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Random Sat Feb 05 2011

The Sconnie Snack (A Rebuttal)

Bricks of goldFirst of all, I find it hard to believe that the entire city of Chicago has turned its back on Midwestern pride and solidarity to root for the Steelers tomorrow. The number of city- and suburb-dwellers owning or renting property in the Northwoods alone should give anyone pause when allegiances are being formed. I think there's more than enough room under the Packer fandom umbrella to not only fit, but welcome (probably with a free drink and a church hug! We are a friendly bunch after all) any and all who primarily cheer for the Bears but might, just might, quietly root for the Green and Gold in tomorrow's championship.

Secondly, let's not pretend that only one of tomorrow's two teams comes from a rich culinary tradition. Say what you will about Wisconsinites' procilvity for adding green and yellow food coloring to unlikely foodstuffs (bagels, guys? Really? That just looks like mold), this is also the home of the kringle, the foot-tall pies of the Norske Nook, the American miner's pasty (okay, the UP can share the claim for that one), The Bratwurst Capitol of the World, New Glarus Brewing Company (not to mention Miller Brewing Company, or about 70 others), beer cheese soup, beer butt chicken... Really any combination of beer and cheese. We're equal opportunists for the consensual merging of that which we most love! (Which is more than Ben Roethlisberger can say, am I right??) And on top of the Wisconsin food pyramid, reigning supreme over the vast farms and small towns of America's Dairyland, is the cheese curd.

Curds, ready to goCurds are harder to find in Chicago than one might expect. You can track them down on bar and fine-dining menus around town, from Small Bar on Division, to the poutine at the Gage, to the grilled cheese sandwich at the recently opened Grahamwich, but finding them at the supermarket is more challenging. Oberweis Dairy used to sell some at its Milwaukee Avenue location, but apparently that's now a distant memory (they weren't Oberweis brand, in any case). Whole Foods has them, but only at the giant store off of North Avenue (found that out the hard way), and theirs are sort of dried out and dense. The perfect curd should be fresh, which means it's springy in consistency and squeaks against your teeth, and mild in flavor. (The saltiness and richness comes in as cheese ages, not when it's a newborn.)

Curds 1As chance would have it, I'm in Wisconsin RIGHT NOW, and had an opportunity to track down the real deal so I can contribute to the Chicago Super Bowl viewing party I'm attending tomorrow. While you can get curds at any Wisco supermarket (or gas station, for that matter), why not head to the source? At 11am this morning, I rolled into the very full parking lot of the Dairy State Cheese Company in Rudolph, WI (population 423) with my parents, a camera, and a wad of cash.

Through the crowd (including families with small kids and employees clad in white cotton milk man clothes or Packers jerseys), lines snaked from the registers around the waist-level coolers cases and up to the observation windows that opened out onto the cheese-making floor. A heady smell of butter permeated the long room. And we sort of lost our minds. Cheese shaped like a dinosaur, or a pony, or Bucky Badger! Four different kinds of string cheese! Chocolate cheese! Ice cream! Display cases of antique cheese keepers and butter moulds! Display cases of smoked meats and sausages! And everyone looked as if they were having as much fun as we were. Especially when we went into the next room to get ice cream cones.

More cheeses35 minutes and $60 later, we were lugging our trophies out to the car in a big cardboard box: blocks of cheddar and monterey jack, wheels of colby and colby jack, colby with caraway seeds, jack with horseradish, cambembert-style goat cheese, goat cheddar, chevre with honey, Danish-style Juusto, Indian-style Paneer, imported Italian parmesan, imported raclette, blue cheese crumbles, jack-style blue, a knob of braunschweiger, and a block of colby shaped like a football player. Dipped in green and gold wax sealing. Oh. My. God. To quote another patron on his way out, rounding up the kids and balancing his own cheese box with one hand, "The adventure continues at home!"

This place doesn't have a website, doesn't advertise (or hasn't to my of my parents' memory), and was still jam-packed. And they ship. If you give them a call, I bet they'll send you a price list and order form. It might not be in time for the big game, but there are bigger things than football. And good cheese, from a Midwestern neighbor, is right up there.

Dairy State Cheese Company
6860 State Rd 34
Rudolph, WI 54475


Matthew / February 5, 2011 2:49 PM

Pittsburgh's the first city in the Midwest, sitting as it does at the head of the Ohio River Valley. There's also more in common between a former steel town and Chicago than some vacant tract of dairy land.

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