Say ‘CHEESE’ &
By Tim Froberg
Beer and brats are big in Wisconsin, but it’s not the only food and beverage pairing we crave.
Wine and cheese is another incredible culinary combo beloved throughout the Badger state.
It’s only natural. Wisconsin is the dairy state and everyone outside our borders calls us “Cheeseheads.” So, we’re not going to apologize for liking our cheese – and nothing goes better with it than wine.
But wine and cheese is actually an odd pairing of products. Cheese is a heavy and fatty food, while wine is a clean, acidic drink. Yet, they work exceptionally well together – like Rodgers and Adams.
Why do wine and cheese have such good chemistry? Wine is loaded with tannin – an astringent antioxidant biomolecule found in fruits and vegetables. Tannin provides that dry, chalky taste in wine and generates a warm feeling in our mouth. The creamy element of cheese helps reduce the acidity of tannin. It’s like putting creamer in our coffee to alleviate some of the bitterness.
So, when you say ‘cheese’ in Wisconsin, it’s often a good idea to complement it with vino.
Here’s a look at some of the area’s top wine and cheese businesses. Some are cheese shops that also sell wine. Others are wineries and wine bars that pair their wonderful pours with charcuterie boards of meat and cheese.
VERN’S CHEESE, INC.
312 West Main St., Chilton, 920-849-7717
Vern’s has served the area for 57 years and is well worth the short drive to Chilton.
Vern’s is a food distributor selling some of Wisconsin’s top cheese brands along with other foods to restaurants, grocery stores, specialty shops, and wineries throughout the Midwest. It has a full warehouse and a diverse retail store.
In addition to its wide selection of Wisconsin cheeses, Vern’s also sells sauces, salad dressing, pasta, locally made frozen pizza, artisan crackers, jams, chocolates, and Wisconsin maple syrup and honey. Wine and beer are also part of the business. Vern’s makes it a point to include several Wisconsin wines and features new wineries regularly. If you’re a beer fan, Vern’s has plenty of quality craft beer to go with its fantastic cheeses.
Vern’s roots go back to 1964 when Vern and Edith Knoespel opened it as a one-truck business that made deliveries to customers in Northeast Wisconsin. The retail store opened in 2010.
LaCLARE FAMILY CREAMERY
W2994 County Road HH, Malone, 920-670-0051
LaClare is an award-winning goat cheese manufacturer in Fond du Lac County. All products are made from fresh goat cheese along with local Wisconsin milk.
The LaClare story started when Larry and Clara Hedrich – hence the name “LaClare” – started a hobby farm during the late 1970s with a couple of goats and a dozen chickens. It eventually grew into a full-time goat cheese business.
Cheddar, pepper jack, mozzarella, Evalon, chandoka, and feta are among the goat cheese choices available.
Make sure to check out LaClare’s visitor center and its cheese shoppe and café where guests can give their taste buds a treat with wraps, soups, salads, and desserts. Sunday brunches are extremely popular.
SIMON’S SPECIALITY CHEESE STORE
2735 Freedom Rd., Appleton, 920-788-6311
Simon’s is another established, award-winning business that has been selling stellar cheese for more than 75 years.
In addition to its own cheese products, Simon’s carries over 100 varieties of cheese from Wisconsin.
Stop by Simon’s and pick up one of its terrific gourmet gift baskets. And don’t even think about walking away without purchasing Simon’s famous squeaky cheese curds, made fresh on most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
Simon’s cheddar, feta, mozzarella, provolone, and its signature cheese curds have taken home industry awards in the past.
But Simon’s does more than just cheese. It sells wine, craft beer, sausage, fudge, and take and bake pizza.
The business was launched in 1940 by Art and Ann Simon. All of Simon’s cheese is supplied by its three plants in Appleton, Luxemburg, and Weyauwega.
ARTHUR BAY CHEESE COMPANY
237 E. Calumet St., Appleton 920-733-1556
Arthur Bay is also known for its tasty cheese curds, smoked provolone, and its long line of Wisconsin cheeses. It’s owned by Malcore Foods Inc., a manufacturer of cut and wrapped cheeses, cheese spread, and liver pâté.
Arthur Bay’s smoked string cheese gets exceptionally high ratings from customers along with its extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Try its specialty cheese that is half goat milk and half sheep milk.
In addition to its cheeses and meats, Arthur Bay stocks jam and jellies, honey, goat milk yogurt, mozzarella whips, beef sticks, pie filling, maple syrup candy, and more.
Arthur Bay is currently closed to the public (due to COVID-19), but available for online orders.
MONDO! WINE BAR & RETAIL
220 W. College Ave., Appleton, 920-903-1787
Mondo’s business is built around its deep wine menu, which can be experienced at its downtown Appleton café.
The wine can be paired with three great cheese boards. Or try one of Mondo’s thin-crust pizzas such as the Mondo Italiano, the Oh, Kale Yes (kale and ricotta) or the S.O.S (salami, red onion and serrano peppers with tri-blended cheese).
Mondo also has outdoor seating and a curbside retail pickup option for wine, assorted cheeses, and other goodies like Bavarian chocolate pretzels, East Shore sweet and tangy mustard, and Brooklyn mezcal and lime salami.
KERRIGAN BROTHERS WINERY
N2797, WI-55, Kaukauna, 920-788-1423
This winery offers a unique twist involving cheese. In addition to its assortment of tasty wines, owner Troy Landwehr is an accomplished cheese sculptor who has carved cheese blocks weighing as much as 1,000 pounds into works of art.
Landwehr still carves up blocks of cheese for weddings, special events, and winery visitors.
But making wine is his primary focus these days and Landwehr does it well. He opened the winery in 2000 after producing fruit wines in a basement and moved it to is present location in 2009. He relies on Wisconsin fruit for most of his products and creates unique vino like pineapple wine, and tomato and jalapeno wine. Landwehr has a tasting room with a variety of wine-related gift items available.
TANDEM WINE SHOP
101 Edison Ave., 920-221-9646
Tandem is a wine shop and bar in downtown Appleton with a friendly atmosphere and great drink choices.
George Koenig and Anastasia Burkham opened Tandem in August of 2015 in the building that formerly housed the McKnight & Carlson liquor store. It offers more than 800 different labels of wine along with craft beer, bourbon, and other spirits.
Wine lovers can enjoy artisanal cheese, charcuterie boards, and other light snacks at the tasting bar. Wine, beer, and liquor can also be purchased to take home. Live music is occasionally provided, and a dog-friendly outdoor patio is the perfect place to unwind on a warm summer night.
FLANAGAN’S STOP & SHOP
522 W. College Ave., 920-733-6689
If you can’t find a particular wine or beer at Flanagan’s, you will have a tough time finding it elsewhere.
Flanagan’s has one of the state’s largest selections of wine and beer. It’s a Disneyland of sorts for wine aficionados and craft beer enthusiasts and has been part of the Appleton community since 1958 when Jim and Rose Flanagan launched the business. It continues to be operated by the Flanagan family and may be the most well-known liquor outlet in Appleton.
Flanagan’s bills itself the Wine Superstore and has a wine consultant on hand daily to provide expertise.
Flanagan’s also sells assorted cheeses and sausages.
SANTE WINE BAR & BISTRO
108 W. Wisconsin Ave., 920-486-1725
Located in downtown Neenah, Sante is a wine lover’s haven, featuring terrific wines from all over the world along with appetizers and small-plate items.
Although wine lovers sometimes get a snobbish reputation, Sante pledges an unpretentious approach to vino and encourages customers to ask about wines that interest them.
Sante offers a full bar with over 30 wines available by the glass along with over 30 beers. It also offers some kick-butt cocktails and is known for its top-notch bourbon, whiskey, and scotch. In addition, Sante operates a retail liquor store and wine club with over 330 retail wines available to satisfy practically everyone’s palette and budget.
Sante also has a tasting room for public tasting events and private parties.
Xe54 WINE & COCKTAIL LOUNGE
1350 W. American Dr., Neenah, 920-915-9194
This Neenah wine bar offers classic cocktails, quality local craft beers, and more than 25 wines by the glass.
Bar, table, and sofa seating is available, and you can take your drink outdoors to the dog-friendly patio.
Live music is often featured, and Xe54 is a fun place. On its website, Xe54 bills its atmosphere as “cozy and classy with a hint of funk.”
WHISTLER’S KNOLL VINEYARD
N. 2845 WI-15, Hortonville, 920-420-6295
Whistler’s Knoll is a vineyard and event venue available for special occasions such as weddings, Christmas parties, corporate meetings, and team-building activities. It is also open to the public for its regular events like Wine Down, Wood-Fired Pizza Night, Food Truck on the Knoll, and Bloody Mary Sunday. Check their website whistlersknoll.com for public event times and dates.
With its rustic barn and wonderfully landscaped gardens, Whistler’s Knoll offers a serene setting. More than 20 wines and beers are available along with charcuterie boards and fruit and cheese plates. Make sure you try their signature snack, Holly’s Chicken Nachos.
“This place has the most beautiful gardens with hummingbirds and many varieties of songbirds,” said an online reviewer on Tripadvisor.com. “The outdoor seating is really nice and if you can’t relax here, you can’t relax anywhere. They play nice music, and you can really unwind and visit with your friends or family.”
6381 WI- 57, Greenleaf, 920-532-4384
Located just south of De Pere, LedgeStone is an excellent place to drop in for a tasting. It has a wide assortment of wines available and is known for its friendly, welcoming atmosphere.
The winery specializes in traditional, dry-style wines from Wisconsin with West Coast grapes. Beer lovers will enjoy the place, too. LedgeStone shares its space with Gnarly Cedar Brewery.
The kitchen is open year-round and offers charcuterie boards, house-made hummus, and some great flatbread pizza. Live music is often featured. Most music events are free except for Thursday nights.
W3953 Winnebago Heights Rd., Malone, 920-670-0034
Ziegler Winery offers handcrafted wine from almost 7,000 vines spread over 12 acres. The entire process – from growing and picking the grapes to the actual wine making – is done on site. The wine is made in small batches using 11 hardy varieties of grapes that can withstand Wisconsin’s harsh winters.
Wine, appetizers, and four craft beer selections can be enjoyed on two patios – one with a stage for summer outdoor music on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
Take a stroll through the woods on Ziegler’s Wine Walk or hunker down near its fireplace on cool evenings.
No reservations are needed for the tasting room (open to those 21 and older) and there are two upper mezzanines. Curbside pickup is also available for those interested in purchasing their favorite bottles.
The winery opened in 2015 and is located along the east shores of Lake Winnebago.
CELLARS WINE & SPIRITS, INC.
113 N. Green Bay Rd., Neenah, 920-725-0861
Cellars is an established business, first opening in 1972 as Bricco’s Beverage. It moved to its present location in 2003 when it was renamed Cellars.
Cellars is known for its full liquor offerings, including a wide variety of wine and microbrews. It has a friendly staff with four full-time employees that have more than 75 years of experience in the wine industry.
“First time visiting the store today,” said an online viewer on Yelp. “I had a very positive experience. They have a very good selection of spirits. The staff is friendly, knowledgeable, and engaged. I’ll definitely be back.”
POUR DECISIONS WINE COMPANY
W 7003 PARKVIEW DR., GREENVILLE, 920-573-8376
Pour Decisions, which opened in June, is located in the former Third Base Bar & Grill building in Greenville. They offer pours and bottles of reds, whites, and blends. It also serves a variety of craft beer and cocktails.
Pour Decisions is owned by Troy and Lisa Reissmann, owners of Shinery Moonshine Company. The Shinery specializes in whiskey and moonshine, but also sells its own brand of wine. Pour Decisions offers a wide variety of wines from Italy (Moncaro Pino Grigio), New Zealand (Koha Sauvignon Blanc), South Africa (Jam Jar Sweet Red), Spain (Mesta Tempranillo), and locations across the globe.
Cocktails made from Shinery Moonshine’s signature Boon Dog whiskey are an awesome option. Try a Moonshine and Cream, a Scorched Brown Sugar Old Fashioned, or Paradise in a Glass: an inviting concoction of vodka, amaretto, and Southern Comfort.
Pair your drink with a cheese and sausage charcuterie boards, and your tastebuds will rejoice.
Different wines will be featured weekly and a wine club with member benefits and gifts is expected to be added soon.
Patio seating is available. Reservations aren’t mandatory but are recommended.
The business is open Wednesday to Sunday, and closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Gift cards are available.