American Beer Month
Beer and cheese
No need to tell Deb Carey, president of New Glarus Brewing Co., about the relationship between beer and cheese or the people who make those products.
"Beer people and cheese people have a lot in common," she said. "If all you'd ever had was Velveeta, and one day you had Cheddar, you might be grossed out -- or you might fall in love with it. But you'd definitely know there were different flavors out there."
New Glarus is located in the town of the same name in Green County, Wisconsin. In order to lay out a dazzling spread for the first evening of the trade show at the 2000 Craft Brewers Conference in Milwaukee, Carey simply got in her car and made a little swing through the county.
She'd pick up 10 pounds of cheese here and another 10 pounds there. "This is all Green County cheese," she said in Milwaukee. "All world championship cheese, fresh and they are local."
In parts of the United States, people pay a hefty price to try cheeses and beer imported from Belgium in organized tastings. In Wisconsin, folks the rest of the country call "cheeseheads" enjoy delightful regional pairings at their kitchen tables.
In the latter years that Milwaukee was the nation's beer capital most of that beer was industrial grade stuff, aimed at a mass audience and offering little difference in taste from one brand to the next. Today, Wisconsin has a vibrant community of small brewers and an equally bright fraternity of cheese artisans.
This is hardly new. At the end of the 19th century, Wisconsin had 225 breweries and more than 2,200 cheese factories.
It's best to visit Green County with a cooler in the car, even if you plan to buy no beer. Monroe, 12 miles south of New Glarus, is know as the "Swiss Cheese Capital of the U.S.A." Baumgartner's Cheese Store & Tavern on the historic courthouse square has been selling cheese and other goods in the front room since 1931.
The tavern is in back and decorated with reminders of the area's Swiss heritage. There are shields of all the cantons as well as a giant black-and-white photo of workers in a cheese factory, where giant wheels of cheese were once produced. When the Swiss Colony Corp., which is one of several large cheese sellers with headquarters in Monroe, gets an order for such a wheel, it calls the only "factory" that still makes the wheels -- a small family operation up the road.
A back road from Monroe to New Glarus takes you past both Prima Kase, which makes those wheels, and Chalet Cheese Co-op, the only commercial limburger producer in the United States.
"They are enjoying a renaissance of their own," Carey said of the Wisconsin craft cheese business. When she and her husband-brewer Dan Carey do tastings featuring New Glarus beer they often serve local cheese as well.
Carey spent three years lobbying the state Department of Agriculture to promote the link. In 1998, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board provided the funds to produce a 16-page full color "Sampler's Guide To Wisconsin Specialty Cheese and Craft Beer." It includes tips on pairing beer and cheese, tasting tips and recipes.
Although the New Glarus beer has won numerous national and international awards and acclaim, almost everything that Dan Carey brews is sold close to home. Since the brewery opened in 1993, the local market has been its focus.
"People like to know where their food comes from," Deb Carey said. "People want excellence and they want it some place they are comfortable."