Let the Quest For Fried Cheese Curds Commence!

State 10: Wisconsin - July 30, 2017

Nate

We woke up in Escanaba, MI ready for another day of exploration. We usually are very excited about entering a new state, but today was bittersweet. We both were very sad to leave Marquette, MI, and Lake Superior behind. Nevertheless, we continued on our journey, since we still have 39 states to explore. It is your turn Wisconsin to show the Cross Country Couple what you're are made of! Aside from Wisconsin producing a ton of cheese, neither Lori nor I knew very much about the state, but we had a feeling we were about to get educated. Could these two vegetarians and aspiring vegans end up calling America’s Dairy Land their new home? We go into each state open minded, so anything is possible! Wisconsin; reveal yourself to us!!!

It was a 2-hour drive south from Escanaba, MI to the Wisconsin Michigan border, and we crossed at the town of Marinette, WI. The first thing we noticed of particular interest was the "Wisconsin Welcomes You" sign pictured below. Usually the state's welcome sign is a rectangular metal road signs with the words, "Welcome" to whatever state it is. There may be additional information such as the state motto, or the name of the governor. The welcome sign to Wisconsin was in a category by itself. It was a huge 12 foot tall wooden sign cut out in the shape of Wisconsin. I actually pulled over on the side of the road, and ran back to get a better picture.

After the sign, there was a state welcome center. We normally do not stop at welcome centers, because they usually contain touristy information. This is of little benefit to our journey, and just ends up cluttering the van with pieces of paper. However, since the welcome to Wisconsin sign was a site to behold, maybe the state welcome center would have something good to offer as well. Upon entering, there was a slender gray haired gentleman in his late 60’s behind the desk, who was very friendly and helpful. Although the welcome center ended up being tourist focused like most others, he did share with us one piece of very helpful information for which we are very grateful. We learned the annual Aerospace Festival was occurring this week in Oshkosh, WI, and the event draws 100,000 visitors each year. We were planning to visit Oshkosh to do a factory tour of their overalls, but those plans would now have to change. Neither one of us had a burning desire to attend an Aerospace Festival, and we certainly did not wish to be surrounded by 100,000 people! Since our plans to visit Oshkosh got kyboshed, we decided to re-route our path on the map through Wisconsin to run along the eastern shore along Lake Michigan. We never get tired of seeing the Great Lakes!

After exiting the welcome center, we noticed a cute crescent shaped foot bridge that crossed over a nearby river, which is pictured below. It was just asking to be walked across, so Lori and I happily obliged. When we made it to the other side, we found a nice local museum depicting the history of the town, but it was unfortunately closed. However, they did have a cabin from 1845 displayed outside complete with period appropriate furnishings, which was very interesting to see. We continued on, and found a quaint park that caressed the river banks we previously crossed. Not only were there were benches, gazebos, grills, and electric outlets at the park, there was also a very interesting bronze monument in the lake depicting two children swimming! There were also hundreds of geese all over the park, who weren’t very friendly. It seemed like they were marking their territory as there was goose poop absolutely everywhere! With a “HISS”, and a “HONK” each goose quickly let us know who was in control of that park. We were vastly outnumbered, and had no means to halt their advance. We were quickly surrounded! With our supply lines cut off and no reinforcements in sight, they pushed us back to the bridge at the parks edge. Upon making our hasty retreat back over the bridge, the battle of Goose Shit Park was officially over, and the geese emerged victorious! Unfortunately, there are no pictures of the goose chase as we were too busy running for our lives! On the way back over the bridge, I took a very nice picture of Rosie. I love the appearance of her reflection in the river! I don’t photograph Rosie enough, and should make a point to do so more often.

We then left Marinette, WI and drove 60 miles south to Green Bay, WI; Home of the Green Bay Packers. Neither Lori nor I are football fans, but we could not pass up the opportunity to see the legendary stadium. Another point of interest are the Green Bay Legacy Statues depicting people who were important to the city or the football team, which are scattered throughout the town.

We parked Rosie, and then headed to the riverside in the downtown area. The walkway along the riverside was nice, but clearly not used by the locals. They call the riverside walkway “The Cities Deck”, and build it out of composite material that looked like it would be used on the deck of a house. There was also peculiar extended lounge chairs built into the walkway. It was an interesting and unique approach to riverside development, but we were not really feeling it. Apparently neither did the residents of Green Bay, WI since there was hardly a soul to be seen on the summer weekend we visited.

Further down the boardwalk, we finally heard a faint sound of life in the far off distance. We proceeded a couple hundred feet down the walkway, and saw a live rock band playing outside of a restaurant/ bar. Since It was an another hot 90-degree day, we sat down at the bar to take in the music, and soak up some of the air conditioning. We were looking at the menu, and noticed a dish we were scheduled to try; Fried Cheese Curds! They have the same firmness as cheese, but with a springy or rubbery texture. They are usually orange in color, roughly the size of peanuts, and squeak when you bite down on them. They are then dipped in batter and fried. They are sold in most restaurants and pubs throughout Wisconsin.

After reading the description, neither one of us were jumping for joy at the thought of consuming fried cheese curds. Since they are a practically a 6th food group of the people of Wisconsin, we knew it was something we had to experience. However, they were extremely expensive at $9.45 for an appetizer, and the serving size left much to be desired. The fried curds had an interesting texture unlike anything I have ever had before. They were not as stringy as I expected melted fried cheese to be. The wax that traditionally covers the exterior of the curds had an interesting yet strange texture. The exterior of the curd was heavily breaded, and saturated in oil. Overall, our first experience with Wisconsin's fried cheese curds were traumatic and disgusting. However, this may be due to the fact the restaurant was not skilled in the preparation of the dish.

We then headed back to Rosie to depart the city. Green bay, WI is a lot smaller than we expected with a population of just over 100,000 people. However, there were not many people out and about during our visit which was nice. Perhaps they were all at the event in Oshkosh, WI. All things considered, Green Bay was a very nice town that was clean and well maintained. The city has a lot great offerings, such as football, wineries and microbreweries. However, we have little interest in these things, so Green Bay was just not our cup of tea!

We were determined to find a better venue to give fried cheese curds another shot! Lori then did some hot and heavy research on where to get the “best fried cheese curds in Wisconsin, which we can add to our growing list of obscure google searches we have made! From Lori’s impressive impromptu research, we found a German Tavern in Sheboygan, WI called 8th Street Ale House. They were the current reigning champions for the best fried cheese curds in the State of Wisconsin. We were impressed by their prestigious title as the competition certainly must have been fierce and cut throat. Sheboygan, WI was 45 miles south of our current location in Green Bay, and we immediately set a course. Let’s drive over an hour and a half at night through the bumpy back roads of Wisconsin with one head light out for waxy fried blobs of cheese! For some unknown reason it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We arrived at the 8th Street Ale House, which had the exact presentation of what one would expect a German tavern. What we didn’t expect was the place to be absolutely packed on a Tuesday night! They were featuring their semi-annual Harry Potter Trivia Night. Apparently, the turnout was quadruple what they were expecting, and they were very short staffed. Shame on them! They should have known nothing brings out the locals to a bar in droves like a Harry Potter Trivia Night! After a 45-minute wait, we were finally seated, and placed a single order for the best cheese curds in Americas Dairy Land!

We then sat in anticipation for another 45 minutes until they finally arrived. The exterior breading was light, crispy and appeared to have tempura in the batter giving it an unexpected yet pleasant texture. The curds were lightly fried to perfection, and were clearly hand rolled which added to the presentation. On the interior, the cheese was warm, gooey, and not as waxy as we expected. Although fried cheese curds are not something I would actively seek out, they were by no means an unpleasant local culinary experience. We both left feeling confident and grateful we had partaken in the best fried cheese curds that Wisconsin had to offer. We then headed over to a Walmart across town in Sheboygan, WI to sleep for the night.

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