Saturday, September 26, 2009

Can I Be a Cheese Head Please?: Cheese Curds & Wisconsin

Believe it or not, one of these lovely ladies is named Brenda!
I got this image

Because once upon a time a young lad from Detroit, Michigan proposed to a young lady from De Pere, Wisconsin , I was given the unexpected and exciting opportunity this weekend to head back to my fourth home (the 1st being Mexico, 2nd Texas, 3rd Italy): the American Midwest.

That's right, my friend Krista got married this weekend in one of the lovelier places I've visited of late: Door
County, Wisconsin. And can I just say, in the name of love and nuptial bliss, that her wedding was not only a touching tribute to the definite existence of soulmates, but also a damned good time: There was much lifelong promising, dancing and merrymaking, there was funk and awesomely fashionable feathery-hair-pieces, there was Moonlight Bay, and wooded cabins, and in truly Wisconsin style, there was cheese.

Before this, I would have drawn a cheese-filled blank had you asked me anything about Wisconsin. But having now returned from my weekend of all-things-cheese-head, I can officially and proudly present today's list.

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Top 5 Reasons I Loved Wisconsin
or, 4 excuses to talk about number 1

squeak: like a mouse, like a cheese-curd.

5. Super-Posh-Outdoorsiness.
It could just be Door County, or it could just be that Krista has really good taste, but the reception location and the place we stayed was one of the most tastefully done "outdoorsy" places I've ever been. And I'm not talkin' (pardon the pun) cheesey log-cabin, lumberjack-flannel-outdoorsy.

manicured wilderness: the new camping.

The Gordon Lodge was like something out of the 50's, in a really good way, with the squeaky (there's that word again) clean look, attention to detail, and incorporation of the beautiful natural surroundings into the lodge itself.

It has free kayaks, row boats, a heated pool, and access to the lake via a really pretty dock; plus, every room or cabin has a little porch facing onto Lake Michigan. It's the kind of place campingly-divided couples can truly enjoy because it's clean and refined enough for the urbanite, and yet woodsy and outdoorsy enough for the nature-lover.
Bravo Gordon Lodge. Bravo. *slow intense clap with eyebrow raised*

4. Trees. Lots and lots of trees.
Arriving from London, or, really, England, with its manicured countryside and lack of forests (despite Robin Hood's claims), I was really mentally unprepared for all the trees there are in Wisconsin. That sounds, odd, yes, but what's really odd is the effect that nothing but open, grass-covered rolling hills can have on your natural memory.

But hey, Roman loves trees. He stares at them and gapes at them and smiles at them. And it's not just because he likes them that I like them. There's something calming and beautiful about a real forest. And in Wisconsin you get the real thing - trees as far as you can see. The underbrush is short, so they're just calling out to be walked-among, hidden behind, camped-about.

For once in my Girl Scouting life, I did not scoff at the saying "hug a tree."
And this from a serial scoffer.

3. Lake Michigan
I have an issue with lakes. It grosses me out that when you first walk into the water you feel like you just stepped into a pile of mushed up bananas. It freaks me out that once you're finally in, you can't see what the heck you are stepping in or on or swimming around. The plants tickle your legs in an eery manner that makes me feel like a giant fresh-water eel is about to bite me and then gnaw on my leg until I fall over, falling face first in the muddy brown broth. Sooo, I generally avoid them.

But this weekend in Wisconsin was different, because the moment I took a look at Lake Michigan I wanted to jump in.

Give me Lake Michigan or give me...a pool. :)

This is no Chicago-side lake. The water is blue. And clear. Let me just repeat that: the water was clear. Only twice in my life have I seen clear water like that - once in another life in Priest Lake, Idaho, and this weekend in dubya-eye. Like in Idaho, the water was freezing, but that would not have stopped me from swimming in that lake. I only wish I'd had a spare moment and no infant along, as I would have shamelessly basked like a lovely little swan in Lake Michigan.

2. Cheese-head hats.
So, I think these hats are decidedly underrated for one reason and one reason alone: everyone looks great in them -- if by great you understand that I mean ridiculously hilarious. And of all the people who look great in cheese-head hats I would have to say both Brenda the cheese-curder (from the title picture above) and Father Aaron (aka my old college friend who is now a priest and said the homily at Krista's wedding) rank pretty darn high. Aaron was given a slightly unorthodox version of the cheese-head hat: a yellow-foam sombrero that, I exaggerate not, would have worked splendidly for serving chips and "queso." :)

For your "infoamation," there are many other varieties of cheesehead hats in case a sombrero is not your slice of cheddar. Should've gotten one for Roman.

1. Cheese Curds
After 3 days talking everyone's ear off about wanting to try cheese curds, I finally got my wish. But I had to work for it. My friend Leah offered to give me a ride from Door County to Chicago, and on our way home we vowed to stop at the highly acclaimed Renards.

Sadly, Renards does not open on Sundays - in fact, Sunday is the ONLY day it doesn't open! So we were left SOL. We next stopped at a gas station where I ended up in a conversation with two of the workers and a random guy getting gas regarding where else I could get good cheese curds. Renards was thrown out there, and so was some place in Kewanee, but the last place they mentioned sounded too good to pass up: Mars' Cheese Castle.

Never too early to introduce them to good cheese-curds,

On the border of Illinois and Wisconsin lies a Wisconsin-made-food-product-lover's heaven: Mars' Cheese Castle is a giant store with a giant sign dedicated to promoting and selling all the best of Wisconsin's cheese products. As tempting as it was to buy some beef jerky, or cheese spread, or a beer-shaped piece of cheddar, they had a whole section dedicated to cheese curds and I made a shameless run for it. Sadly, they were all out of fresh cheese curds (except for one pack of Jalapeno flavored ones, but I wasn't feeling it) by the time we got there, but I got a delicious bag of assorted prepackaged curds that really hit the spot.

And sadly, no, they didn't squeak. But I did. :)

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PS: Yay for Roman's first visit to the USA! :)
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  1. Ah, I thought you would love Cheese Curds. Door County Wisconsin, alas is not well known outside of the midwest, but I agree it is a beautiful place. Looks like everything was just grand, and what better way to celebrate a wedding.

  2. Yes, you can definitely be a cheese head. We'll claim you and Roman both :)

    I'm glad you got to experience the Castle. Rob begs me to stop there every time we're driving back down to Chicago. Fresh or not, cheese curds sound really good to me after a week of tagine.

  3. Thank you for reminding me that there are still plenty of beautiful places we need to visit here in the Midwest before we start a-traipsin' around the world! It's been a few years since we've been near Lake Michigan; instead, Lake Superior is the big ol' body of water closest to us - no slouch in that department.

    Congratulations to Roman on his first US visit, and what a marvelous destination and occasion for it to happen! Now, I'm gonna get me some curds this weekend . . .