Halfway between the North Pole and the Equator and midway between the Green Bay Packers home and the Mall of America lies the small Midwestern town of Cadott Wisconsin. In it, and the farmlands that surround it you can experience a nearly complete microcosm of Midwestern life – barns, farms, cows, corn, beer, deer, cheese and silos – woven throughout gentle forests plotted on a grid-work of angular county roads and populated by Packers fans.
As in any foreign land, a local guide can make all the difference. For example, just getting to some desired attraction requires the ability to decipher the local navigation codes. Many roads here are given letters in place of names. The roads are laid out in a precise pattern running in line with the four points of the compass. So if you ask a local to write down directions for you it might look like this: “Go 3 miles W on X and head S on J for 2 miles and then E on W for 2 miles – cheese shop will be on your left.” “Huh, any landmarks that might help me…?” Sure: “just look for the red barn with cows and a silo…” Oh, there is one landmark the locals reference for navigation. It is something called the Frog Hop. But it has new owners that have given it a name like “a cowboy and lace” or something and everyone just refers to it as “what used to be the Frog Hop” but this is not very useful to a visitor since it has the new cowboy lace sign out front. Fortunately Amber has some good local connections and they have been doing most of the driving.
And speaking of cheese shops. Amber and I visited a genuine local cheese shop: Yellowstone Cheese Inc. Outside it had everything you would expect, snow, barns across the field for the necessary cows, a bright red paint job, and an american flag waving on the flagpole. Giant yellow letters on the side of the building simply say: CHEESE (as if to say it is the establishment’s sole purpose for existence).
Inside they must have had forty different cheeses to sample! And with each tasting you can get a detailed explanation of what is in that particular cheese from the experts behind the counter. Is it sharp, is it mild, is it smoked, does it have dill or garlic or dried tomatoes or even pickles in it? They also do tasters of fresh or day old Colby cheese which was first created a mere 50 miles east of Cadott. Once you have decided which ones you want to take a piece of home they ask how much do you want. Of course I have no idea so they demonstrate that a knife width is about half a pound. Perfect! Yeah, I knew that. And in addition to whatever cheese you select you just have to get a bag of squeaky cheese curds too. We were there on a Sunday and scored some that were destined to be pressed into a block on Monday. I understand you can’t get much fresher than that. Why are they called “squeaky cheese curds?” Well when they are truly fresh, each time you bite one it makes a happy little squeak. I get eating through them so fast it sounds like a tiny mouse is in my mouth practicing for an audition to do voice overs in the remake of Disney’s Cinderella.
Another thing it is good to get local input on is the brewery situation. Of course anyone with gps or a Wisconsin tourism guide can find the Lienie’s Lodge in Chippewa Falls (and that is pronounced chip-wa but spoken as a single syllable. I don’t have it down yet, or so I have been told). The lodge is quite spectacular with its vaulted woodwork ceiling, copper fittings, huge stone fireplace, mounted deer and bear, and of course a shining horseshoe shaped tasting bar. This is where visitors hang out waiting for their brewery tour to start.
The tour is very complete and professional and leaves you feeling good about the marriage of small town work ethics, focused craftsmanship, thoughtful industry, good business, and of course beer! Our local guides, however knew of a grand opening taking place over in Eau Claire at the Lazy Monk Brewing. (and “Eau” is simply pronounced “O” – I don’t actually get it but I have learned to fake this one).
The Lazy Monk is all about being it’s own experience. They have their own line of craft brews of course and the place is all decked out in a German theme. The owners are right there and besides making great, authentic beer, they seem to be all about the relationship with their customers and community. I think they will do great!
To complete the tour our local guides took us one more place. The trip was a little disconcerting at first as we left the main street of town with it’s restaurants and shops and headed down a more industrial looking back street. Our guide pulled into a frozen parking area next to a nondescript building with nothing but a roll up delivery door and a grey metal access door. It looked like the kind of place you might go to pick up a print job of 10,00 bank calendars but not find craft beer. The only sign was a little one on the door itself. It simply said: “The Eau Claire Brewing Projekt”. (and that is pronounced projekt). This place is all about the uniqueness and absolute quality of their beer! There is no fancy woodwork, fireplace, or even a theme. There are places to sit. You can bring in your own food. There is beer to sample. Oh and what beer?! Gunpowder IPA, Farmhouse Ale, JackEau Nitro, just to name a few. With flavors ranging from green tea and citrus to raspberry and chipotle pepper. These are by far the best beers in town. There is an extensive quote on the wall from Theodore Roosevelt in which he talks about the value of doing things with enthusiasm and great devotion. Clearly the people at the Projekt have taken this concept to heart.
Stay tuned for fun activities to do in wintry Wisconsin…