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'Some people say that the French have the best cheese, but I think Wisconsin cheese is the best, and I can say that because I wrote the book on cheese,” said Kristine Hansen, who actually did write "The Wisconsin Cheese Cookbook: Creamy, Cheesy, Sweet, and Savory Recipes from the State’s Best Creameries" (Globe Pequot Press 2019; $24.95).

“Wisconsin is not just about cheddar; we have a large variety of cheeses which consistently win awards.”

With over a million cows, the state turns out more than 2.8 billion pounds of cheese per year. Hansen focused on the growing artisanal cheese producers in the state and though her cookbook has 60 recipes (as well as beautiful, lush photos), it’s as much of a travel guide — call it a cheesy road trip if you can excuse our pun — to 28 of the state’s creameries.

“A lot of my friends, when they come to visit, want to know the best cheese places I’ve discovered and ask for directions,” said Hansen, a Milwaukee-based journalist covering food and drink, art and design and travel, and whose articles have appeared in many magazines and websites including Midwest Living, Vogue, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler.

Writing the book meant lots of time on the road, visiting corners of the state where she’d never been and learning the intricacies of cheese making.

So, what makes Wisconsin cheese so great? After all, there are cows throughout the Midwest, but Indiana, Illinois and Michigan don’t have nearly the same amount of small batch, hand-crafted cheesemakers as the Badger state.

“A lot of Swiss immigrants settled here, particularly in Green county,” Hansen said about the home of Green County Cheese Days, the oldest and largest food fest in the Midwest. The festival honors the area’s Swiss heritage (their Swiss credentials are such that there are also Wilhelm Tell and Heidi festivals) and cheesemaking tradition. The latter includes a dozen creameries producing over 50 varieties of award-winning cheeses, as well as the only domestic maker of Limburger and the only U.S. factory making 180-pound wheels of Old World Emmenthale.

Other creameries mentioned in Hansen’s book include the Door County Creamery in Sister Bay, where visitors cannot only sample cheese and take a farm tour, but also participate in a 40-minute goat yoga session.

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“ClockShadow is one of only two urban creameries in the country,” Hansen said about a Milwaukee cheeserie which offers tours. “One of the reasons they opened is they wanted people in Milwaukee to be able to get fresh cheese curds without having to drive very far.”

As an added plus, adults can combine the experience with a tour of the Milwaukee Brewing Co. just across the street.

“People think the best Gouda comes out of Holland, but Marieke Gouda is wonderful,” Hansen said.

Located in Thorp, Marieke Gouda has a product store, newly opened Café DUTCHess and features tours. Across the street, Penterman Farm, where the milk for Marieke Gouda is provided by Brown Swiss and Holstein cows, there’s a viewing room and tours as well.

Bleu Mont in Blue Mounds is one of several cheeseries in the state with a cheese cave.

Asked what’s the most unique Wisconsin cheese she’s sampled — and she’s tried a lot — Hansen mentions Carr Valley’s Cocoa Cardona, a mild, sweet, caramel flavored cheese balanced by a slight nuttiness that’s dusted with chocolate.

“There are about 500 varieties of cheese or so in Wisconsin, so there’s a lot to choose from,” Hansen said. “And the cheeses here are not just for those who live in Wisconsin. Uplands Pleasant Ridge cheese costs $26 a pound and sells in New York City. That says a lot about the state’s cheeses.”

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