You may already know about the Mars Cheese Castle (just over the state line along I-94 in Kenosha County) and the Dane County Farmers’ Market (the U.S.’s largest producers-only market), where vendors include cheesemakers. But what about boutique-y cheese markets where locals shop? From a French-inspired boutique on Madison’s Capitol Square to a tightly curated shop in Door County’s Egg Harbor, here are six of the state’s best cheese stops. Also, don’t be shy about ducking into a gas station or quick mart along your travels; you’ll be surprised at the quality of Wisconsin cheese in these (seemingly) utilitarian establishments. But for a more upscale experience, these shops have you covered.
Baumgartner’s Cheese Store and Tavern, Monroe
As the state’s oldest cheese store, this super- cute store/tavern on the square quickly dials it back to the early 1930s—appropriate since that’s when it opened. From cheddar to Havarti, plus blue varieties, this is a quick way to sample Wisconsin’s cheese in this quaint Swiss-founded community. Don’t leave without trying the best cheese sandwich you’ll ever eat (made with Limburger, among other choices) at the tavern. baumgartnercheese.com
Walk into this cozy cheese shop across from the state Capitol building and you’ll swear you’re in Paris. Samples of Wisconsin cheeses are in abundance—along with killer sandwiches folding in cheese, naturally, but also meats and farm-fresh veggies (like Roth’s Swiss with granny-smith apples on the Pasture Harvest Sandwich). If you like to throw parties, you’ll also find tea towels, cheese knives and other accoutrements. fromagination.com
The Cheese Board, Minocqua
Tucked into one of Wisconsin’s most popular outdoor-adventure regions, and conveniently along Highway 51, The Cheese Board is stocked with classic Wisconsin cheeses—such as Swiss, Havarti, Colby and Cheddar—but also imports to further expand your palate. Need a gift for the house- or pet-sitter? The shop will gladly assemble a gift box with cheese and also snacks and candy (such as triple- dipped dark-chocolate malt balls—to pair with a Wisconsin blue, perhaps?). thecheeseboard.com
Village Cheese Shop, Wauwatosa
Light and bright, this intimate shop in Tosa’s downtown village area often hosts tutorials in cheese (such as cheeses for the season, paired with wines). You can also sit down at the bar to enjoy a DIY cheese and charcuterie plate with wine. Salads and sandwiches are more hearty fare, demonstrating the bounty of Wisconsin’s artisan culinary folks, like the Classic Grilled Cheese with Widmer’s Cheddar, Cowgirl Creamery (California) Challerhocker and Fontina on Rocket Baby sourdough. villagecheesetosa.com
Wisconsin Cheese Mart, Milwaukee
Old World Third Street—with its cobblestone streets and historic culinary shops like Usinger’s–means Wisconsin Cheese Mart (open since 1938) fits right in. An entire wall is stocked with cheesy finds, from Marieke Gouda’s gouda to Uplands Cheese Company’s coveted Rush Creek Reserve (only available in autumn). Of course, curds are in abundance, from plain old cheddar to flavored (dill, anyone?). Sip Wisconsin craft beers next door in the tap room, too. wisconsincheesemart.com
Wisconsin Cheese Masters, Egg Harbor
Owner Jim Pionkoski is on a mission to introduce cheese fans to the state’s award-winners, from Hook’s classic 15-year aged cheddar to Carr Valley’s smoked sheep’s-milk blue cheese called Smoked Ba Ba Blue, plus hot- on-the-tongue Rattlesnake (with habaneros) from Deer Creek in Sheboygan County. Drop by Harbor Ridge Winery next door for a bottle of Wisconsin wine (try Cherry Crush to What the Heck? Malbec) for a decadent picnic. wisconsincheesemasters.com
Love cooking with cheese? Kristine Hansen is also the author of the “Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes From the State’s Best Creameries” (March 2019, Globe Pequot Press) where she writes about pizza, mac ’n cheese and breakfast staples—all made with artisan cheese from Wisconsin’s best cheesemakers.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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