Green County Cheese Days
September 19-21, 2008
It seems like Wisconsin has some of the most random and wonderful festivals. The latest one we perused was Monroe, Wisconsin’s bi-annual Green County Cheese Days. M and I love attending food themed festivals but more often than not, the festival in question turns out to be a more general carnival/fair, paying no more than passing lip service to the food in question (We’re talking about you Harvard Milk Days). Cheese days did not disappoint, though. When we arrived in Monroe, Wisconsin we were heartened to see jolly old folks in Swiss garb and signs advertising the copious amounts of cheese-related activities.
There was a cheese tent, clearly the highlight of the day. The perimeter of the tent was loaded with vendors and the inner ring was an absolute chaos of cheese-hungry visitors. Though there was no real order to the sampling, there was a crush of people who insisted in standing in a single-file line, requiring M and I to swoop in for samples. We tried limburger, a slew of emmenthals, flavored cheese curds, goudas, muensters and many more. All varieties we available for purchase and some of the more industrious visitors even brought along portable coolers to house their purchases. Next to the cheese tent was a cheesemaking demonstration where a master cheesemaker was making a giant wheel of Emmenthaler. It was actually pretty impressive to see the 200-pound wheel of cheese forming in the copper kettle. The whole process took around 4 hours. Above is a picture of the cheese-in-process being hoisted from the copper kettle to the cheese mold.
As with any good themed festival, there were plenty of cheesy (ha ha!) activities. For example – we attended the first round of a cow milking contest, which was about what you’d expect. Turner Hall (above) had a craft fair with traditional Swiss wares, as well as history exhibits featuring the town. There was also a Swiss culture tent from the Swiss consulate which ironically featured Ricola cough drops and free bumper stickers incorporating the Swiss flag’s iconic cross. I got an all-red bumper sticker with “Neu+ral” written on it in white. I thought it was pretty clever. To cap off the experience, at the main stage there were polka lessons. M and I learned quickly that polka-ing is not difficult and with his Alpine roots M naturally excelled at the dance.
For lunch there was a variety of choices, most being heavy Swiss fare or cheese-related dishes. We opted for Apple Jack cheese sandwiches, being grilled up fresh by cheery volunteers on electric griddles. As the helpful cheese griller informed us – no apples were indeed involved – the cheese was named after Apple River, IL, where it was created. We had our grilled cheese on pumpernickel with a secret sauce that tasted something like thick french onion soup. Three dollars well spent. We probably had a pound of cheese each that day – so it goes without saying we will be back in 2 years!