In a state that leads the nation in dairy farms (nearly 7,000), cheese plants (125-plus), and cheese production (home to half of the nation’s specialty cheese, with artisan cheesemakers producing more than 600 different types, styles, and varieties of cheese), it’s no surprise that Wisconsin would have several cheese trails. But the Badger State is known for a lot more than its cheese, and a cornucopia of food and beverage trails exists for a delicious way to take a bite out of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Cheese Tour
Curated by the folks at Travel Wisconsin, this trail is a cheese lover’s paradise. They have created two itineraries – a Southwestern route and an Eastern route – to get a true taste.
The Southwestern itinerary includes stops in Madison, like the Dane County Farmers Market, the largest producers-only farmers market in the country with over 250 vendors (including plenty of cheese), and Fromagination, one of the state’s premier cheese shops (offering hundreds of rotating cheeses, primarily from Wisconsin); Green County, including Swiss-owned Emmi Roth Käse and Baumgartner’s Cheese, Wisconsin’s oldest cheese store; the Carr Valley Cheese Store and Cooking School in Sauk City; and many breweries, restaurants, and inns that all have Wisconsin cheese on the menu.
The Eastern itinerary focuses on Milwaukee (don’t miss the world’s largest selection of Wisconsin cheese at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart); two-hour or two-day cheesemaking classes at The Cheesemaker in Mequon; 100-year-old Lamers Dairy in Appleton or Union Star Cheese Factory in Fremont, for cheese from the source; and other retailers, restaurants, wineries, breweries, and inns that all pay homage to the beloved fromage. Learn more about these trails here: travelwisconsin.com/article/things-to-do/an-epicurean-getaway-the-wisconsin-cheese-tour
Cheese Curd Trail
You can’t come to Wisconsin without trying the ubiquitous cheese curds. Basically, cheese curds are pieces that are separated from the whey during the cheesemaking process, and instead of being molded into a cheese wheel, they are cut and bagged to be sold as “fresh” cheese, versus the typical aged cheddar. They have a mild flavor and a rubbery texture that gives them that classic “squeak,” and they make for a tasty snack. They’re everywhere in Wisconsin, including the self-guided DIY Cheese Curd Trail put together by the folks at Madison Eats Food Tours.
With a variety of stops in and around Madison, sample cheddar, muenster, and goat cheese curds. Have them battered and fried with perfectly melted results. Or, try them bacon wrapped or fried in a gluten free pancake batter. And don’t even get us started on the many dipping sauces like classic ranch, roasted Hatch green chili crema, or truffled fish sauce. It’s truly a Wisconsin tradition. Start planning your trip here: madisoneatsfoodtours.com/best-places-for-fried-cheese-curds-in-madison-wi
Wisconsin’s Cranberry Highway
When it comes to cranberries, Wisconsin is the nation’s largest producer of the tart superfood. To celebrate the ruby red fruit, it’s easy to embark on a self-guided tour along the Cranberry Highway in
the Wisconsin Rapids region.
Stretching almost 50 miles from Wisconsin Rapids to Warrens, the decades-old cranberry beds explode with color in the fall, and the area is filled with creative ways to experience the Wisconsin specialty. Cranberry trailblazers can learn all about the cranberry industry and history at the Wisconsin Cranberry Discovery Center in Warrens, tour a cranberry marsh at Glacial Lake Cranberries or Splash of Red Cranberry Tour, and shop for all things cranberry at Rubi Reds, a family-owned and -operated retail shop in Wisconsin Rapids run by berry growers. It’s also possible to enjoy cranberries in a cocktail, in cranberry bread, or in chicken salad at the many cafes, restaurants, and supper clubs that create sumptuous dishes using the local fruit. There’s even the annual summer Cranberry Blossom Festival. Head to visitwisrapids.com/cranberryhighway to learn more.
Wisconsin Coastal Food Trail
Best known as a dairy county, the fertile soils and humid climate of Manitowoc County which produce award-winning cows and dairy products, also contribute to other robust agricultural crop production. The Wisconsin Coastal Food Trail in Manitowoc and Two Rivers shines the spotlight on this culinary bounty with authentic Wisconsin tastes of wine, cheese, beer, butter, smoked fish, ice cream, chocolate, maple syrup, and so much more.
With more than a dozen potential stops, visitors can taste their way through the county, including: scratch-made breads and bakery items at Bakery on State; old-fashioned ice cream parlor treats at Beerntsens; wines and wine tastings at Cold Country Wines & Vines; craft beers at Courthouse Pub, PetSkull Brewing or Sabbatical Brewing; smoked fish at Susie-Q Fish Company; specialty olive oils and aged vinegars at The Hearty Olive; pure maple syrup at Inthewoods Sugarbush; cheeses at Pine River Dairy; sausages at Newton Meats; fresh produce and u-pick strawberries at Wilfert Farms; and more. Make a weekend of it and visit them all! Check out wisconsincoastalfoodtrail.com to get started.
Wisconsin Food Trails
Wisconsin Food Trails is the brainchild of the marketing department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater University Center as a way get out and explore the areas surrounding UW-W, from Madison to Milwaukee. With three trails on their blog – an Ice Cream Trail (Wisconsin is the country’s leading dairy producer, after all), a Taco Trail, and, of course, a Cheese Curds Trail – they all start from UW-W and make a loop back to campus. Depending upon where you are, you can pick up and pursue any section.
The Ice Cream Trail includes some of Wisconsin’s best old school ice cream parlors, frozen custard spots, drive-ins, and more. The Taco Trail hits up a half dozen of some of the region’s muy caliente tacos, burritos, fajitas, and more. And, the Cheese Curds Trail focuses on restaurants, burger joints, cheese shops, and even a hotel that are serving up this squeaky Wisconsin specialty. Study up and get started here: blogs.uww.edu/ucinfo/2020/07/29/wisconsin-food-trails/
Great River Road Wine Trail
Following the upper Mississippi River, the Great River Road Wine Trail features a collection of 10 wineries across Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa that take advantage of the winter hardy grape varietals that have been growing in the Upper Mississippi River Valley American Viticultural Area for centuries. Five Wisconsin wineries can be found in a compact 90-mile stretch of Route 35 on the north bank of the river from Stockholm to La Crosse.
At Maiden Rock Winery & Cidery, visitors can taste their collection of hard ciders and wine produced with local apples and other fruits.
Or, explore the classical Mediterranean-style winery while you sip dry reds and whites produced predominately with grapes from their
three local vineyards at Villa Bellezza Winery. Seven Hawks Vineyards – one of the largest vineyards in the Upper Midwest – serves up their 100% estate-grown wines in a historical tasting room in downtown Fountain City. Elmar Vineyard welcomes guests on their outdoor patio to enjoy extensive wines and picnic offerings. While DNA Vintners focuses on wines made from Wisconsin cranberries. Start sipping here: greatriverroadwinetrail.org/
Door County Wine Trail
On the other side of the state, situated between Lake Michigan and Green Bay (literally the Bay, versus the city), lies the popular peninsula of Door County and the Door County Wine Trail. Known for its fruit wines – especially cherry and apple – the Door County region has developed more cold-hardy vineyards and is now producing many estate-grown grape wines, as well.
Featured wineries include von Stiehl Vineyard & Winery (Wisconsin’s oldest licensed winery dating to 1967); Red Oak Vineyard (producing French-style reds, German-style whites, and sweet fruit wines); Door 44 Winery (which lies at 44˚ North latitude, the same as the renowned grape growing and wine producing regions of Bordeaux and Tuscany); Simon Creek Vineyard & Winery (with wine making facility tours and live music); Door Peninsula Winery (Door County’s largest winery); Harbor Ridge Winery (featuring irreverently named sweet, semi-sweet, and dry barrel-aged wines); Stone’s Throw Winery (combining premium California grapes with traditional wine making techniques); and Lautenbach’s Orchard Country (specializing in fruit wines grown on the property, along with gourmet food products). Begin planning your wine tasting experience here: doorcountywinetrail.com/
Wisconsin Brewery Trail
When many people think of Wisconsin, they think of beer. With more than 200 breweries in the state, it is consistently in the top 15 of beer producing states in the nation. Naturally, there are several beer trails throughout the state. But if you want to get off the beaten path and go to some breweries that you may or may not have heard of in a concentrated area, head to the central part of the state for the Wisconsin Brewery Trail.
Within about 185 miles, you can sample pints, growlers, bottles, flights, and more at nine different breweries including Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona; Ale Asylum, and Karben 4 in Madison; Knuth Brewing Company in Ripon, Fox River Brewing and Bare Bones Brewery in Oshkosh; Appleton Beer Factory in Appleton; Central Waters Brewing in Amherst; and O’so Brewing in Plover. Featuring craft beers and microbrews, unique taprooms, and outdoor spaces and recreation, the Wisconsin Brewery Trail is a “brew-tiful” way to taste Wisconsin. Cheers: onlyinyourstate.com/wisconsin/wi-brewery-trail/
Central Wisconsin Craft Collective
For a real thirst quencher, head to the center of the state and the Stevens Point area for a sip of the Central Wisconsin Craft Collective. Nine craft beer, wine, and spirit makers have partnered in this craft Mecca to help promote their artisan beverages, as well as travel to the region.
Members of the collective include: Stevens Point Brewery, one of the oldest continuously operating breweries in the nation; Central Waters Brewing Co., utilizing solar heat and water conservation methods to craft their environmentally sustainable brews; O’so Brewing Company, Wisconsin’s premier sour brewery; handcrafted vodka, gin, whiskey and more from Great Northern Distilling; the dry reds, crisp whites, and sweet fruit wines of Sunset Point Winery; District 1 Brewing, featuring small-batch microbrews, shandies, to-go cans, and even gluten-free options; lots of tasty brews and outdoor concerts and activities at Backcountry Brewing Co.; Kozy Yak Brewery & Winery, serving up nano brews and wines; and the only female-owned craft beverage maker on the trail, McZ’s Brew Pub. Learn more about the Craft Collective experience here: cwcraftcollective.com.⎯
While experiencing the sights, sounds, and most importantly, flavors of Wisconsin, be sure to check out all nine Wisconsin locations on RVontheGo.com!