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....

2 comments:

  1. Minhas makes some of the worst beers known to man. If the bottle or can says 'Made in Monroe, WI' stay far away.

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  2. I can't wait for Cheese Days! Did you know that Cheese Days' mascot (Wedgie) has his own facebook page? https://www.facebook.com/WedgieCheeseDaysMascot :D

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