Sunday, July 29, 2012

Wisconsin Olympians

With a little competition called the Olympics happening over in Jolly Old, MTC is enthusiastically cheering on our hometown heroes.  This year there is more than a handful of Wisconsinites competing.  Let's get to know them a little bit better.

Wisconsin Natives

First we have 27 year old Gwen Jorgensen.  Gwen is a native of Waukesha and graduated from UW Madison.  She is competing in Triathlon, but the really remarkable thing is that she's only been competing in the sport since 2010!  Her background is in running and swimming, so I guess after she figured out how to  bike, the next thing to do is go to the Olympics.

Women's Triathlon is August 4th.

Next we have Michael McPhail.  Michael hails from Darlington and graduated from UW Oshkosh.  Michael is on the US Shooting Team and qualified for the 50m Men's Rifle (Prone).  Michael is an avid outdoorsman, often spending his time hunting and fishing.  Currently stationed in Fort Benning, Georgia, Michael is part of the US Army Marksmanship Unit being a complete badass.  Michael is an excellent example of Wisconsin's firearms heritage, and traditional German and Swiss Sch├╝tzenfests (target shooting competitions) are held all over the state.

Men's 50m Rifle will compete on Friday, August 3rd.

Ben Provisor was born and raised in Steven's Point and just graduated college in Northern Michigan.  Having just turned 22 this year, Ben is the youngest Wisconsin Olympian this year.  Ben is competing in Greco-Roman wrestling and has trained in Bulgaria and competed all over the world.  His event is on Tuesday, August 2nd.

Elizabeth "Beezie" Madden is a show jumper from Milwaukee and is a seasoned Olympian.  Beezie won the Gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olypmics in Athens and Beijing and will defend her title proudly.  She has been riding since she was three years old and is now training under the direction of her husband John Madden.

Team Jumping s on Sunday, August 4th.

Wisconsin Trained

Evan Jager was born in Algonquin, Illinois and began his training at UW Madison in 2007.  An avid runner, Evan ran multiple events under coach Jerry Schumacher at Madison. Schumacher left the UW to work for Nike as a professional trainer and Evan was offered a contract with Nike.  Because he accepted the offer, he had to leave the NCAA, but this allowed Evan to continue to train under Schumacher.

Evan will compete in the 3000m Steeplechase, an event he already holds the record for, on Friday, August 3rd.

Kristin Hedstrom is rowing Women's Lightweight Doubles.  Kristin is originally from the rowing-centric city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and came to UW Madison where she graduated in 2008.  If you were in Madison during her time here, you probably saw her rowing the waters of Lake Mendota.  She now rows in Oakland, California.

Women's Lightweight Double Sculls is Tuesday, July 31st.

Megan Kalmoe is also rowing this year--in the Quadruple Sculls.  She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, but went to High School in Saint Croix Falls, Wisconsin.  In High School she ran cross country and played basketball and didn't start rowing until going to Princeton, New Jersey.

Women's Quadruple Sculls compete on Monday, July 30th.

Grant and Ross James are two brothers who continue on the great rowing culture in Wisconsin.  Originally from De Kalb, Illinois, the brothers were recruited by UW Madison due to their 6'5" stature.  They never rowed before arriving in Madison, but quickly excelled at the sport and shared the water with Megan Kalmoe and Kristin Hedstrom.

Men's Eight competes on Monday, July 30th.

Tim Seaman grew up on Long Island in New York but attended UW Parkside to compete in Race Walk.  He has been present at every Olympic Games since 1996 and will compete again this year.  Currently, Seaman coaches Women's Cross Country Cuyamaca College in California.

Race Walk is Saturday, August 4th.

Finally, Matt Tegenkamp is a runner from Missouri that attended UW Madison.  Matt holds the honor of being the first person in Wisconsin to run a mile in under four minutes.  He also the fourth-fastest 5000m runner.  Just like Evan Jager, Matt also trained under Jerry Schumacher and is also now a professional runner for Nike.

Matt has qualified for the Men's 10,000m Distance, which is held on Saturday, August 4th.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Better Know A Town: Monroe

As I sat down to write this post, I became acutely aware that despite our name, More Than Curds, my posts have included a lot of cheese and beer.  But no matter!  For these are two of Wisconsin’s biggest industries and they belong as a focus of my writing.  And what better place to dive into the history of Wisconsin cheese than at the heart of the Wisconsin cheese industry, historic Monroe.

Monroe is the seat of Green County, the heart of cheesemaking in Wisconsin.  It is such an integral part of the community that Monroe High School athletics are
The Cheesemakers.  Cheese has been produced in Green County since 1841 and now leads Wisconsin’s production of 2.6 billion pounds of cheese each year.1  To learn more about our cheesemaking heritage, MTC travelled down to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center outside of Monroe.

The building itself is an old railroad depot, but now holds the entire history of Wisconsin’s cheese industry.  Lead by our tour guide Virgil, we got a fascinating look into how it all started with a few Swiss immigrants finding their niche in southern Wisconsin.  In fact, Green County still claims over 20% Swiss heritage and over 30% German heritage.2  Virgil had some great personal stories about the long line of cheesemakers and gave an excellent tour that I would highly recommend.
With all this talk of cheese, we were feeling a bit peckish.  We thought to ourselves, "a little fermented curd will do the trick," And with that, we found ourselves at one of Monroe’s bedrock restaurants, Baumgartner’s.  In the front, an unassuming cheese store.  In that back, a raucus tavern with some tasty bar food.

Any Monroe native will insist that you try the Limburger sandwich (now only made in the United States by the
Chalet Cheese Co-op) and for only $3, why not?  Wash it down with a local Huber Bock and you’ve got one hell of a lunch!

After lunch, we walked the two blocks over to the
Minhas Craft Brewery, the second oldest continuous-running brewery in the country.  Never heard of it?  There’s a few reasons.  First, when the brewery was bought by Canadian siblings Manjit and Ravinder Minhas in 2006, they renamed it from Huber Brewery to Minhas Brewery.  Second reason is that despite producing 300,000 barrels per annum, 85% of their production goes straight to Canada.3   Besides Huber Bock, I’ve never tried anything from Minhas, so we were curious to check it out.   
We paid our $10 tour admission, only to learn that no photos were allowed inside.  This was an excellent decision on their part because this brewery was filthy.  Stains on the walls and ceilings, standing water in missing floor tiles, and uncleaned and polished tanks made this a very ugly brewery.  We decided to leave the tour early to cut our losses.  The condition of the brewery alone makes me disinclined to ever drink their beer again not to mention their lack of local pride.  I left feeling like the ‘craft’ in ‘Minhas Craft Brewery’ is like ‘artisan’ in ‘Dominos Artisan Pizzas’.

But despite the disappointing brewery tour, Monroe was a great location and full of history and culture.  The drive down from Madison was incredibly scenic and we had a lot of fun.  Now I’m just counting down to
Cheese Days....

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Dr. Evermor's Scrap Metal Park

Wisconsin is home to some pretty eccentric destinations. If you’re looking for an unusual road trip, I suggest driving one hour north of Madison to visit Dr. Evermor’s Scrap Metal Park. MTC took a daytrip up to Dr. Evermor’s park to have a look around. Here’s what we uncovered...

When you enter the park, there’s definitely a hoarder-ish vibe that radiates from the random chunks of scrap metal that litter the entrance. However, as you walk down the gravel path and venture deeper into the park, everything begins to change. Rust-covered sculptures jut out of the ground and many of the creations are so huge that they easily dwarf park patrons. If the world of Roald Dahl had a love child with steampunk, the result would be Dr. Evermor’s park. Get a load of the gigantic, gear-riddled, armored insect in the photo below. It’s one of the first sculptures you see after getting past the whopping brush pile.

On our visit we met Dr. Evermor’s wife, Lady Eleanor Every. According to her, the Doctor (aka: Tom Every) started out as an industrial wrecker. She said that he found beauty in the architecture and metalwork of those warehouses and factories he was tearing down. He wanted to preserve those pieces, so he found a way to transport the metal to his shop in Wisconsin. Here, he began making interesting and imaginative sculptures. One of his most famous sculptures is the Forevertron.

The Forevertron also happens to be the largest scrap metal sculpture in the world at 50 feet tall, 120 feet wide, and weighing in at 300 tons! It also incorporates parts from the Apollo Space Mission in its base. 

Dr. Evermor’s artistic genius lies in his ability to take the chaos of demolition wrecking and give it order and beauty through his artwork. Many of his sculptures also incorporate musical components, like this 12-foot tall chiming bird sculpture.

Dr. Evermor’s Scrap Metal Park is located in North Freedom, Wisconsin and admission is free to the public! It takes about 30-60 minutes to view all of Dr. Evermor’s sculptures. If you’d like to do some exploring in the Baraboo area after visiting the park, I would recommend a couple of great destinations that are located within five miles of Dr. E’s.

The first must-see location is Devil’s Lake State Park

Nestled between 500-foot bluffs, Devil’s Lake offers a beautiful sand beach, several hiking trails, rock climbing routes, and campgrounds. After traipsing around the sculptures for an hour in the scorching Wisconsin summer heat, we cooled off by spending the afternoon swimming in Devil’s Lake.

If you find yourself working up an appetite while in the area, do yourself a favor and head on over to The Barn in Baraboo, WI. 

Just a short drive from Dr. Evermor’s and Devil’s Lake, The Barn is an old farm building that was transformed into a restaurant. The bar here features over 200 beers from Wisconsin and around the world. We sampled some unusual beers on our visit including a spicy chili beer that came with a chili pepper inside the bottle, a banana beer that tasted just like a slice of banana bread, and a couple of full-bodied Belgian brews. The food at The Barn didn’t disappoint either. Their pretzel melt (which is like a variation on the classic patty melt, served on a soft pretzel bun) was one of our group’s favorites.
Between Dr. Evermor’s Scrap Metal Park, the beautiful landscape and recreation at Devil’s Lake State Park, and the potent potables served at The Barn, a summer day trip is certainly in order!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beer. Bacon. Cheese. Festival!

This past June some friends and I  hit the road for a dynamic day trip: Beer, Bacon and Cheese Festival in New Glarus. Since we live in Madison, which is only about 30 miles outside of New Glarus, we decided to bike. Why bike? 1) It’s good for you. 2) If we drank one or two too many beers, no one would know. 3) Biking in southern Wisconsin is fantastic—more to come on that point in later posts.

For $25, we got unlimited beer from local microbreweries, and endless cheese and bacon from regional producers. Beer, Bacon and Cheese fest was part of Polka Fest—a larger and annual event. New Glarus is the perfect setting for this type of event. A little about the town: Nestled at the bottom of immense forested hills, along the Sugar River, it's easy to see why the Swiss decided to stay. The scenery is beautiful, and since settled, this region of Wisconsin has produced some of the best brewers and cheese makers in the state with its sunny days, fertile soil and abundant pastures. The sign below explains the history pretty well.

The town is a mix of corny, quaint and cool. Timbered buildings and ancient trees really do make you think of a German-speaking village in Europe. The number of Swiss flags and presence of yodelers may feel a little touristy, but it doesn’t detract from the vibe. Instead, it convinces you that this pocket of people is genuinely proud of their heritage. Americans can’t be passive about connecting to their ancestors’ foreign roots—we have to celebrate boldly, because we really are so far from these places.
But  most importantly, and why we biked 60 miles--there were many gastronomical highlights of the day. Some of my favorites are listed below:

Wilhelm Tell Bier--brewed by Minhas Brewery in Monroe, Wisconsin
Rich, malty and slightly sweet—historical without being kitschy. Surprisingly enjoyable on a warm day. I'll be traveling back to the annual Wilhelm Tell play and festival in New Glarus just for this brew.

This gentleman is wearing the tradition Wilhelm Tell costume--a historical Swiss figure devotedly celebrated in New Glarus.

Liederkranz and Limburger Spread
For those of you who have never tried Limburger (stinky) cheese, TRY IT. It's only made by one cheese maker in the country, here in Wisconsin--Myron Olson and his team at Chalet Cheese Coop. It's an experience that you might not hate. If you're feeling timid--try out this Limburger spread as a baby step. The spread is strong and true to the flavor of the classic, but softened and less challenging. I highly recommend this snack for those of you looking for a bold cheese that you can share with your more mild friends.

Bacon and maple syrup topped vanilla ice cream
This treat was provided by a local organization--one word YUM. This savory and sweet combo is classic and unexpected at the same time. This is something that would be so easy to recreate at home.

BBQ pork belly and shoulder by Vintage brewing company
Too good for words. Not on the their normal menu, but it should be. This was the best thing I ate all day. No exaggeration, this bite of meat was worth the $25. I ate it too quickly to snap a picture.

Some old friends of Greg started this bacon business. Their marketing and spirit is so representative of  modern Wisconsinites. From their "reggae-cured" pork to their big laughs—yes I’ll buy their bacon!

Beer, Bacon and Cheese Festival offered a fantastic view of Wisconsin past and present culture. In Wisconsin--past and present is not easily separated. The culinary craftsmen and innovative business owners at this event  and others like it throughout Wisconsin continue to build upon traditions in creative ways that provide unique and rich forms of entertainment for thrifty young people like myself and my co-bloggers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Brewery Tours: Potosi

Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State, and for good reason.  But the one thing we are known for after cheese is, of course, beer.  The link between beer and Wisconsin has been constant since the Germans established our brewing cred in the 1830’s.1  Almost every town of some size had a brewery at one point, and beer meant business.  By the end of the 19th century, Sauk County alone accounted for 20% of the hops being produced in the world 2  and even though the brewing industry hit an all-time low in the 1970’s, Wisconsin’s brewing industry has risen like a phoenix from spent malt.  Wisconsin now boasts over 60 breweries, putting us 7th nationally for total number of breweries (9th for breweries per capita).3

In this great tradition,
More Than Curds will be touring breweries all over this great state (and, I’m sure, a few outside of Wisconsin too).  So what better place to begin our brewery tour series than good ol’ Potosi.  Not only is Potosi one of the oldest breweries in Wisconsin, but it is also home to the National Brewery Museum.  I went down there with some friends on an especially hot 4th of July to visit this Wisconsin gem.

Potosi Brewery was founded in 1852, only 4 years after Wisconsin earned its statehood.  By the mid-20th century, the excellent quality of Potosi’s beer made it the fifth-largest brewery in Wisconsin.  Unfortunately, the old brewery closed in 1972, but while rebuilding the brewery in the mid-90’s, the American Breweriana Association’s selected Potosi as the home of their National Brewery Museum, much to the chagrin of Milwaukee and St. Louis.  The new brewery opened in force in 2008 and has been serving up some great brews ever since.
Six of Potosi's best
They had six to sample at the brewpub -- Good Old Potosi (light lager), Potosi Pure Malt Cave Ale (English Pale), Wee Stein (Witbier), Potosi Brown Ale (brown ale), Snake Hollow (IPA), and Fiddler (oatmeal stout).  All were excellent, but my buddy Dave and I agreed that the Snake Hollow and Wee Stein stood out above the rest.  Considering the (modern) brewery has only been up and running for four years now, we were both impressed by the quality of the beer and by the facility itself.  The brewpub was an excellent mix of tradition (such as the hand-carved bar made by local Potosians) and modernity.  The brewery is headed by Steve Buszka and is producing 3,000 barrels a year.

The museum is impressive.  Not so much about the history of brewing, but a look at the history of breweries.  They had memorabilia from breweries all over the United States with a particular focus on Wisconsin.  Also featured was Potosi’s “Rolling Bar”, a mobile pub that roamed the thirsty Driftless Region of southwest Wisconsin (colloquially known in the 1800’s as “Valley of the Drunken Men”).5  
Wisconsin's finest are all represented
Potosi is an excellent day trip.  The beer may not be the most inventive or unique, though they have started rolling out some experimental brews (Tangerine IPA, anyone?).  But their selection is solid and delicious.  And besides--what other museum will let you roam the halls with a pint in hand?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Better Know a Town: Mineral Point

One of the new series we’re pioneering here at More Than Curds, is our “Better Know a Town” series. We’ll visit a new city in Wisconsin and give you, our trusty readers, a brief overview of why it’s a cool place to spend a day. To kick off this collection, I journeyed to Mineral Point for a day of killer beer, nature, and history.

One of the things that I love about the roadtrip to Mineral Point is the general "shire-ness" of the landscape. Mineral Point is located in the Driftless region of Wisconsin, which means that you’ll see tons of rolling hills, steep pastures, and roads carved through old limestone hills. History fun fact: Mineral Point is one of Wisconsin’s oldest cities and its claim to fame is that it was a HUGE lead and zinc mining town during the 19th and 20th centuries. Many Cornish immigrants settled in Mineral Point to work the mines, and the town still retains a few Cornish traditions today.

We rolled into Mineral Point around lunchtime. Our first mission: to find some fare with local flair. I overheard a couple of locals discussing the Red Rooster Cafe. The Red Rooster has a pretty sweet sign out front that advertises a different pasty (pronounced: PASS-tee) every day. Pasties are Cornish pies that the miners would take for their lunches (it’s kind of like a calzone stuffed with savory meat and potatoes and root vegetables). Mineral Point is pretty pumped about the pasty and it’s fairly easy to find one without having to do too much looking. 

However, we were on the hunt for good grub AND some good beer, so we bopped over to the Brewery Creek Brewpub. If the flags are flying outside the pub, it means that they’re open for business. I’ve never been so happy to see the Cornish flag flapping! Inside, you’ll find a gorgeous carved wooden bar that dates back to the American Civil War. If you can get past the tandem lava lamps burbeling next to the cash register, the bar is a pretty sweet piece of historical furniture. The four beers on tap were memorable and refreshing (we sampled the Blonde, the Wit beer, and the Mild Dark), and the food on the menu was locally grown. My favorite part of lunch was that my burger was topped with Hook's cheddar, which is world champion cheese made right in Mineral Point. We also tried the pasty at Brewery Creek--it included a hearty combination of beef, potatoes, and rutabaga, stuffed inside an expertly-crafted pastry crust. Two thumbs way up for the Brewery Creek Brewpub! 

After lunch we embarked on an epic historical walking tour. First stop was the Mineral Point Railroad Museum. This place housed some incredible railroad artifacts and furniture, but my favorite part of the museum was a huge working diorama of the Mineral Point railroad depot as it would have appeared in 1917. It was cool to scope out the diorama, and then look outside the windows of the museum to see those same buildings as they stand today. FYI: if you have a student ID, you can visit many of these historical destinations on the cheap!

As we made our way through town, we couldn’t resist stopping inside a local pottery place called The Mulberry Pottery Studio. We met the potter, Frank Polizzi, who was very friendly and talented at his craft. Frank makes all his stoneware right there in the studio using materials from around the Mineral Point area. He told us about the enormous kiln that he built by hand. It fires pottery at temperatures of 2,250 degrees, which according to Frank, is as hot as the inside of a volcano.

Finally, we arrived at Pendarvis. Pendarvis is a historical mecca in Mineral Point. It features a collection of preserved buildings that harken from Mineral Point’s mining heyday. For someone who appreciates old architecture and artifacts, it’s an interesting place to explore and oogle. But a word to the wise: totally watch your head as you enter the buildings-- those Cornish miners were short! Another highlight of visiting Pendarvis is the group of old ladies who run the gift shop. They’re really pumped about Mineral Point, some get decked out in old timey dresses and bonnets, and they’re happy to sell you a replica clay pipe or tiny pasty earrings! 

Mineral Point is a rustic, charming Wisconsin town with plenty of exciting and unusual things to do on a visit. So, if you find yourself traveling through the Driftless, swing by Mineral Point for a pint, a pasty, and some Cornish-American history!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012