The meeting of two Wisconsin paragons. Read about industry trailblazers, sample our expert pairings and engross yourself in two evolving artisan cultures.
What binds beer and cheese together enough to make a cover story out of the pair? Sure, they’re quintessential Wisconsin products, but what hooks us is the culture. We’re not talking about bacteria or yeast – though beer and cheese do have those – but a culture of artisan producers who push boundaries to create exciting new flavors. A culture of devoted aficionados who go to surprising lengths for their hobby. A culture of exploring, tasting and appreciating. We’re about to walk you through that world. You’ll find pairings, trends, guides to shopping and presenting, and a look at some of the people behind the products. Dig into this edible, quaffable opus.
THEY’RE TASTY ON THEIR OWN, but together, the right selections of beer and cheese can unlock even more deliciousness and amplify what makes each of them great. For these pairings, we started with our 10 favorite Wisconsin beers and cheeses and found four that we thought tasted particularly great together. We hope you enjoy their contrasts and complements as much as we did.
The Beer: Serendipity, fruit ale from New Glarus Brewing, New Glarus
The Cheese: Burrata, cow’s milk burrata from BelGioioso Cheese, Denmark/Green Bay
Why It Works: While most pairings have the beer tempering attributes of the cheese, the roles are flipped in this one. Serendipity, which is made with cranberries, cherries and apples, brings a ton of that fruit to the palate, along with an assertive, dry-finishing tartness. The yang to this yin is the soft, milky burrata – rich but delicate, almost like a fantastic cottage cheese – moderating the beer’s sweet/sour intensity.
Strong on Strong
The Beer: Paradocs Red, imperial IPA from Raised Grain Brewing, Waukesha
The Cheese: Dunbarton Blue, a bandaged cow’s milk blue from Roelli Cheese Haus, Shullsburg
Why It Works: This pairing is fun because its whole ends up being far smoother than its intense, brash components. Paradocs is assertively bitter, with a piney hop character, but when it meets the super-salty Dunbarton, a sweet, fruity malt emerges, while the beer cuts the salt and the musty / damp basement / sweatsock flavor to reveal a savory, shiitake-like note.
The Beer: Riverwest Stein, amber lager from Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee
The Cheese: Plain Mature, aged cow’s milk Gouda from Marieke Gouda, Thorp
Why It Works: The cheese’s sharp saltiness up front gives way to a sweet, smooth finish – a parallel to the beer’s (relatively modest) hop bitterness up front and caramel-malt sweet finish. Riverwest Stein’s carbonation interplays nicely with the creamy, buttery richness of this Gouda, which is a standout cheese even on its own.
The Beer: Clawhammer, German pilsner from Door County Brewing, Baileys Harbor
The Cheese: Queso Oaxaca String Cheese from Cesar’s Cheese, Sheboygan Falls
Why It Works: The mildest of our quartet fi nds this salty, extra-milky mozzarella alongside a dry, crisp and moderately bitter beer. Texture is in play, too, with the bubbly pils playing nicely off of the pleasantly rubbery, almost curd-squeaky cheese.
More Favorites to Try
Happy Place, pale ale from Third Space Brewing, Milwaukee
Reward, imperial IPA from Good City Brewing, Milwaukee
Johnny Blood Red, Irish red ale from Titletown Brewing, Green Bay
Warped Speed, Scotch ale from Lake Louie Brewing, Arena
Bourbon Barrel Stout from Central Waters Brewing, Amherst
Cocoa Cardona, semi-hard, aged goat’s milk with a cocoa-dipped rind from Carr Valley Cheese, La Valle
Evalon, semi-hard goat’s milk Gouda from LaClare Farms, Malone
Petit Nuage, soft, sheep’s milk from Landmark Creamery, Darlington
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, hard, grass-fed cow’s milk from Uplands Cheese, Dodgeville
Red Rock, hard cheddar with a flicker of blue from Roelli Cheese Haus, Shullsburg
Triple Play, semi-hard, mix of cow’s, sheep’s and goat’s milk from Hook’s Cheese, Mineral Point
Culture Makers stories by Jane Burns
Urban cheese artisan Bob Wills turned an entrepreneurial itch into a business that’s helped build the state’s flourishing artisan cheese industry.
Quietly over a few decades, Bob Wills has become a figure in Wisconsin cheese as towering as the clock that gives his Milwaukee creamery its name.
Launching his hometown’s first cheese factory could have been a singular achievement, but when Clock Shadow Creamery opened in Walker’s Point (138 W. Bruce St.) in 2012, it was just the latest move in a career that has helped shape the state’s industry. Wills knows the artisanal and commodity sides of cheese making as owner of Cedar Grove Cheese in Plain. And knowing a good business opportunity when he sees one, Wills gave his company’s cheese curds a name and trademarked it: Squeaks.
“Some people have an entrepreneurial thing, almost like an illness,” Wills says. “There’s an adrenaline and a sense of responsibility that goes with it that is burdensome and also very rewarding.”
“A lot of the objective of being here was finding out what customers liked and what they couldn’t get,” Wills says.
In Milwaukee, there was one big gap: fresh cheese curds. Clock Shadow fills that need with tons of them (75 percent of the 5,000 pounds of cheese made weekly at the factory). Demand for curds has grown with the emergence of battered curds and poutine on appetizer menus.
Curds could easily be called Cheddar Jr., as they are part of the process of making it. They’re what remains after whey has been drained from coagulated milk, and they are further pressed and aged to become cheddar. Wills knows that the state’s cheese heritage has been primarily a rural tradition. That’s not obvious to visitors, so Clock Shadow has found a niche as a tourist spot, too.
Take a Tour of Clock Shadow Creamery
138 Bruce Street
Learn the history of making cheese and sample curds and other fresh products. Tours offered on Wed., Fri. and Sat. every half-hour from 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Adults $3; kids under 12 $2. Reservations: 414-273-9711 or clockshadowcreamery.com.
If trading politics for cheesemaking seems like a more mellow way to live, you don’t know much about the cheese business. In the five years since Anna Landmark left policy and campaign work to reconnect with her farm roots, the company she founded with business partner Anna Thomas Bates has been going nonstop. What began as a way to use milk from animals on her hobby farm has turned into a full-fledged life of cheese: making, selling, entering (and winning) contests and constructing a production facility in the Dane County town of Paoli. Landmark Creamery Provisions also doubles as a small cafe and a spot where the young Landmark and Bates kids sometimes lend a hand. The company specializes in sheep’s milk cheese, including award-winning Petit Nuage. The Annas are moving forward full speed, and ready for the long haul. “We’ve gotten so much support and mentoring from so many people,” Landmark says. “That helped us nail down good recipes early, but we’re still very much in startup mode.”
The Thrill of the Trade
Story by Dan Murphy
The bottle of Toppling Goliath Mornin’ Delight looks unassuming enough, with its tan label of a steaming coffee cup. But to the particular type of beer geek who trades and purchases rare beers, it’s solid gold. Not just because the maple coffee stout inside is delicious but because purchasing Mornin’ Delight requires winning a lottery and driving to Decorah, Iowa, to pick it up.
Milwaukeean Daniel Roberts has a bottle from the inaugural 2013 Mornin’ Delight release, a bottle of which sold last August at $1,750, as reported to beerblackbook.com. Roberts, a self-proclaimed beer hoarder, has no intention to sell, though. It looks just fine among the some 1,500 other bottles in his cellar.
The internet has made it easy to trade with other afficionados for the rarest of beers. Facebook groups and niche websites connect beer drinkers from around the world and let collectors swap and proudly show off hauls of rare beers, known as “whales.” One Milwaukee Facebook group has more than 550 members. Big stouts, sours and fresh, hoppy beers are the most sought after.
“I used to collect baseball cards as a kid. For me this is kind of the same thing for adults,” says Doug Atkinson, whose Grafton home features a stunning cellar and tasting room. “It’s like ‘I got a Robin Yount rookie card’ but instead it’s, ‘Here’s my Toppling Goliath Assassin.’ You get a rush.”
One downside of successful trading is sheer volume. The thrill of the chase can outweigh the thrill of the taste, and result in massive collections of boozy brews. “You start buying different things just to try them,” says Eleanor Wonser, who has roughly 500 bottles in her Milwaukee home. “You start having tasting parties. It just becomes a bigger and bigger thing.”
Says Roberts: “I don’t think I can physically drink all of the beer that I possess. But it’s not only about the beer, it’s about the friendship and camaraderie. I’ve probably made more friends through beer than any other avenue in life.”
Home brew, home pours
Brew Your Own
Tasting craft bear often leads to brewing one’s own craft beer. Erin Anderson, co-founder of Barley’s Angels Milwaukee, caught the homebrewing bug 10 years ago and offers a few tips for newbies:
A kit is a great starting point. I started with a basic homebrewing equipment kit – brew kettle, fermenting bucket and a bottling bucket and accessories. Northern Brewer (1306 S. 108th St., West Allis) is a great resource for equipment and has a bunch of beer recipe kits that make brewing your first batches pretty easy. (There are lots of online shops, too.) If you can clean stuff and boil water, you can make beer.
Follow the kit’s instructions your first time so you understand the brewing process. If you try and get wild and crazy with your brew the first time out, you’ll most likely run into problems. It’s like cooking – follow the recipe the first time, then get creative. And do research on any additions you’re making. There’s nothing worse than ruining an entire batch of beer.
How to Brew by John Palmer is a great book on brewing. The American Homebrewers Association has loads of tutorials and resources on its website (homebrewersassociation.org). Local homebrewing clubs [like Beer Barons of Milwaukee and the women-focused Barley’s Angels] and forums are great resources for questions and guidance, too.
The whole point
Make sure you enjoy a frosty one while brewing!
Pour It Perfectly
Start with the glass at about a 45-degree angle and pour at a moderate pace onto the middle of the glass. About halfway through, bring the glass back to vertical and pour the rest down the center, adjusting pour height and rate for the perfect amount of head – usually about an inch or a bit more for a 12-ounce pour. Sniff deeply and enjoy.
The Ultimate Cheese Board
Crafting a Wisco-artisan cheese board is a labor of dairy love that heightens the tasting. Earning oohs and ahhs requires planning. Aim for four to five cheeses of varying textures and flavors. Meats, crackers, fruits and condiments help build an attractive board and coax out nuances in the cheese. Here’s how to pull off this showstopper.
The black tea, sharp ginger and tart cranberries in Quince & Apple jams pair with mild cheeses. Fresh apples and pears add crisp tang, and Wisconsin dried cranberries make a chewy, tart palate cleanser.
A Kick at the Can
Story by Chris Drosner
It’s big out East. And Milwaukee’s Eagle Park Brewing is betting it’s going to be big here, too.
Brew City began seeing its first regular taproom-exclusive releases of canned beer in April, shortly after Eagle Park opened its larger (but still small) new brewery on the East Side.
Such releases have become a phenomenon on the East Coast – the silver, sticker-wrapped cans and their hazy, hop-forward contents like catnip to beer geeks. One Massachusetts brewery, Tree House, made some 30,000 barrels of beer last year – about two-thirds of Lakefront’s 2017 production – and every drop was sold out of the taproom, most of it in cans.
Eagle Park is a long way from that, but its team aims to quicken the pace from its six can releases in its first two-plus months. The goal is to keep the taproom cooler stocked with Eagle Park’s “newest and most exciting creations” for customers to take home anytime, says co-founder Jake Schinker.
The benefits? The profit margin is nice, of course, but quality control for delicate, drink-it-now beers like hazy IPAs and heavily fruited ales is key, too, Schinker says. “Keeping it cold and keeping it fresh is the name of the game, and the best way to do that is selling the cans in our taproom.”
Heart of the glass
If you’re drinking great beer, you should be pouring it into a glass – and, even better, a “proper” glass to maximize its greatness.
Let’s Get Weird
The uninitiated may scowl due to their label associated with spoiled milk: sour. But sour and wild ales are mysterious delights. They’re not a single style but a whole family of them, many made with old-school techniques (hello, wooden barrels) that imbue them with acid-producing bacteria and “wild” yeast. The resulting funky flavors can carry colorful descriptors such as “barnyard” and “horse blanket,” and the acidity can range from delicately tart to tooth-enamel-stripping. It’s a palette more associated with wine, which for the vinously inclined makes sours – New Glarus makes some great ones, and MobCraft is figuring it out, too – a great entry point to beer.
The Land of Limburger
One factory, Monroe’s Chalet Cheese Co-op, makes all the Limburger shipped across the U.S. Originally made for German farmers who favored strong cheeses, this stinky cheese still has a niche following. What makes it so aromatic? Bacteria. Myron Olson, the country’s only Limburger Master Cheesemaker, injects it with Chalet’s own bacteria. It starts out crumbly, turning softer – and smellier – as it ages. Diehards eat it on rye with mustard and onion; a softer approach is on a cracker with jam. Though I’m not ready to call it delicious, its deep, earthy mushroom flavor make me want to explore further. I bet it’d be good with a Sprecher Black Bavarian.
New beers and breweries
Four times a year, Lakefront Brewery turns the keys to the brewhouse over to a single employee to create the next beer in what has become its engine of innovation: the My Turn series. Each staffer – turns come in order of seniority – designs the beer that takes his or her name and gets a party in their honor upon its release. The current Turn, a Mexican ale named after Beer Hall sous chef Arturo, is No. 27 in the series. The burly, affable Terrance Toliver began working at Lakefront 12 years ago and has worked his way up the ranks to logistics coordinator. He gave us the scoop on how the series works from the inside.
Your beer was the sixth My Turn, back in 2013.
I was the first generation, I guess you’d say. At that time we didn’t have half as many employees as we have now.
Does it feel like it’s getting a little more routine at this point?
No, it’s still fun. Now you get to see other people get excited about it. At my release, my party, people were thinking “Oh, it’ll never get to me,” and then here we are on that day.
How does the process begin?
You fill out a questionnaire that includes label colors or design. They ask you what’s your favorite style of beer, what are your hobbies, what you do at the brewery, things like that. Then they just piece it together.
You made a kölsch. How did you decide on that?
I grew up drinking Bud Light, so I was gonna do a rice ale. You sit down and talk to Luther (Paul), the head brewer, and he said, “Well, that’s kind of boring.” He gave me some beer books and I started reading through them and comparing what I like to drink, a lighter beer, versus what I could make that would make sense for a craft brewery.
Are there people who say, “Dude, I want to make a New England IPA with mango”?
Yeah. Now there are.
Is there a throttle on that from management?
I mean, it still has to be a Lakefront beer. No, it’s pretty much [anything goes]. I haven’t heard about anybody’s beer getting turned down.
For New Breweries, Go North, Young Man
New breweries have been popping up all over the Milwaukee area over the last few years. One spot noticeably silent during the brewery boom – West North Avenue. That changed this summer with the addition of three spots, all conveniently located on a 1-mile corridor that stretches from Milwaukee to Wauwatosa.
7208 W. North Ave.
Variety is a big theme at Stock House. A 1.5-barrel system will produce classic styles like cream ales and ambers, but not a lot of duplicates. Brewer Mark Mahoney plans on creating an ever-changing menu of brews that should keep things interesting. The “pay it forward” chalkboard lets patrons buy a beer for a friend who isn’t there. The next time the lucky recipient shows up at Stock House and sees their name on the board, they claim the beer.
6933 W. North Ave.
The barrels and foeders required to create oak-aged sours and wild ales take up a lot of space, and that’s why the Cedarburg brewery decided to expand with a Wauwatosa location. Owner Kris Volkman has done some remarkable things with beer at his original location – including, but in a broad range beyond, the excellent Juice Packets IPA – and there’s no reason to think that Fermentorium’s sour program won’t live up to similar high standards.
5519 W. North Ave.
Outstanding coffee is as big a focus as beer is here, which theoretically allows loyal patrons the opportunity to begin and end a productive day with a beverage at the spot in Washington Heights. Expect the java to work its way into plenty of the beer recipes, all brewed on a relatively small five-barrel system that allows for a fair amount of experimentation.
Shopping + Events
Where to buy: Beer
There are enough solid beer stores in the Milwaukee area that buying from your local usually gets the job done, but even the shops worth a drive have strengths and weaknesses.
These retailers don’t have the largest beer selection but make the most of it, curating their inventory well and having knowledgeable staff on hand. The prices are a little higher, though. Ray’s Wine & Spirits (8930 W. North Ave., Wauwatosa) has another plus: nearly all of its craft beer is kept cold, a big advantage for freshness in hop-forward craft beer. Also: Downer Wine & Spirits (2638 N. Downer Ave.) and Otto’s Wine & Spirits Bayside (8850 N. Port Washington Rd.).
It’s impossible to be truly comprehensive in beer these days, but Discount Liquor and Woodman’s Markets lead on prices and selection. Discount (5031 W. Oklahoma Ave.; 919 N. Barstow Ave., Waukesha) keeps very little of its beer cold but has an enormous stock, especially of imports. The vibe is the same but the coolers bigger at Woodman’s bottle shops (1600 E. Main St., Waukesha; W124 N8145 Highway 145, Menomonee Falls; 8131 S. Howell Ave., Oak Creek).
Where to buy: Cheese
Larry’s Market: Intimate and staffed by knowledgeable folks who know cheese and how to serve and store it. If you want an artisan Wisconsin treasure (not a mass-produced cheddar), you come here. In the fall, the shop carries Uplands’ seasonal raw cow’s milk Rush Creek Reserve – special and hard to find. Larry’s Sarah Seymour, who turned us on to LaClare Farms’ light, mellow goat cheese curds (another rarity in these parts), says the best tip she learned for selling cheese is “let people taste it.” (8737 N. Deerwood Dr., Brown Deer)
West Allis Cheese & Sausage: Co-owner Mark Lutz’s philosophy is to “carry everything I can get my hands on.” Find many styles and types of cheese from the big dogs in state cheesemaking, including Henning’s U.S. Champion cheddars. And check out the Cheese Orphans bin. (6832 W. Becher St.; Milwaukee Public Market, 400 N. Water St.)
Village Cheese Shop: For eons, Sabina Magyar dreamed of running a cheese shop. Magyar loves “epiphanies and sharing the cheesemakers’ stories,” she says. At the threshold of her sunny Frenchcountry-like shop in Tosa, the customer receives a subliminal message to slow down, linger and sample. Her selection includes cheeses from the Midwest, other parts of the U.S. and Europe. (1430 Underwood Ave.)
Wisconsin Cheese Mart/Uber Tap Room: Shop here for niche products like smelly Limburger and cheddars of every kind. Outside of a cheese factory, this is a great weekend stop for curds – delivered fresh on Fridays and Saturdays. Samples are always plentiful, and the beer selection is solid. (215 W. Highland Ave.)
Clock Shadow Creamery: The only working cheese factory in the city, Clock Shadow makes curds and soft quark every day. As you browse the store – which stocks gems like LaBelle’s buttery, flavored “Wisconsin Original” cow’s milk cheese – you may see some of the cheesemakers in action. (138 W. Bruce St.)
Mars Cheese Castle: Holy cow! In 2011, the Ventura family opened this castle replica next to I-94, doubling the size of its previous location. This pop culture palace features a bakery (kringle!), a beer wing (Spotted Cow for the Illinoisans), restaurant, tavern and gift shop. Artisan Wisconsin cheeses are represented, as are novelties like gargantuan spreadable cheese tubs, cheddars shaped like baseball mitts and, of course, customized boxes. This is cheesy kitsch in all its wonderful glory. (2800 W. Frontage Rd., Kenosha)
Sampling is an integral part of the artisan beer and cheese scenes. Here are our picks for the area’s can’t-miss happenings.
Border War Beer Fest
Harbor Park, Kenosha
Brewers-Cubs? Packers-Bears? Lakefront Brewery-Revolution Brewing? The Border War Beer Fest may be the start of a new state-line rivalry as breweries from Wisconsin and Illinois attend and drinkers vote on their favorites. The winner claims the “Willy” trophy.
Erv’s Mug (130 W. Ryan Rd., Oak Creek)
$40, $50 day-of
A cornucopia of Oktoberfests and other fall beers are on the menu at this annual event at a friendly beer oasis. Admission includes a full buffet of German food. Spaetzle, anyone?
Cheese 101 & Wine Pairings
Village Cheese Shop (1430 Underwood Ave., Wauwatosa)
This class covers it all: cheese and wine pairings, how cheese is made and the variety of styles, from bloomy to firm to blue. Of course there’s tasting.
$25 includes a glass of wine or beer
Green County Fairgrounds, Monroe
“The Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA” hosts the Midwest’s oldest food festival, with a plethora of activities such as cheesemaking demonstrations, cow-milking contests, learn about the many great cheeses made from goat’s and sheep’s milk and about Wisconsin’s role in this category.
Food and Froth
Milwaukee Public Museum (800 W. Wells St.)
For two decades, the Milwaukee Public Museum has expertly combined beer, wine and food into one outstanding fundraiser. Sampling among the exhibits provides a nice respite from February in Milwaukee.
Crafts & Drafts Spring Beer Fest
Serb Hall (5101 W. Oklahoma Ave.)
The beer list at this event sponsored by Discount Liquor and benefiting the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance is pretty amazing – long on rarities and one-off brews. It’s an essential part of Milwaukee Beer Week.
World of Beer Festival
The Schwabenhof (N56 W 14750 Silver Spring Dr., Menomonee Falls)
The Beer Barons have been pouring craft beers at this fest for 15 years, way before this whole craft beer thing blew up. It has somehow managed to retain its low-key charm despite pouring a lot of hard-to-find brews.
Wisconsin Beer Lovers Fest
Bayshore Town Center, Glendale
Dozens of Wisconsin breweries alongside plenty of local restaurants makes for a fine day for the palate. Beer fans who are into pairings are right at home at the annual event that in recent years has fallen on Father’s Day eve.