Last weekend, my sister and I boarded a plane to Illinois for a mini three day long vacation. A few months ago, our dad got a job in Rockford and had to move out there, so we went to spend Father’s Day with him, our step-mom, and our grandma. There were many amazing things to do in the Rockford area, which I will write a piece about at a later date. What I want to do now is focus on what we did our second day there. Because Wisconsin is about a half an hour from where they live, we all loaded into the car and drove to Monroe, Wisconsin, “The Swiss Cheese Capitol of the USA,” to go wine and cheese tasting, as well as go to a local brewery.
As we drove to the town square, it was as if we had landed right in the middle of a fairy tale. The architecture of every building had a very definite Swiss influence (one even had a mountain goat statue planted firmly on the tilted roof). These buildings were home to some of the cutest little shops I have ever seen. Among them were a gourmet chocolate shop, an antique shop, Baumgartner’s cheese shop (home to the goat), Rainbow Confections, which had old fashioned candies, fudge, and malts, just to name a few.
The picturesque city hall building stood tall and strong smack in the middle of the square; a castle in the middle of the kingdom. Music (that I can only describe as something you might find on the Shrek score) radiated from just outside this building, filling the farmer’s market that was going on in the parking lot. Adding to the majesty that was this sight, sporadically placed one the edge of the sidewalks surrounding the square were painted wood sculpture of children’s book and movie characters. Ariel, The Man in the Yellow Hat, Snow White, Mowgli and Baloo, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar were among these. I just could not get over how adorable and cozy this place felt.
Once we wrapped up there, we went to Alps and Dell. Once you take one step inside this cheese shop, you know you are some place special. All of the employees were dressed in Swiss garb, which only added to my theory that we had driven into a storybook. Though the store isn’t what I would call small, it isn’t that big either. It was actually the perfect size for me. I find that stores specializing in one or two products can get intimidating if they stretch on for miles and miles. I suppose that has something to do with my belief in the Paradox of Choice (Google it. So much will be explained).
Everywhere you looked, there was a new table filled with different cheese samples, each one better than the last. Now, I’m a big fan of Gouda. I thought I had already eaten some pretty amazing Gouda in my day, but then I went to Alps and Dell. I tasted the most incredible aged Gouda I think has ever existed. You better believe I took a big bag of that back in my carry on. Among the tables of cheese, there was one table that held approximately ten bottles of wine and some small plastic cups so you could sample that as well. I told my sister we must have died on the trip there and gone to heaven. I strongly recommend a visit to this marvel.
Next, we went to the Minhas Craft Brewery . Now, just a warning before I continue. Once you experience this place, you will want to live there. I’m talking carrying in a cot and sleeping in the basement. What I’m saying is, prepare yourself to fall in love. When we first walked in, the whole front room was filled with merchandise; shirts, signs, bottle openers and corkscrews, etc. We had the choice between taking a forty minute tour with a tasting at the end or just the tasting. Because we had a few more places we wanted to go and it was almost three in the afternoon, we decided to do just the tasting (We are planning on taking the tour when we go back to Illinois in December, so I will comment on how that goes then).
The tasting lasted for twenty minutes. In that twenty minutes, we could choose any of the beers appearing on the list they gave us, and we could have as many as we could drink in that allotted time. I’m going to repeat that. As many beers as you could drink in twenty minutes. For $12! Now, before you get too excited, they give you a little less than a third of a glass to sample. But that just means you have time to try more. I can not rave more about how amazing these beers are. In fact, my dad, a sort of connoisseur of IPAs and specialty beers, bought several boxes of various beers for his basement bar. This stuff is remarkable.
Once we were done, we went across the street to the Minhas Winery. It was pretty small, and with the large crowd that was there things got a little tight. But it was totally worth it. We decided to do a tasting of six wines. The Minhas brand of wine is called Dragon Tears, which immediately caught my attention. It was incredible! Each wine I tasted was better than the last. They are mostly fruity; pear, plum, blueberry, etc. So if that isn’t your cup of tea, you may not be as excited as I was. The staff was incredibly friendly and helpful in helping me decide which wines I should choose. One of the bartenders even let me try a seventh wine when I told her I was stuck between two wines. This one laid right in the middle, she said. And she was right. The five of us had the best time just sitting, talking, and enjoying delectable beverages. I had been experiencing an eminence amount of stress at work the previous week, and in that moment, sitting at that bar, I felt completely relaxed and at peace.
Our last stop in Wisconsin was right next door at the Minhas Micro Distillery. Seeing a pattern? Here’s a second warning for you. As many of my friends tell me, I am a lightweight. Combine that with the fact that we had been drinking since eleven, it was almost five o’clock, and I hadn’t eaten more than a few cubes of cheese since nine that morning, I was feeling pretty wobbly. If you are doing all three Minhas buildings in one day, make sure you eat a good breakfast or lunch, depending on what time you go, and maybe even snack in between. At the Micro Distillery, we each got to choose four shots for $5, though we just took sips from each others shots as opposed to shooting them. My favorites from this location included Uptown Girl Flirty, which I was told goes great with 7UP, and Maya Pumpkin Spice, which my sister said “tastes like Thanksgiving morning.” In the end, I went with the Pumpkin Spice. It should be coming in the mail any day now. Darn rule about not bringing liquid on planes.
All in all, it was an amazing day filled with trips to favorite places I didn’t know I had. We also went to other places that reside in Illinois, but as I said earlier, I will write a piece about that once I go back. Also, I know there is much more to Monroe. But based on what I saw that day, I am in love! If you get a chance to go to Monroe, do it! You are certainly in for a fun filled day steeped with enchantment and an all around good time.
If you have already been to Monroe or maybe have suggestions of where to go the next time I’m there, please let me know on the contact page.