This morning I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese.” Wisconsinites do have a few admirable traits, and one of them is their ability to laugh at themselves when others think the state is nothing more than Northwoods and cow pastures. Because of televised Green Bay Packer games, pretty much all nonresidents know that people from Wisconsin are called Cheeseheads. Not as many know that when the DMV held a contest to redesign the state’s license plates, the governor at the time sarcastically recommended we change the state’s license plate motto from “America’s Dairyland” to “Eat Cheese or Die.” Wisconsin produces a lot of cheese, and quite a bit of it gets consumed in-house. 

Each year when Manyu visits Asia, she packs one suitcase with clothes and one suitcase with gifts for family and friends. She always leaves La Crosse with two suitcases, usually returns with only one, and then has to shop for a new suitcase a year later. For her mom and her sisters, she buys skincare products that are hard to find in Asia. For friends, she brings either vitamins or Wisconsin-grown ginseng. Vitamins are much more expensive in Taiwan than they are here. For her two French brothers-in-law, one now living in China and the other in Thailand, she brings cheese. Even Claude, my food snob brother-in-law, grudgingly admits that Wisconsin cheese is as delicious as the cheese he grew up with.

I found a cheese factory outlet that vacuum packs cheese specifically for air travel. One time I asked the woman doing the packaging to include cheese curds in my order, and she refused. She told me that she wouldn’t sell curds to any customer who wasn’t planning to eat them right away. “All of our curds,” she said, “come straight from the factory. If they aren’t eaten in a day or two, they don’t squeak.”* Curds are the Beaujolais of the cheese world. 

I am writing the first draft of this blog at the kitchen counter while I cook dinner. One of my tasks has been grating cheese for the Red Lobster biscuits I’m baking. My dog wasn’t even in the room until I pulled the cheddar and Jarlsberg out of the refrigerator. Since I’ve started grating, he’s been underfoot. Jarlsberg currently is my favorite cheese. It is also imported, which messes up the Wisconsin theme I am going for in this blog. I briefly considered lying about the two cheeses I used for the biscuits, but even that small bit of poetic license got overridden by my Wisconsin-bred trait of honest to a fault. Had I realized beforehand that the content of this week’s blog was going to be so regional in nature, I would have left the Jarlsberg in the meat keeper and pulled out the Colby. 

*Unlike cheeses that improve with age, cheese curds have to be eaten immediately. The freshest curds squeak when a person bites them.

Steven Simpson