On my way into Monroe, Wisconsin I stopped for some requisite cheese curds. I was entering the dairy capital of the universe, after all. Little did I know cheese would be part of every meal for the next three days. Nevertheless, curds in hand, I found my home for two nights, the Gasthaus Motel. Don’t let the “motel” moniker fool you, this place was family run, small, and most importantly, clean and comfortable.
Besides my love of all things dairy, reason enough to visit the state, I was really there for my friends wedding reception. The couple was already legally hitched, so Saturday night was basically going to be a big party. I met her, her fiancé, and respective families and we caravanned to the groom’s parents’ sheep farm for pizza dinner.
Their farm was picturesque complete with a friendly sheep who ate grass out of your hand. I’m so grateful I was invited to tag along to this dinner. I got to know the groom’s family and meet many of the bride’s other friends and finally put faces to names.
It was so much fun, we all went back the next day before the reception. The wedding was really fun and it was so nice to spend a lot of time with my oldest friend, the bride, and all the new friends I made over that weekend.
Sunday, I had big plans: visit the Historic Cheesmaking Museum and the International Crane Foundation.
After a quick diner breakfast for $4.75, I took a tour of the Cheesemaking Museum. I basically knew the process for making cheese, but it was interesting to see the way they made it when the settlers from Switzerland first brought cheese making to that area. I learned that this area is the only place in the U.S. where Limburger cheese is still made. It is all made by hand and it very labor intensive. In my opinion, they could really stop the hard work after the gross Limburger sandwich I ate at Baumgartner’s after the wedding, but I guess some people like it. (They’re crazy.) I also learned that a wheel of Swiss weighs around 200 lbs and it was one person’s job to go to all the Swiss cheese factories in the area and wash those enormous wheels while they were aging with a salt scrub to keep the cheese from molding. That person had to move each wheel of cheese to do this. At his height, the tour guide said, “Ernie washed 400 wheels in a day!” Wait a second…Ernie…that was the name of the 80-something man sitting next to me in the diner! The tour guide could not say for certain that was the same Ernie, but I think it was. He was missing a finger on one hand and I’m pretty sure if you dropped a 200lb wheel of cheese in your finger, you’d lose it. I digress…
I scurried away from Monroe to make it to the 3pm tour of the cranes. However, I HAD to stop at the Alp and Dell cheese company to pick up supplies. I’m glad I did, because the guy working there gave all of us in the store a short yodeling demonstration. Wisconsin is pretty awesome.
The International Crane Conservancy houses representatives of all of the worlds’ 15 species of crane. They are huge and beautiful and this stop on my trip was well worth it.
I set up camp in Lake Kegonsa State Park, then took an iPhone-guided tour of Madison for dinner and drinks. I tried some of the local brews at The Old Fashioned which only serves Wisconsin beer.
I went to sleep back at my campsite and awoke the next morning to cranes calling and saw some turklets (baby wild turkeys) poking around the campground. I’m sure the park would have been fun to explore, but I was on a mission to get to the middle if Minnesota that night in order to have ample time exploring the Badlands with a stop at The House on the Rock, one of the craziest places I have ever seen.