Little Miss Muffet on a Wisconsin Tuffet

grilled bratwurst
LAX 2 ORD no. 9

The last meal on the first leg of my vacation trip to the Midwest was supposed to be a charming autumn breakfast in Chicago the morning before departing for Wisconsin. A small cafe, Swedish pancakes with lingonberries, and a cup of steaming hot coffee.

Technically, my last meal in Chicago was a grilled cheese sandwich and a side of fries. The sandwich was made with nuclear neon yellow “cheese” that I can only assume tasted like the vinyl bench seating in my parents’ old Buick wood-paneled station wagon (you had a “woodie,” too?!?). But I don’t know for sure because I don’t remember actually eating the room service I ordered at 2 am the night before, and I wasn’t about to take a bite of the petrified half-sandwich on the tray next to the bed just to get a taste. There weren’t any fries left, though.

Cosi Coffee, Chicago, IL
wisconsin – no hills, no spills

Going out for a Chicago breakfast was out of the question because first of all, I woke up late and was *ahem* mildly hungover. A full breakfast, even crabcakes Benedict drowning in Hollandaise sauce, did not sound the least bit appetizing. I took a breakfast combo of alka-seltzer and very strong coffee. Secondly, (this is so embarassing) I was glued to the television set in the hotel room wathcing *ahem* Alien vs. Predator. I hate movies, but why can’t I tear myself away from one of the worst movies made of all time, based on two movies that I haven’t even seen?! I couldn’t even pack my stuff that was strewn all over the hotel room as if I had been living there for three weeks. In the final minutes before the appointed check-out time, after our heroine has been marked as a Predator warrior, I finally tore around the room, shoved everything, including a day and half’s worth of shopping on Michigan Avenue, into my bag and finally took off for Wisconsin with a cup of coffee in a shiny red….Chevy Malibu. I spied the paperwork for the convertible on the counter and had high hopes of cruising through Wisconsin farmland with my top down (the car’s, not mine!), but it was snatched away by the other salesperson. Damn.

I’ve never been to Wisconsin, and I wanted to make sure that in my very short two days there, I’d get the fullest Wisconsin experience possible. With lots of friends to visit, Milwaukee wasn’t going to be an opportunity to play Rachael Ray on her tasty travels, so we planned a detour to have lunch with my favorite Wisconsin family. I was so excited, we called them the day I decided to make the trip. I was so excited, we called them the minute I figured out what day we’d be there. I was so excited, we called them the second we hit the I-90 west. The whole way there, I was like the worst version of a fidgety five-year-old on a road trip, but instead of repeatedly asking when we’d get there, I was obsessing about what we’d eat there. “Are we having brats?” Yep, we’re having brats. “I’ve never had cheese curds! Are we having cheese curds?!” Yes, Sarah, there will be cheese curds. “We’re having brats, right?” Yes! We’re having bratwurst! “Are cheese curds like…cheetos?” I think I got a very weird look instead of an answer on that one. “Are we going to eat on the African elephant table?” Just a chuckle on that one.

When we got there, they had set out a lunch that made my eyes widen and my heart explode into a million smiles. Yeah, yeah, cheesy, I know, but this is Wisconsin we’re talking about. ;) Short of blowing up a map of the mitten-shaped state as a tablecloth, the entire table whispered Wisconsin. The only thing missing was my Number 4, but I’ll excuse him this time so he can maybe try to salvage the season. Sheesh. Maybe.

Wisconsin - bratwurst in a bun
grilled in unseasonally warm weather

We had bratwurst. Oh boy, did we have bratwurst. I’m not new to bratwurst. I’ve made bratwurst at home for my own personal Oktoberfest and I’ve had all kinds of wurst in restaurants from Rockenwagner to Schatzi. It’s not like they only make bratwurst in Wisconsin, and if you watch any food television at all, you know that Johnsonville has been on a mad campaign to sell their bratwurst all over the country. But I’ve never had a Wisconsin bratwurst in Wisconsin, chatting at the table with a relative of Lammy, one of the two men who made Red Brats famous at State Steet Brats in Madison. We weren’t eating Lammy’s smoked brats that day, but our brats from Klement’s, grilled to smoky, charred perfection, were awesome, especially with a fat stripe of spicy mustard. Who needs a bun?! I could have eaten three brats, naked.

Wisconsin - cheese curds
delicious miss muffet likes curds, not whey
Wisconsin - Bucky the Badger port wine cheese spread
bucky badger makes good cheese

If the brats were awesome, then my first taste of a cheese curd was…awesomer. Grammar gets tossed out the window when you eat the awesomest thing ever. LOL! Cheese curds are nothing at all like cheetos, so I guess I deserved that look I got when I asked. In the cheese-making process, when the enzyme rennin (this sounds nasty, but rennin is found in calf stomachs – *ew*) is added to milk, the milk coagulates and separates into a watery liquid called whey and semi-solids. The semi-solids are curds, which eventually get drained of the whey and are pressed together to become cheese.

Basically, cheese curds are the precious little pre-cursors to cheese, so the flavor is similar to a mild Cheddar cheese, but the texture is different. It’s hard to describe, but cheese curds are bouncier. If you squeeze a piece of cheese, for the most part, it will give in to the pressure and take on a new squozen shape. If you squeeze a cheese curd, it maintains its original shape, springing back from a little pressure. Unlike brats, cheese curds are not widely available outside Wisconsin because they have to be eaten very shortly after they are produced, otherwise they lose their “curdness.” Thank God, otherwise, I would sit down with a bag of cheese curds and grow to a very (un)healthy nine billion pounds. As a side note, I can never go to Wisconsin in the summer because at fairs and carnivals, a popular snack is beer-battered and deep-fried cheese curds. Oh, for the love of my arteries. Deep fried cheese curds.

Even though cheese curds are best fresh, they still packed a little plastic baggie of cheese curds for me when we left, along with Bucky the Badger’s port wine cheese spread, nuts (no Brazil nuts for JP!), and homemade cookies. It doesn’t get more all-American family home that that.

On the drive up to Milwaukee, I popped those cheese curds like they were a bag of…cheetos.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 vanessa November 23, 2005 at 5:10 pm

Damn. I love brats. I shouldn’t. But I do. Especially with a good mustard. And kimchee. Forget sauerkraut, too bland.

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2 e d b m November 23, 2005 at 6:38 pm

oh man those look so good. my friend from WI was telling me that they boil their brats in Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and onions for hours. i actually got to try it once at a bbq and loved them. did you bring back a lot of cheese?

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3 BoLA November 23, 2005 at 10:04 pm

Mmm…CHEEEEZE – I love it! Just call me Wallace. ;) You know, I never travelled north to Wiscahnsin when I was out in the Midwest. Got close, but traveled back towards Chicago. I SO do not miss the Midwest winters, that’s for sure! Glad you’re having a good time out there and hope the hives went away.

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4 sarah November 23, 2005 at 11:51 pm

um, i have yet ot try bratwurst with kimchee but something tells me that it tastes….AWESOME. LOL!

dylan: yeah, i think i remember seeing johnsonville brats commercials on tv where there’s a dude grilling the brats and then dumping those babies in a beer and onion jacuzzi.

kristy: the hives are much better now (the day before thanksgiving) but i still have to be careful tomorrow. sucks. *wah*

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5 Sam November 24, 2005 at 3:32 am

huh – guess you don’t know the Brit meaning of woodie? Needless to say we all snickered when Toy Story came out.

Nothing at all wrong with a good woody.

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6 Stacey November 24, 2005 at 6:18 am

I buy cheese curds at the Santa Barbara Farmer’s Market… just an FYI in case you ever find yourself a couple hours north on a Saturday morning. They have them in many flavors, too, including spicy and garlic curds. Danger! and they’re nice and fresh and squeaky. I’d tell you the name of the producer, but I already ate last Saturday’s batch and tossed the bag….

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7 U November 24, 2005 at 7:15 am

In eastern Canada, curds are available in just about every supermarket. They’re a bit harder to get out west, but they’re around, primarily due to the rising popularity of poutine…

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8 sarah November 24, 2005 at 8:33 am

sam! you naughty naughty thing! i have no idea what a woodie is, but i am guessing…it makes me *blush* LOL!

stacey: thanks for the heads up…i wish i had known about that when i went for little weekender bender over the summer ;)

u: what is poutine?!?!

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9 U November 24, 2005 at 5:52 pm

Poutine is fries with curds and hot gravy. It has been big in Quebec and eastern Ontario for a good twenty-five years, and spread across Canada in the last five or six years. What do you know, wikipedia has an entry on it: ‘poutine‘. Boy, their photo sure isn’t food-blog worthy.

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10 Radman February 20, 2009 at 2:30 pm

Oh Sarah, you simply must make a trip to Quebec for Poutine. My first trip there, I had no idea of the existence. But some kind older gentlemen in a restaurant bought some for my friends and I as a gesture of kindness and caused an addition that will last a lifetime. There’s not just gravy ones either… they make 4-cheese and italian style and oh so many more… mmm!

As for your next trip out to our neck of the woods, certainly try fried cheese curd (avail. at any cheese shop, fresh), Babcock dairy ice cream from the UW Madison Dairy cows, Lou Malnatti’s pizza in Chicago is absolutely the best Chi pizza out there.

@eatdrinknbmerry yeah, we do ’em up in beer first. My grandfather-in-law has a killer recipe which I’ve only gotten to have once, and that was for a pre-wedding party. Certainly special sausages.

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11 Tucker May 14, 2009 at 10:20 am

Can I just say that you made me all sorts of giddy and reminiscent of home? I am from ‘Sconnie and all the brats and cheese curds and talk of State Street Brats is making me hungry and homesick! Glad you liked my homestate! :) Oh, and I really like your blog too!!!

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