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Exploring Wisconsin Cheese

By Alan M. Murray,
Uncharted Staff

Uncharted's Alan Murray stands outside the Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Chalet in Edgerton, Wi. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Uncharted’s Alan Murray stands outside the Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Chalet in Edgerton, Wi. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I’ve never seen so much cheese. Over a week ago I began a month-long road trip from Pennsylvania to the western United States. My trip has taken me to Lake Erie through Ohio, to Michigan and then to northern Illinois, to Iowa, through Nebraska and now Wyoming. While in Illinois I was so close to Wisconsin that I just had to divert from my planned course to see what all this talk of cheese is about.

Wisconsin’s welcome center is near the state line in Beloit just off Interstate 90. They have tons of useful maps and brochures along with knowledgeable staff ready to point out  interesting facts and locations that someone passing through on the interstate might otherwise miss.

One of the first things they proudly handed me was a map showing 161 locations throughout the state all related in some way to cheese. Since Wisconsin dairies produce over 600 varieties of cheese and their dairy farms average 100 cows per farm, most of which are family owned, I guess having a map of cheese locations is useful.

With my new map, I set out in search of places where I could taste some cheese. As it turns out I didn’t really need the map. I hadn’t even driven 30 minutes north where I saw a huge sign towering over a service station with the word “CHEESE” prominently displayed over bright yellow at the top of the sign.

You can get this map showing 161 points of interest about cheese at the Wisconsin Welcome Center in Benoit. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

You can get this map showing 161 points of interest about cheese at the Wisconsin Welcome Center in Benoit. (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

The Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Chalet sells just about any kind of cheese you can imagine –– Garlic Brick, Veggie Cheddar, Cajun Colby, 8-year Cheddar, 3-year Cheddar, 2-Year Cheddar, Tomato Basil Farmers, Caraway Havarti and much more. There are blocks of cheese, cheese curds, slices and spreads.

In just a few minutes I went through about 20 toothpicks savoring only a half-dozen different cheeses. I now understand why people miss the cheese when they move away from here.

Just 50 miles west of Beloit is Monroe, known as the Swiss Cheese Capital of the United States, where I visited the Alp and Dell Cheese Store. Connected to the Roth Kase Cheese Factory, those visiting the store can also tour the factory and view a short video on making cheese. There are also plenty of samples to try.

Since I arrived in the early afternoon and most of the work happens in the morning, there were no scheduled tours. But I was lucky. Some workers were finishing up one last batch and they let me go back to a small viewing area where I could see them in action and later watch the video.

It’s also not surprising that a state that claims to have as many cows as school children would have plenty of cheese-themed restaurants –– like Baumgartner Cheese Store and Tavern. Open since 1931 and specializing in cheese sandwiches, it’s one of the oldest cheese stores in Wisconsin. Since I already had my fill of cheese at the last two stops, I ordered a smoked brat instead – covered in cheese. If you can take your mind off eating for a moment and look up, you’ll see clusters of dollar bills pinned to the ceiling. Donated by customers, the bills are taken down at the end of each year and given to charity.

And tasting cheese isn’t all there is to do with cheese in Wisconsin. You can also view a 300-pound hanging Wisconsin Provolone at the Tenuta’s Delicatessen and tour the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha.

 Alan Murray is Uncharted’s president. When Uncharted’s new online community of explorers is ready you can help Alan by visiting Wisconsin and sharing about your adventures tasting cheese. Sign up and we’ll let you know when it’s ready.


Road Trip

By Alan M. Murray,
Uncharted Staff

Alan Murray, Uncharted's President and co-founder prepares for an evening photo shoot while camping along the shores of Lake Erie on the Pennsylvania side. (© Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

Alan Murray, Uncharted’s President and co-founder, prepares for an evening photo shoot while camping along the shores of the Pennsylvania side of Lake Erie.  (© 2013 Alan M. Murray/Uncharted)

I’m living in my car. The trunk is full. The back seats are packed with supplies and there’s no room for a hitchhiker. I’ll be on the road for an entire month, looking for new places and in search of stories to share when Uncharted’s new online community of explorers is ready.

Photo and video equipment, extra batteries, lanterns, flashlights, a camp stove, a tent, warm and cold weather clothing (I have seen snow in some parts of the United States in July, and it’s September), firewood, a first aid kit and a compass are just a few of the things I’m taking with me as I travel from my home in the Philadelphia, Pa. area to the western United States.

I’m now camping on one of the the largest fresh water beaches in the United States near the border of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pa. It’s just a six-hour drive into my trip, small in comparison with the rest of my journey.  While the park doesn’t offer camping, there are plenty of privately owned sites nearby that have an excellent view of the lake and easy access to the park. I have a good one too. My tent is just 50 feet from the water and for 75 cents you can cheat and get a hot shower. I went snorkeling in the lake but didn’t see anything other than stones, algae and one kayak. Later I continued working on a long-term project photographing night skies and enjoyed the warmth of my campfire. My next stop is Michigan.

Alan Murray is Uncharted’s President. He’s on the road now and admits that even though he brought chocolate bars and graham crackers, he somehow forgot jumbo sized marshmallows and will not be able to make s’mores on this part of his trip. To learn more about progress on Uncharted’s online community for explorers sign up to be notified when it’s ready.