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Culinary Road Tripping: Wisconsin

By Lisa White in Food on Dec 9, 2014 5:00PM

Any road trip worth its weight in gold must yield a bevy of local snacks and culinary sightseeing. As city dwellers, we like to escape the hustle and bustle and any excuse to head north to Wisconsin means we’ll be returning home with a car full of cheese, meat and at least a little New Glarus in tow. Sure, Wisconsin isn’t our only day trip option from Chicago, especially when it comes to food and drink traditions, but it is one of the most accessible and has a strong local food culture. So we took a break earlier this fall, headed across the border to take in some fall foliage, a few deep breaths of fresh air and to visit the promise land of cheese.

Now most tourists and first time visitors like to visit Mars Cheese Castle and although we love their kitsch factor, the cheeses there can be a bit overpriced. So we stopped just south of there in Kenosha at one of our favorite grocery stores of all time, Woodman’s. Woodman’s is employee owned (most of their locations are in Wisconsin) but they have a few stores in Illinois and the shop in Kenosha is one of the largest grocery stores we've set foot in that wasn’t a wholesale retailer. Besides having a great produce selection, a huge variety of fresh meats and the longest cheese aisle we've ever seen, their store also carries a wide range of Wisconsin-made products. A few super friendly sales clerks suggested some of their local favorites, while we also grabbed some Wisconsin classics and bizarre treats that grabbed our eye, and after ringing up a pretty absurdly low grocery bill (especially when buying nothing but local products) we trekked home ready to taste our new treats.

So what did we learn? Not all cheese is delicious (we know, heartbreaking), Bucky Badger has a stronghold on numerous culinary avenues in Wisconsin, sweet things can be too sweet and that classics are usually your best bet. Check out our photo gallery above for our full report on some of the Wisconsin products we sampled, then head up north and create your own culinary day trip. You can find the items above at Woodman’s in Kenosha. Although we enjoyed much of our haul, we’ve listed our top three winners below.

  1. 1. New Glarus Serendipity fruited sour ale. By all means, grab a case of Spotted Cow when you are north of the border, but don’t sleep on the exceptional fruit ales produced by New Glarus. We loved both options we grabbed, but the combination of cherry, apple and cranberry in Serendipity created a rich and fizzy ale that was just sweet enough while still being tart and refreshing.
  2. 2. Lake Geneva Country Meats bacon, cheddar and jalapeno bratwurst. While our Wisconsin brat buns were a miss, the encased meat we grabbed was a real winner. Lake Geneva has a wide variety of options in their Leahy’s sausage line, but the combination of hot jalapeno, smooth Wisconsin cheddar and a perfect blend of pork, beef and a little bacon made for a rich and hearty bratwurst with a snappy casing. We’d happily grill these up any day.
  3. 3. Bucky Badger Caramel Pops.Bucky Badger and his culinary empire had us rolling our eyes a few times, but we can’t knock the Badger when it comes to these addictive caramel pops. Like caramel corns without the troublesome kernels stuck in your teeth, these airy snacks are coated in a slightly sticky and crunchy sweet caramel with a hint of salt. We quickly devoured these and can’t wait to grab more.