Say "Monroe!??!" ...err, how about "Cheese!!!!"

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To borrow from the opening of a famous novel, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

And that pretty much sums up this past weekend - a really horrible time (the disappointing triathlon), and a really excellent time (Green County Cheese Days).

My friend Jed and his wife Jamie are both from Monroe, and ever since I returned home to Wisconsin, they've been raving about the cheese curds from the Green County Cheese Days. We've gone on several "quests" to find comparable curds, but as good as some of the curds have been, none have met the high bar as set by the GCCD curds.

Now... the problem with GCCD curds is that they're only available for one weekend - EVERY TWO YEARS. That's right - the GCCD festival is held every-other year, which means curd lovers have to wait a whopping 730 days before they can enjoy the infamous GCCD Optimist Club curds.

I made sure to plan my weekend around the GCCD festival; I woke-up extra early on Saturday and went for a short run. I had the triathlon on Sunday, and yes, I should've rested, but I feel better if I get up and move around a bit. So, I did 3 easy miles of running, took a shower, and then headed down to the Monona Terrace to watch another airing of Michael Feldman's Whadya' Know radio show.

I love the show for a number of reasons, not least of which includes the free donuts they give you before the show:


There wasn't much of a crowd on this particular weekend; I'd estimate there were maybe 60-70 people watching the show, which meant I was able to grab a decent seat near the front of the theater.


I only stayed for the first hour of the show - I had several other errands to run before heading down to Monroe, and time was of the essence. I left the show just after hearing the weekly memo, and made my way over to one of the local bike shops where I purchased some Nuun electrolyte tablets and a new water bottle.

From the bike shop, I took off toward Watertown, where some delicious coffee awaited my arrival. I stopped at Berres Brothers to pick-up some of their scrumptious Highlander Grogg and House Blend coffees. If you've never tried their stuff, do yourself a favor and pick some up - it's amazingly smooth coffee. It's so good that I also grabbed a cup "to go."


From Watertown, I back-tracked to Lake Mills so that I could take a quick bike ride with my friend Dan. We had planned to ride our bikes to Delafield last week, but a surprise back injury prevented Dan from going. He wanted to get out and ride for a bit, as he was feeling better, so I stopped by and we rode for about an hour on the Glacial Drumlin trail. It was a nice, easy-paced ride; the weather was fantastic, and it was great to hit the trail with Dan for some good conversation and relaxation.

With the clock showing 3:00pm, I loaded my bike into the Prius and made my way back to Madison, where I showered, changed, fed the cat, and hit the road once again. I pointed the car south, toward Monroe, and let Jed know that I was "on the way."

Jed responded with an invitation to a friend's house - he and some other folks were enjoying some food, drink, games, and fun in the backyard of a friend's house in downtown Monroe. The house was apparently just a few blocks from the Green County Cheese Day epicenter.

I arrived to Jason's house (Jed's friend) at about 5:00pm, and was immediately welcomed and made to feel "at home." The hospitality was incredible - they had pulled pork sandwiches, brats, cheesy casserole, apple-pie pizza, chips, and a bunch of other really good food. I offered to make a donation for the grub, but they'd have none of it - I was told to dig-in and enjoy. Talk about great folks! Thank you Jason & company!!

After stuffing my gourd, a group of us decided to head down to the festival. As we were leaving, I snapped a quick picture of Jason's backyard - complete with two bagg-o games:


As we walked closer to the square, the crowds began to grow. Monroe isn't a huge town by any means, but there were people everywhere. I guess the festival attracts tons of people from all around the state; I was getting excited.

We quickly located the "ticket line" so that we could purchase what are referred to as "the golden ticket." The cheese curd tent requires you to exchange tickets for curds; $4 gets you one ticket and one ticket gets you an order of cheese curds. After standing in line for 10 minutes or so, I scored a couple of tickets:


And with tickets in hand, it was time to... stand in line again. Yep - there were two separate lines, and the line to acquire the actual curds was incredible. The tent had about a dozen serving lanes, and each lane ran at least 100+ people deep. We waited in line for our curds for another 10-15 minutes. The pay-off was worth it:


Here's a close-up of the curds:


And here we are, enjoying those succulent curds:


I feel bad for not being able to recall the name of the lady to my left, but that's Tony in the middle, Jamie, and then Jed. We inhaled those curds, and for good reason: they were spectacular. Easily the very best cheese curds I've ever had.

What made them so good? Everything. The cheese is incredibly fresh - the curds were made that morning. The batter is unbelievable - if it were applied to a piece of cod, it would rate as the best fish fry ever. That batter is then perfectly fried; the curds aren't over-cooked, nor are they under-cooked. There wasn't a hint of grease anywhere, and the curds finished with a slightly salty taste - oh so superb.

Here's a sneak peek behind the curd-assembly line; look at the bowls of curds, sitting in batter, awaiting their turn to bathe in that hot oil:


As excellent as the curds were, I sort of wish I had never tried them, because now I have to live with the curse of having to wait for another two years before I can enjoy them again. Words and pictures don't do those curds justice - they're so unbelievably good.

With our bellies full of curds, it was time for us to... walk around and sample some more curds. :-) Monroe is not only a beautiful town, it's also the Mecca for cheese manufacturing - some of the state's (and country's) best cheese comes from this area. Cheesemakers abound, and they all convene on the gorgeous downtown square to sell their goods.

We entered into a massive tent, where there were approximately 10-12 cheesemakers set-up, all with free samples available for the hungry masses to taste:



After sampling several dozen varieties of cheese, I settled on three purchases:


These cheeses were all reasonably priced; I think the most expensive "chunk" that I purchased was $5, which is quite a bargain given the high quality. That's not to say that all of the cheese there was cheap... Take this $1800 wheel of cheese for example - I'm not sure who would buy such a beast, although I sure would like to be their friend:


With my supply of cheese firmly in hand, we continued to make our way around the festival grounds. There were beer tents, bands, a carnival, crafts, authentic swiss yodeling groups, and all sorts of other interesting activities taking place. You'd be surprised to learn that Cheese Days is quite a fun event - it's easy to see why so many people flock to the area for the festival.

Jed was quick to point out a local bar that's famous for its Limburger/onion/rye sandwich. I didn't have the heart (or stomach) to try it, but I did wander in to check it out. While there, I snapped a quick photo:


On my way out of the bar, I spied a Saint Bernard, complete with the iconic "keg" around his neck. He appeared to be on a mission of sorts (perhaps he detected a stray curd), so the photo isn't that great:


The sun was starting to set, the temperature was beginning to drop, and it was getting late. I had thoroughly enjoyed my time at the GCCD festival and I really enjoyed hanging out with Jed, Jamie, and their friends. The entire event was really awesome - everyone was friendly, accommodating, and just plain "great." So, despite not wanting to leave, I forced myself to call it an evening. I bid the crew farewell and made my way back to the car, but not before doing two things: getting one final order of curds, and snapping a picture of the town hall:


Thanks again to Jed, Jamie, Jason, Tony, Matt, and everyone else for the wonderful time, and thanks to Green County and the city of Monroe for hosting such an excellent event. I've already started to count the number of days until Cheese Days 2012!

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Steve published on September 23, 2010 6:36 PM.

Worst. Triathlon. Ever. was the previous entry in this blog.

Oktoberfest bike ride: 45 miles with friends & frigid weather is the next entry in this blog.

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