Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Ojibweg

Recently on a jaunt to the cabin Up Nort (you're only two degrees of separation [at most] from a cabin if you know somebody from Wisconsin), we had the opportunity to visit a pow wow hosted by the Waaswaaganing, otherwise known as the Lac du Flambeau Band of the Lake Superior Chippewa.  The town of Lac du Flambeau (named Waaswaagani-zaaga'igan in Anishinaabemowin language) is the heart of the Reservation established in 1854 and is still 87% Native American.  The name Lac du Flambeau (French for "Lake of the Torches") was given to the area when French fur trappers saw Ojibwe fishing on the lake at night guided by torches on their canoes.

The pow wow drew Ojibwe from all over the Upper Midwest and was an impressive sight.  The dazzling colors of the clothes; the driving, pulsing rhythm of the drums; and the hypnotic melodies of the songs were spellbinding.  The pow wow grounds were along the lake itself and took place as a sunset painted the sky with vibrant blues, purples, pinks, and oranges.  There were also vendors cooking traditional meals and selling crafts made by Ojibwe artisans.

If you ever find yourself in the summertime Mecca of the Minocqua area, be sure to visit Lac du Flambeau and experience the pow wow for yourself.  Wisconsin's first people are a rich and vibrant part of the cultural fabric of our state.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Happy Surprise: Woodman Brewery

When I travel Wisconsin, I enjoy to take the back roads.  Not only is the landscape more beautiful, but sometimes you'll find something unexpected and wonderful.  Case in point: Woodman Brewery.

I was driving from Prairie du Chein to Madison one day when I started to get a little peckish.  I knew I should've grabbed a muffin from the breakfast bar at the hotel, but I was in a rush.  As I drove down Highway 133, the Wisconsin River flowing to my left, the gentle forested hills of the Driftless to my right, I approach the hamlet of Woodman.  And there, right in the middle of town, as if to answer all my prayers is the Woodman Brewery.  I opened the screen door and walked in to an empty horseshoe bar.  At the other side of the room is the brewhouse--if you can call it that.  It was barely more than a walled-off kitchen with some large kettles on a stove.  This made One Barrel Brewing look like New Glarus.  Looking around, this is your typical small-down dive.  Electronic dart boards, pool table, big-screens for the Packers.  But the beer on draught was a step up.  Not a Michelob to be found.  Only the mad brews of a beer-frenzied mind.

Suddenly, I'm greeted by Dennis Erb, the owner/brewer/frenzied mind of the operation.  I sit down, he grills up a mighty tasty burger, and we start chatting about the beer.  Dennis is pushing for a more unusual line-up.  At Woodman, you'll find beers such as a red ale infused with rose pedals, a white stout, and a rye-based IPA.  A lot of his beer feature infused flavors: peanut butter porter, jalapeno blonde, molasses bock, French onion saison, and a teriyaki rice lager.  Some of these flavors were a bit awkward but the ones that worked, worked really well.    For a town of 132, this was a serious operation.  All-in-all, Dan has 16 available on draft.  I made sure to bring home a sixer.

Woodman Brewery might not be the most upscale brewpub in Wisconsin, but it sure was a welcome sight for a beer-loving, road-weary traveller looking for lunch.  It's good to know that small towns in Wisconsin are starting to go back to the old ways of supporting the local brewer.  After all, isn't variety the spice of life?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Our Favorite Drives: Highway 23

Wisconsin has a wide range of beautiful landscapes and off-the-beaten-path places to see. What better way then Wisconsin's scenic byways? In that spirit of adventurism, I am starting a new segment for More Than Curds: Our Favorite Drives.
Photo: Wikipedia
First up is State Trunk 23. Often called Highway 23, this road stretches from Shullsburg on the border of Illinois to Sheboygan on Lake Michigan.  The route was established in 1918 and has been popular ever since.  23 sees a wide-variety of landscape, but my personal favorite is in the southern portion, through the Driftless Region.  Here's what you do:

Start your day just off just south of Shullsburg on Highway U.  Follow signs and you'll find the Gravity Hill.  Throw your car in neutral, and it'll begin rolling uphill!  Next, head up to 23 and you'll see Roelli Cheese Haus.  This is a small, artisan cheese plant owned by the same Swiss family for generations.  Stop in to pick up some of the best Wisconsin cheese in the state!  Our recommendation?  The Dunbarton Blue is great with almost any beer in Wisconsin.

Keep driving north and enjoy the view.  You'll drive through some of the gently rolling hills of the Driftless landscape.  This area is hope to happy cows and beautiful vistas of traditional family farmland.  Soon, you'll reach Mineral Point.  This exceedingly quaint town is home to a brewpub, cheesemaker, amazing Japanese cuisine, Wisconsin's Cornish history, and a slew of art galleries and studios.  Take your time and wander the granite-built streets of this near 200-year-old town.

Onward.  On your way north, you'll soon run into Dodgeville.  Dodgeville is home to Wisconsin's oldest courthouse, and Land's End clothing.  Stop by the Land's End outlet for some amazing clothing deals, then explore Wisconsin's mining heritage.  Dodgeville is also gateway to Governor Dodge State Park (one of my personal favorite hiking and camping spots in the state).
Governor Dodge State Park.  Photo: Wisconsin DNR

Photo: TLC
Leaving Dodgeville, you'll find some interesting sights along the road.  On the left is the Don Q Inn, the charmingly eccentric hotel with the Boeing C-97 in front.  Farther north, the road will dip and twist more as the hills express themselves through the forested landscape.  On the ridges, you'll see spectacular vistas of the Driftless, speckled with red barns and black cows grazing on the pastures.  Eventually, you'll come across The House On The Rock.   Built by Alex Jordan Jr. in 1959, House On The Rock is now one of the most famous attractions in Wisconsin.  Some may call it a tourist trap, but I'll let you decide that for yourself.

If bizarre collections in a nonsensical house doesn't appeal to you, maybe you're just at the wrong house.  Not much further up 23 is a house of international fame.  Designed by Wisconsin's own Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin was the personal home of the architect.  Truly a spectacular work of art, the house is just south of Spring Green.  Spring Green is also home to American Players Theatre.  I'd recommend stopping at the Driftless Depot for local provisions before enjoying open-air productions of Shakespeare and other greats.
Photo: About.com
 There is a lot more to see on Highway 23.  The ride to Reedsburg will reveal soaring hills and cool valleys, and cutting across Wisconsin to Sheboygan will open up to the prairie plains, but the southern leg of 23 is always my favorite.  Rememebr: it's not the destination, it's the journey.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


A recent piece by our friends over at Wisconsin Life.  Probably one of the most succinct summaries of why we love our home so much.

Take a listen!


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Brewing the Viking Whey: Blaand

This weekend is Syttende Mai, which commemorates Norway's independence from Denmark in 1814. There are impressive Styyende Mai celebrations happening in Norwegian neighborhoods throughout the state but, if you happen to be in southern Wisconsin, the city of Stoughton throws an awesome Syttende Mai shindig that dates back to 1868. Skal, y'all!

In honor of Syttende Mai, and our state's reputation for fabulous cheese, my Norwegian-American fiancé and I are brewing a couple batches of a lesser-known Viking beverage. Sure, almost everyone has heard of, or sampled, mead. But very few people know about blaand, and I have yet to find anyone (in Wisconsin, at least) who has ever sampled the beverage. Perhaps for good reason-- blaand is made from fermented whey. Yes, the byproduct of cheese making! As the story goes, Vikings would bring casks full of whey on their voyages at sea. By the time they reached their destination, the Vikings would have a fermented, boozy beverage. Unfortunately for the modern day brewer, there isn't much written about blaand. And there certainly isn't any recipe to follow. So. We're blazing new frontier here. After pillaging the local homebrew store for a few simple ingredients, our mission to brew a contemporary approximation of Viking blaand was underwhey. (see what I did just there? :D)
For our four test batches, we used a few strains of brewer's yeast, hops, and various grain blends. We purchased these supplies at the Wine and Hop Shop on Monroe Street in Madison, WI.

This morning at 6am, we drove up to Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI. The owners generously donated two, five-gallon buckets of fresh goat's milk whey for our Viking blaand experiment. Thanks, Willow Creek Cheese! The whey doesn't look like much. Two big buckets of glossy white liquid. If you have cats, watch your back when the lids come off of the whey buckets. We managed to snap this shot without any feline tampering, but it must smell like cat ambrosia. 
Two buckets of fresh goat's milk whey from Willow Creek Cheese in Berlin, WI.

We reduced the whey in a propane powered turkey fryer.

We're brewing four, 1-gallon test batches in various styles. Because most brewing yeast cannot digest lactose, we decided to make one standard blaand and a couple of blaand/beer hybrids in order to see which variety will be 1) most successful--read: most fermented, and 2) most flavorful. Here's the line-up:
1) Straight-up blaand: Containing only reduced whey and lambic blend yeasts.
2) Milk Stout: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water.
3) Milk Stout with lambic yeasts: Traditional recipe with reduced whey substituted for brew water, plus the addition of lambic yeasts.
4) Scotch Ale: Traditional recipe with unreduced whey substituted for brew water.
After a day of brewing, all of the batches are in the fermenters and ready to go. Friends who've heard about this project have joked that we should take the fermenters on a canoe trip in order to add extra authenticity but, for now, they're stashed safely in the basement. Some of the lambic batches will age for close to a year and we'll uncork them during Syttende Mai 2014. The hybrid batches will be ready to sample in a few short weeks. If there are any brave Madison-based readers who want to give this stuff a whirl, let me know in the comments! 

Stay tuned for more adventures in Wisconsin whey brewing later this summer...

Monday, May 13, 2013

Limburger: A Wisconsin Favorite

Yes, we are More Than Curds.  But does that mean we should shun our beloved dairy form our blog?  I think not.  Although we here at MTC strive to bring you an overview of Wisconsin that reaches far beyond the simplistic cheese, beer, and Packers stereotype, we also must admit that we really love our cheese, beer, and Packers!  So having said that, I present you one of our most traditional and unique cheeses from Wisconsin: Limburger.

America's last Limburger-er
Yes, Limburger.  The name alone will conjure images of cartoon mice that won’t eat the infamously stinky cheese.  But I believe that was drawn by one who has never tasted the amazing taste and texture of Limburger.  Yes, it has a pungency to it, but Limburger is fantastically delicious.  And it’s only made here in Wisconsin.  At one time, Limburger was a favorite working-man’s cheese and was produced by about 25 cheese factories, though it’s popularity waned as the American palate for cheese favored bland, mass-produced cheeses that didn’t require much care.

We begin driving south, to Monroe.  Limburger, although originally from Germany (or Belgium, depending on who you ask), is now only traditionally made by hand in one place: Chalet Cheese Cooperative.  Myron Olson, the only Master Cheesemaker in Limburger in the world, is our guide.  This man is so into his Limburger that even his license plate sings its praises.  The Chalet Cheese Co-op was founded in 1885 by five farmers as a cheese co-op and still operates as a co-op with 21 family farms today.  Myron got his start in the factory as a janitor when he was in high school and worked his way up into the age-old craft of cheesemaking.

Myron's array of awards for his world-class cheese

The Co-op brings in 100,000 pounds of milk  (roughly 11,000 gallons) a day, which might sound like a lot, but is actually quite small for a cheese factory (some larger plants are processing over two million pounds a day!).  The cheese is pasteurized and then taken to the vat for coagulation.  Bacterial cultures and enzymes are added to separate the curds from the whey (at this point you have what is essentially cottage cheese).  The whey is drained and the curds are pressed into small blocks.

Coagulating the milk
Cutting the curd
Hand-washing the cheese
Once the blocks are formed is when the real magic happens.  Unaged Limburger is a lot like Feta: salt and crumbly.  To produce soft texture, buttery flavor, and pungent aroma the cheese must be ripened in a special aging room.  They get a bath of special bacteria and yeast which works on breaking down the proteins in the cheese.  Only at Chalet is this done by hand.  The room is kept at a cool 50 degrees with about 80% humidity.  When the cheese plant moved to its current location in the 1960’s, they found that the cheese wasn’t ripening properly.  They went to the original plant and brought in a few of the pine boards from the old aging room and found that the natural cultures in the wood is what did the trick!  They still use this same culture as when the plant opened in the 1880’s.

Myron is the last Limburger maker in the country, though he is starting to see its popularity come around.  Most people born after 1960 don't care for the full-flavored cheese, but as artisinal cheese becomes more popular, he's hoping Limburger will too. Maybe it's just the name--if was named "Olson's Private Reserved Washed-Rind cheese", then maybe more people would be more likely to try it!

Young Limburger will have a mild flavor and firm texture.  As it gets older, the texture will soften and the smell will get really intense!  For beginners, I usually serve a medium Limburger with the rind cut off.  The way my German grandpa and I eat it is old and smelly!  For a true Wisconsin lunch, serve it on pumpernickel rye with Dusseldorf mustard and raw onions.  All washed down with a beer, of course!

Photo: DailyStar.com

Friday, May 10, 2013

2013 World-Wide Mustard Competition

Recently, More Than Curds was asked to help judge the 2013 World-Wide Mustard Competition at the National Mustard Museum. The Museum is located in Middleton, WI and stocks hundreds of varieties of mustard that curious patrons can sample and purchase.

On the day of the judging, roughly 60 individuals showed up to taste and score mustards for the preliminary round of championship judging. Our very own Greg Long and Erin Ellison were among the lucky participants!

This was the most popular judging strategy: the spoon starburst. 
Most people are familiar with yellow mustards and spicy Dijon, but the Mustard Competition presented a whopping 16 categories of mustard to be sampled and critiqued. The mustards in question were entered by mustard makers from countries all over the world including: Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Africa, Poland, Germany, Sweden, France, England, and Canada.
The mustard categories were as follows: SWEET-HOT, HONEY MUSTARD, CLASSIC DIJON (SMOOTH), WHOLE GRAIN/COARSE GRAINED, CLASSIC HOT, PEPPER HOT, HORSERADISH/WASABI, HERB/VEGET ABLE, GARLIC, FRUIT, SPIRIT, AMERICAN YELLOW, DELI/BROWN, EXOTIC, MUSTARD BASED SALAD DRESSINGS, and MUSTARD BASED BBQ SAUCES, GLAZES, OR MARINADES. Erin and Greg were in the group of judges who sampled coarse mustards (a great category because of the wide variety of flavors and textures), and the ill-fated hot mustard category. 

The coarse mustard category was so expansive that there were nearly 40 entries to be scored. All mustards were presented on a platter in small plastic containers. Each container was labeled with an anonymous post-it label for impartial judging; however, if a participant was really curious about a particular entry, the "mustard grand master" would divulge the name of a mustard after that category had been judged. Some competing entries were even available for purchase in the museum gift shop. Most judges started out the afternoon feeling pretty enthusiastic about mustard. But by the end of the day, the thought of bringing home a jar of mustard (or even consuming the condiment in the coming week) was off-putting. If there's such a thing as a mustard overdose, Erin and Greg certainly experienced it. 

Most of the hot mustards hailed from Asia and were insanely spicy. After a few samples from this category, members in the judging cohort began sweating and chugging water like it was going out of style. All sinus cavities were cleared out after this round of judging! The hot mustards are not for the faint of heart.

The final round of mustard judging will wrap up at the Milwaukee Public Market in Milwaukee, WI. If you have any interest in being a judge for the 2014 World-Wide Mustard Competition, please apply through the National Mustard Museum's website

Monday, April 15, 2013

Wisconsin On Screen: "Titanic"

This month marks the 101st anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic.  It has been 16 years since James Cameron’s epic film of that fateful voyage.  I caught the movie on TV recently, and noticed that the main character, Jack, is from Wisconsin.  Naturally, this piqued my interest and I investigated.
Photo: Smithsonian
Photo: Titanic Wiki
 Leonardo DiCaprio plays the young Jack Dawson.  In the film, Jack is from Chippewa Falls.  A good Wisconsin town full of good people.  Who knows, maybe his family worked at Leinenkugel’s Brewery?  But then the shimmer of a Wisconsin character without a “Fargo” accent wore off.  Jack claims to have swum in the waters of Lake Wissota.  Lake Wissota is a real lake, but it is man-made.  In 1917.  Five years after the Titanic sunk and our man freeze-drowns in the north Atlantic.  Again, we find that Hollywood tries to use the charm of Wisconsin without doing their research.  While I’m pleased that Wisconsin was chosen as the home of the honest and heroic Jack, I sure wish they’d start doing their homework.

To all the Hollywood producers out there: I’ll gladly be a consultant!  Just don’t make me drink any of your California milk...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A most Wisconsin-y Evening

A photo from the archives: a church sign that could only be found in Wisconsin.

Theresa, January, 2013

Sheepshead?  Check.  Fish fry?  Check.  Done.  Best night ever.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pail & Shovel

In the past few years Wisconsin politics have become a national talking point.  In 2009, Governor Walker announced controversial plans to curb union’s collective bargaining rights which sparked enormous protests.  And in 2012, Wisconsin elected the first openly gay Senator, Tammy Baldwin.  But before all this, back in the Dark Ages of the 1970’s, there was Pail & Shovel.

Varjian and Mallon
Photo: acrazychicken.blogspot.com
Photo: StuBaker.com
The Pail & Shovel Party started when sophomore Leon Varjian ran for Student Senate at the University of Wisconsin - Madison in 1978.  His campaign flyers claimed “Honesty, Integrity, Responsibility...Pail & Shovel Doesn’t Believe In Any Of Them!”  The party’s name comes from their campaign platform: dump thousands of pennies on the UW Library Mall and let students use pails and shovels to collect what they needed.  Because there was a vacancy in the senate, he won the seat.  During his confirmation meeting, Varjian famously wore a clown suit claiming that he’ll give politics “the respect they deserve.”  Once in the Senate, he decided to go big time.  He convinced his friend Jim Mallon to run for President so Varjian could be Vice President or, as he puts it, be “where all the power is”.

The pair was famous for pranks.  Their campaign included promises such as flooding Camp Randall Stadium to reenact historic 19th Century naval warship battles and renaming every male student on campus “Jim Smith” so faculty could remember everybody’s name.  One stunt in particular won them national attention.  Pail & Shovel publicly declared their intention to steal the Statue of Liberty.  But, like so many of their promises, it was quickly laughed off...until one cold February morning in 1979.  The city of Madison woke up, rubbed their eyes, and couldn’t believe what they saw.  The crown and torch-bearing arm of the Statue of Liberty sticking through the ice of Lake Monona.  Pail & Shovel claimed to have stolen the green lady, but the helicopter cables broken during transportation and the statue plunged into the icy waters.

Photo: combartkevin.blogspot.com
Photo: StuBaker.com

But that was not all.  The next semester saw their pièce de résistance.  On September 4th, 1979, students on their way to the first day of classes were greeted by 1,008 pink lawn flamingos sunning themselves on Bascom Hill.  Vice President (yes, they won the election) Varjian claimed the flamingos were blown north by Hurricane David.  However, Pail & Shovel was not appreciated by everybody and 60 students protested and demanded their student activities money back.  Varjian acquiesced and wrote 60 checks for 10¢ each.  But by-and-large, the Party was a hit.  For a time, Pail & Shovel attempted to rename the University of Wisconsin to the University of New Jersey so the students could have a fancy East Coast degree.  

Photo: SurroundedByReality.com

Pail & Shovel was reelected to a second term under the banner “Are You Stupid Enough To Vote For Us Again?”  The student body spoke, and the Pail & Shovel threw a party.  A 10,000-person toga party, in fact.  The Dalai Lama was schedule to speak on campus at the same time, and was rescheduled so that he wouldn’t get caught in the festivities.  Festivities such as a Dalai Lama look-alike contest.  During their final term, Stu D. Baker, Pail & Shovel’s Sergeant-At-Arms, declared war against University of Missouri, which became tit-for-tat pranks at each others campus.

They did not seek a third term.

The legacy of Pail & Shovel lives on.  Varjian ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Madison City Council with the promise to rename the city to “Cheesetopia”; an idea MTC is not entirely opposed to.  The flamingo prank was so popular that in September of 2009, 30 years after the original prank, the plastic pink lawn flamingo was made Madison’s Official Bird by the Madison City Council.  And President Jim Mallon went on to create the show Mystery Science Theater 3000.  Pail & Shovel is an excellent example of Madison’s quirky personality and will be a campus and city-wide legend for decades to come.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Milwaukee: Historic Third Ward

There are few things in life that I enjoy more than a good road trip and brunch with my co-bloggers. So, when we heard of an amazing brunch place in the Historic Third WardMore Than Curds made the short drive down to Milwaukee.

Upon arriving in the Third Ward, we swung through the iconic Milwaukee Public Market. I feel like this is obligatory if you're visiting the TW.

The Milwaukee Public Market offers a range of delicious and unique edibles including Mediterranean olives, fresh tamales, live lobsters in tanks, beautiful flowers, and a serious slew of baked goods.

My favorite offering at MPM were these cute (and tasty!) Wisconsin-shaped chocolates. A chocolateir after my own Sconnie heart.

After ogling all of the stuff at the Market, we walked (literally) across the street to one of the best brunch places in the city: Cafe Benelux. We arrived at 11:00am and it was hoppin'. Clearly, many of Milwaukee's twenty-somethings have discovered the unparalleled beer list and the well-executed, squeal-worthy menu at Benelux.

The wait for a table was about 45 minutes, which gave us just enough time for a round of drinks at their bar. Greg tried the Confession Grand Cru; it got a rave review. Another favorite among our group was a beer called Santa's Rampage. I was impressed that their beer menu was substantial enough to make a modest codex. I also have to give this place some serious street cred because their beer menu is updated and republished MONTHLY. Benelux has four beers that are brewed in Belgium exclusively for their bar. Swanky!

If you do go to Benelux, do yourself a favor and order the "Tater Tots" (bacon bits, bleu cheese, Sriracha mayo). It'll set you back 9 shekels, but it's TOTALLY WORTH IT! These aren't your lunch lady's tater tots, my friends. These are more like warm, gooey, balls of deep fried hash brown awesomeness.

The brunch menu was impressive. Above is the "Sprocket Burger" which boasts a Miller baked pretzel bun, thick-cut bacon, cheddar, duck fat fried egg, garlic aioli, and tomato jam. Seriously, sign me up for anything that has duck fat as an ingredient. Greg even dared to name it his favorite burger ever.  We also tried the "Mrs. Hollander" (croissant, two fried eggs, black forest ham, belgian bier cheese sauce, and Benelux breakfast potatoes) and the "Salmon Benedict" (smoked salmon, poached eggs, hollandaise). The sweet potato fries that accompanied the burger were excellent as well! I also tried the spicy Bloody Mary. It was so awesome that we didn't have a chance to snap a picture before I put a dent in it. 

After brunch, we took a stroll through the Third Ward. Even though is was a frosty day, the blend of historic and modern architecture in the district made exploring worthwhile. 

Our final destination was the Clock Shadow Creamery. Fun fact: the Clock Shadow Creamery is the only urban cheese plant in the state.

It was a slow day when we arrived. They weren't making cheese on the weekend, but that didn't stop us from snapping a few photos of their cheese making operation and buying a few wedges, too.

Our trip to the Third Ward was a great success and a great way to spend a frosty Wisconsin winter day. It's an excellent part of the state to grab some epic brunch while admiring the industrial architecture and investigating the urban creamery scene. Expect a follow-up post in the Third Ward once the weather warms up a bit. We'll meet you on the corner of Sunday Brunch and Bloody Mary Blvd!