Before leaving for Wisconsin, I asked for recommendations from Serious Eaters, and they responded in force. Thanks guys! This would be the first day we took their advice, but not the last.
When I think of Wisconsin, the first food I think of is cheese. I knew that when I was there I would like to see a cheese factory, and my sister and I started looking for places that had tours. Luckily we found out about Union Star Cheese, not too far from where my sister lives, and one the way to Chain O’Lakes, our destination for the day.
Union Star Cheese
Union Star is a small, independently owned cheese factory. They get their milk from a few local farms, and make only a few different kinds of cheese. We learned that cheddar is naturally white, but way back when Wisconsin was trying to compete with Vermont and New York cheddar cheese makers they stared adding yellow coloring to make Wisconsin cheese stand out. The practice continues today (these days they use anatto seeds).
As I’ve mentioned before, cheese curds are a popular snack in Wisconsin. What, exactly, are cheese curds? At Union Star they not only explained the process to us, they demonstrated it. In the normal course of making cheddar cheese, once the cheese has coagulated, you chop it up, salt it, and press it into molds to age. The chopping up is the actual “cheddaring” process. Well, if you just rince the salt off and don’t press the chunks into a mold, what you’ve got are cheese curds. The fresh ones we had were amazing — and super, super squeaky. We bought a bag for the road, as well as a bag of string cheese, also made at the factory.
We continued on our way to Chain O’Lakes, a succession of relatively small inter-connected lakes created by glaciers quite a long time ago. We wanted to take a boat tour of the lakes, but we got there too early for the first tour so we grabbed a quick breakfast at Amherst Coffee Shop.
Amherst Coffee House
Until I saw this “Norwegian Pastry” I hadn’t really planned to get anything, but it looked so good I couldn’t resist. This is the cherry & cheese variety, which was not quite as good as it looks. A little on the dry side, it did pair well with the hot chai with some vanilla syrup (their chai is unsweetened, so the different spices are really highlighted).
After the hour and a half boat tour we drove around to the nearby state park and went swimming in yet another lake. It was, if possible, even colder than the water at Lake Michigan had been. The sun kept going behind the clouds, which didn’t help either. After some water and sun, we were ready for lunch.
One of my sister’s co-workers had recommended The Wheelhouse as a place to get a pizza and look out at the lakes while you ate. Well, the view was only so-so and the cheese & mushroom pizza was terrible. You’ll notice in the photo above an interesting Midwest treatment of pizza — it’s cut into squares rather than wedges. This means that you get peices without any crust, which in the case of this particular pizza was a good thing. We left a lot of the pizza uneaten, and headed to the parking lot behind the restaurant for ice cream at a place called Scoopers.
I chose an ice cream described as frozen custard with chocolate caramels and praline, which was not so good. I mean, it was ice cream so it could only be so bad, but it wasn’t really up to snuff. It certainly didn’t have the texture of other, much better frozen custard I would eat just a day later. Oh, I forgot to mention it yesterday, but when you order a “single” in any Wisconsin ice cream shop, be prepared for at least two giant scoops.
After returning to Appleton (and a nice nap), it was dinner time. Here’s where we took one of the suggestions from Serious Eats.
Cy’s Asian Bistro
My sister had never been to Cy’s Asian Bistro, and she was up for trying something new. We both like Thai food, which is what Cy’s serves, so we made the short trip over to neighboring town Neenah. As we perused the menu we were given a basket of rice crackers, unlike any rice crackers I’ve ever seen. They were crispy and delicious, especially with the peanut dipping sauce provided. Unfortunately, this was the best part of the meal.
In addition to spring rolls, I ordered drunken noodles with tofu, which is one of my benchmark dishes for Thai restaurants. The version at Cy’s uses much thinner noodles than I’m used to — they were pretty much the same noodles you get with pad thai (or as the dish is listed at Cy’s, pudthai). It was also far too sweet. After this meal and the one at Koreana, I put the kibosh on any more ethnic Asian meals in Wisconsin, at least for a few days.
We needed our rest that night — the next day we would be off to Milwaukee.
Union Star Cheese — 7742 County Road II, Fremont, WI
Amherst Coffee — N2732 County Road QQ, Waupaca, WI
The Wheelhouse — E1209 County Road Q, Waupaca, WI
Cy’s Asian Bistro — 208 W Wisconsin Ave, Neenah, WI