called “cheese lovers in paradise.” Forty-five minutes southwest of Madison, Green County offers a tasty history lesson filled with curds, wedges and wheels.
Many Green County cheese makers have strong ties to Switzerland, but few are as close as Roth Käse’s, which was founded more than a century ago in Switzerland, reestablished in Wisconsin and is now under Swiss ownership once again. Roth Käse typically launches three to five new cheese products each year. 2009 products include Moody Blue (a handcrafted blue cheese delicately smoked over native fruit wood) and Montanella (a washed-rind Alpine-style cheese with a robust and earthy flavor). Self-guided tours are available with a viewing hall allowing you to observe the cheesemaking process. Best times to catch some action in the viewing hall are weekdays from 9am-1pm.
Lunch: Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern, Monroe
Featuring some of Wisconsin’s finest cheese, imported cheese, specialty foods, and much more, Baumgartner’s, opened in 1931, is Wisconsin’s oldest cheese store. What do the locals order? Limburger with mustard and cheese on rye. With a mint served on the side.
Visit the uber-Swiss community of New Glarus and experience some of the state’s famous brewing heritage, not to mention some of its popular native beers. Open every day of the week offering a free self-guided tour. The tour ends in the gift shop where, for a nominal fee, tourists can sample beers like Spotted Cow, Uff-da and Fat Squirrel.
Stay: Chalet Landhaus Inn & Restaurant, New Glarus
You’ll feel a yodel coming on after spending the night at the Chalet Landhaus Inn & Restaurant. The restaurant offers the best of Swiss and American fare in a well-appointed chalet-like dining room. Swiss Cookout on the patio in the summer.
Day 3: Prairie du Sac, Sauk City, Plain, Spring Green
Day Three begins with a trip to one of the most heralded artisan cheesemakers in the nation. The staff recommends visitors come early to the La Valle factory for the best show. In nearby Sauk City, The Carr Valley Cheese Store and Cooking School have also become an important stop for discriminating gourmets. Begun in 2008, the cooking school/test kitchen features chefs from across the nation.
There’s no better compliment to cheese than wine, so the Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac is another “must-see” on this artisan cheese tour itinerary. Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, the “Father of California winemaking,” first selected it for vineyards in the 1840s. Today, Wollersheim is led by winemaker Philippe Coquard, who originally hails from the Beaujolais region of France where he grew up working in the wine industry. After a tour of the facility, Wollersheim offers a complimentary wine sampling along with an explanation of official wine tasting guidelines.
The next stop is Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain. One of Wisconsin’s most environmentally conscious producers of organic and local cheese, Cedar Grove provides additive-free cheese from ecologically sustainable sources, including white cheddar, farmer’s cheese, pepper jack and Colby. The company’s unique “Living Machine” performs biological treatment to wash water left after whey separation. Call ahead for tour dates and times.
Stay: Spring Green
A version of this article originally appeared on TravelWisconsin.com.