Best known for frats and beer halls, Madison, Wisconsin, may seem an unlikely destination for a food-focused weekend away. But the picturesque college town, nestled between two gorgeous lakes, is also the perfect place to explore some of America’s best cheeses--not to mention brats, ice cream and, of course, cheese curds.
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Ken Monteleone gave up the corporate world four years ago to open this wonderfully stinky artisanal shop. Most of the cheeses sold are made in Wisconsin, like Andy Hatch’s award-winning raw-milk cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, or Bruce Workman’s traditional Emmentaler. There’s also an “orphan” bin--small chunks of cheeses priced around a few dollars, perfect for bringing to picnics by Lake Mendota.
Try: Ann Topham’s Fantome Farm goat’s-milk cheese is only available in the spring and summer months.
12 S. Carroll St.; 608-255-2430 or fromagination.com
Skip Madison mainstay L’Etoile in favor of this newer (and more casual) eatery from the same chef, where locally sourced dishes include roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, and Sassy Cow Creamery cheese curds.
Order: The artisanal Wisconsin cheese board comes with four cheeses, walnut-date bread and homemade jams.
1 S. Pinckney St.; 608-251-2700 or grazemadison.com
Dane County Farmers’ Market
This Saturday market is one of the country’s best, with booths peddling small-batch cheeses, farm-fresh eggs, warm loaves of bread and massive bushels of just-picked produce. Come hungry and plan to spend a few hours: After you’ve eaten your fill, round out your shopping with beeswax candles and sprays of cut flowers.
Buy: This is the only place in town to pick up Bleu Mont Dairy’s clothbound, cave-aged cheddar.
Capitol Square; dcfm.org
Center for Dairy Research
This center within the University of Wisconsin’s Food Science department has been running a three-year Master Cheesemaker program since 1994. But for amateur cheeseheads, there are hands-on workshops for ice cream making, pasteurization and cheese evaluation.
Take: Geek out on an applied dairy chemistry class.
1605 Linden Dr.; 608-262-5970 or cdr.wisc.edu
Speckled Hen Inn
Just outside of town, this manor house turned bed-and-breakfast sits on 50 lush acres of orchards, forest and grassy expanses. Plus, there are breakfasts of farm eggs, homemade sausages and local cheeses.
Pit stop: On your way into town, stop by Culver’s for a butter burger and some frozen custard
5525 Portage Rd.; 608-244-9368 or speckledheninn.com