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Your New Favorite Cheese Destination Isn’t in Europe

Choose your own cheese adventure in Wisconsin’s Dairyland with two tried-and-true itineraries from a local expert.


By Susan Axelrod

Published on March 28, 2024

Start with abundant land for grazing. Add European immigrants with ancestral cheesemaking knowledge. Season generously with science and innovation ... And you have the recipe that launched Wisconsin as America’s Dairyland. In creameries ranging from small farmstead operations to large, state-of-the-art plants, Wisconsin cheesemakers are turning out more than 600 varieties of cheese, which together have won more awards than any other state or country in the world. Wisconsin is the only U.S. state that has a Master Cheesemaker certification program (essentially a Ph.D. in cheese). And, no surprise, it holds the Guinness World Record for the “world’s largest cheese board,” too.

Wisconsin dairy cows (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

For any cheese lover—from die-hard turophiles to those just beginning to explore the world of curd, the state is a dream destination. In the bucolic countryside south of Madison, you’ll find the oldest cheese shop in the state, a cult-favorite brewery, and a dairy-plant-turned boutique hotel, along with myriad outdoor and cultural activities. 

Landmark Provisions shop manager (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

A Southern Sojourn

Getting to Madison is easy no matter where you live—Dane County Regional Airport receives direct flights from 16 U.S. cities. After a leisurely afternoon and dinner in freewheeling Schenk-Atwood or restaurant-rich Willy Street, pick up your rental car in the morning and set out on a cheese-inspired road trip through the heart of the State of Cheese.


Limburger sandwich at Baumgartner’s (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

Those who know Limburger either love or hate the odiferous cheese. Once made at dozens of Wisconsin plants, now it’s produced at just one, in Monroe, an hour south of Madison. Nothing beats tasting the cheese on its home turf, specifically at Baumgartner’s, a downtown stalwart famous for its no-frills Limburger sandwich: rye topped with a slab of the pliant, washed-rind cheese and raw red onion. Regulars also swear by the signature Limburger cheeseburger.

Pizza at Sprouting Acres (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

Time it right and you can join the families, couples, and friend groups on the lawn of this sprawling organic farm for Wisconsin cheese-topped, wood-fired pizza and live music by local bands. Held on the first and third Sundays of the month from May through October, these pizza nights are wildly popular; be sure to check the farm’s website for updates before you go.

Diners at Paoli Schoolhouse American Bistro (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

This little red 19th-century schoolhouse is now an elegant restaurant with a black-and-white, Belle Époque-meets-modern interior. On the menu, you’ll find classics like beef Wellington and a Gruyère-topped “bistro burger.” On warm weekends, book an idyllic brunch on the patio overlooking the Sugar River.

Locally roasted coffee, an all-day breakfast and lunch menu, and a rotating array of baked goods make this New Glarus institution a must-stop for a pick-me-up between cheese tastings. Located in an old sawmill along the Sugar River State Trail, it often bustles with cyclists refueling after a morning ride.

Firefly’s slogan is “Oregon’s Living Room” (that’s Oregon, Wisconsin), and years of Madison Magazine “Best Coffee Shop” wins back up the claim. Settle into a comfy armchair for a beverage and a snack, and ask co-owner Jeanne Carpenter, an American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional, to help you choose a selection or two from the artisan cheese case.

Behind the red door of this iconic New Glarus spot, “America’s Little Switzerland,” is a snug, wood-paneled restaurant that feels like it’s been beamed over from the Alps. Everything on the old-school menu gets high marks, but you’re there for the traditional fondue, served in an enameled cast iron pot.


The award-winning brewery founded by Deb and Daniel Carey in 1993 doesn’t sell its beers outside of Wisconsin—which is reason enough to make a special trip there. Before hitting the tasting room, take a self-guided tour of the hilltop brewery and its grounds, which are landscaped to resemble the ruins of a castle.

The small-batch beers served here are made with hops grown on the owners’ nearby 20-acre farm. The farm also provides much of the produce for The Cook House, next door to the tap room, which offers a menu centered on smoked pork and brisket.

Bailey’s Run Vineyard (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

Bailey’s Run boasts a tasting room lineup of 30 wines, pizza, cheese and meat boards, stunning views of the surrounding countryside, and live music. Its newly opened sister distillery offers craft cocktails and a pub-style menu in a warehouse-like space warmed by leather couches you can sink into.

The second-oldest brewery in the U.S., Minhas occupies three city blocks in downtown Monroe. Don’t miss the impressive Herb and Helen Haydock World of Beer Memorabilia Museum, then head across the street to sample the signature Punjabi Club Rye Whisky—named in honor of the current owners’ family origins.


Left: Landjäger sausages at Alp and Dell Cheese Store. Right: Roth Cheese aging cave (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

657 2nd St., Monroe.
(608) 328-3355

Home to Roth Cheese, this chalet-style shop is the place to pick up Roth-label cheeses as well as other standout examples from throughout the state, including Joe Widmer’s Brick and Andy Hatch’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve. If you get there early enough, you can even watch the cheesemaking process from Alp and Dell’s viewing hall.

This shop has perfected the grilled cheese sandwich—with plenty of melty pull for that ’gram-worthy photo. Go for the top-pick 3 Mouseketeer (havarti, cheddar, and Monterey Jack) or one of seven other sandwiches, and pick up some award-winning cheese curds for the road.

Chris Roelli is the brains behind some of the state’s most distinctive cheeses, including Red Rock, an American-style cheddar with blue veining, and Dunbarton Blue, an English-style cheddar also shot through with blue.

The longtime home of Paoli Cheese Cottage has been reborn as an eclectic shop selling artisan goods, including jewelry, pottery, art, jam, and chocolate by more than 70 local makers. In a nod to its history, it still stocks bags of fresh curds.

Cheesemaker Anna Thomas Bates runs this Paoli shop, where you can order the sandwich that made her a repeat Wisconsin Grilled Cheese Championship winner, plus pantry items and home goods.


For a glimpse into how cheese was made more than a century ago, visit this museum, where once a season local cheesemakers dust off the old copper vats to produce a 90-pound wheel of Swiss.

Music at the Mill in Paoli (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

Home to boutiques, a seasonal farmers market, and a romantic B&B, the historic mill in the heart of Paoli hosts live outdoor music from April through October. Grab a beer at the Hop Garden and settle in on the lawn next to the Sugar River.

The mostly flat trail follows an abandoned railway bed through the woods for 24 miles, with parking and easy access to refreshments at Brodhead, Albany, Monticello, and New Glarus. Bike rentals and $5 trail passes (required for cyclists over 15) are available at the New Glarus trailhead. Walking is free.

Imported from Switzerland and painted with fanciful designs by local artists, the life-size “herd” of cow sculptures adds even more whimsy to New Glarus’ charming downtown. Can you find all 15 without checking the map?

Street art in Monroe (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

Courthouse Square

With its six-story clock tower and grand turrets, the Green County Courthouse is a prime example of Romanesque Revival architecture and the centerpiece of historical Monroe. Take a self-guided tour to visit the judge’s bench; a robe and gavel invite a photo op.


Seven Acre Dairy (Photo: Lucy Hewett)

A former dairy plant that’s been smartly converted into an eight-room hotel, Seven Acre Dairy was an instant hit when it opened in 2023. Some of the modern, airy rooms and suites offer Sugar River views, and dinner at the onsite restaurant features house-churned butter and dry-aged dairy beef—what aficionados call “butter beef” due to its terrific marbling.

Up to 12 guests can share this comfortably appointed farmhouse to experience life on a family-owned dairy farm that’s still in operation. You’ll get the chance to interact with the animals—including hand-milking a cow—and both kids and adults can go for horseback rides.

N. 3808 Duncan Hill Rd., Argyle.
(608) 206-6704

You can take in the sounds, scents, and sights of rural Wisconsin from your snug abode on an organic dairy farm at Morning Dew. If you’re so inclined, you can help with farm chores like collecting eggs from the chicken coop (or just watch if you’re feeling lazy); if you crave a bit more activity, Monroe is just 10 miles away.

Beamed ceilings and other woodsy touches give the rooms at this New Glarus landmark a distinctly Alpine feel. Enjoy the indoor pool before tucking into a dinner of traditional Swiss specialties like Wiener schnitzel and cheese fondue, followed by a nightcap at Älpli Bar.

The Western Ramble

The route from Madison to Wisconsin’s hilly Driftless Area affords scenic vistas in any season. To make it a day trip, get an early start and head west on Route 14—also called the Frank Lloyd Wright Highway—and across the Wisconsin River to the village of Spring Green, the famous architect’s hometown.


Taliesin Riverview Terrace (Photo: Brett Anderson)

Also known as Taliesin East, this 800-acre hillside complex preserves the legacy of architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright. A visit to Wright’s home, studio, school, and surrounding landscape, which Wright viewed as his laboratory, offers a perspective into his theories and processes. Taliesin is also the home to River View Terrace, the only restaurant Wright ever designed. 

Housed in an historic bank building, one of Spring Green’s newest restaurants mixes artful cuisine with retro-cool decor and a friendly, cheerful vibe. The seasonal menu spotlights locally sourced cheeses, produce, and proteins. 


“Go outside. Take a snack.” is the tagline for this one-stop picnic supply shop, where the sandwiches are served with a side of sass. Treat yourself to an artisan cone from Frozen Local, the ice cream shop that shares the Wander space. 


The world’s largest carousel, a 200-foot-long sea creature, a room full of music machines, and hundreds of dollhouses—each uniquely decorated—are just a few of the collectibles you’ll find at Alex Jordan’s madcap “house,” which he opened as a tourist attraction in 1960.

One of the country’s most respected theater companies for classic productions, APT presents nine plays during its June to November season. For the full experience, arrive early enough for a picnic on the lovely grounds.

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