During a trip to Milwaukee, I sign up for an “Old World Third Street/RiverWalk Tour” with Milwaukee Food Tours. Sandy is my guide for the day, and her infectious enthusiasm for the city and apparent love of food has me excited.
We head to Old World Third Street, a three-block historic landmark zone just north of downtown. Milwaukee was founded in 1846, and German immigrants began settling in the city right away. This neighborhood is where much of this history has been retained, through traditional shops, restaurants and the detailed facades of the 19th-century European-style buildings lining this cobblestoned street that have remained over time. Today, I’ll have the chance to explore Milwaukee’s German heritage through the tongue.
Our first stop on our exploration of German influence on Milwaukee culture is the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, whose expansive cheese menu is 95% from Wisconsin. The shop is not only filled with cheeses of all shapes, sizes, colors, styles and tastes, but also free samples. My favorite is undoubtedly the fresh white cheddar cheese curds, a young, mild cheese with a firm, springy texture that causes it to squeak when you eat it. The Chocolate Walnut Fudge Cheese, which is essentially a milky chocolate fudge made with cream cheese, is also delicious, with a creamy texture and rich, sweet taste that’s undeniably satiating.
The Wisconsin Cheese Mart shares a space with Uber Tap Room, which is located through a door in the back of the shop, and we’ll be sampling an abbreviated beer and cheese tasting. We’re sipping a Wisconsinite beer from Lakefront Brewery, the only beer made with all Wisconsin ingredients, including a never-before-seen or fermented indigenous Wisconsin yeast strain. The straw-colored beer is light and refreshing and features aromas of citrus, clove and banana and a malty sweet taste. It’s paired with a Marieke Gouda from Holland’s Family Cheese, a consistent, younger cheese which gives it a satisfying creaminess. We’re also given a Bellavitano Merlot Cheese from Sartori Cheese. The queso is a cheddar Parmesan blend with a purple rind soaked in Merlot. It has a creamy mouthfeel, a crumbly texture, and well-balanced flavor. The experience reminds me that wine isn’t the only thing that can enhance a cheese tasting.