Steamboat Springs You know for certain the airplane is headed to Wisconsin when the people across the aisle are discussing the relative merits of their favorite sausage makers.
Sausage is a big deal in Wisconsin, but the Packers are a bigger deal. And cheese is even bigger than Brett Favre. As the little British Aerospace jet flew over Sioux City on the way to Madison, I plotted the details of a mission to the epicenter of cheese making in southern Wisconsin Green County.
This was to be only my second trip over the river and through the woods for Thanksgiving in 23 years, and I was intent on renewing family traditions. But I was just as devoted to my cheesy adventure travel plans.
I will not bore you with a full accounting of my credentials as a cheese journalist. Suffice it to say that in my first newspaper job, my duties included a weekly visit to a dairy farm in order that I might write the weekly "Farm Review."
Those were the good old days and they are gone so back to the matter at hand.
When we had eaten all of the leftover turkey and dressing we were ever going to eat, we chose a bright Monday morning to head south toward Illinois on Highway 69. We watched as the snowy corn stubble rolled by and the terrain changed. There is a discernible boundary where the scouring glaciers of the last ice age left off, allowing the rolling prairies of the region to persist.
After a short while, I realized something was wrong. We had driven 20 miles south of the city, and I had not spotted a black and white cow.
It turns out in this modern era of dairy farming, the Holsteins are confined close to the milking parlor.
I had begun to despair that the traditions of rural Wisconsin were dying, when I found evidence to the contrary in the most unlikely of places. At the end of a comfort stop at a Citgo convenience store in Belleville, I spotted a giant jar of custom sausages amidst the clutter of Slim Jims and ersatz beef jerky.
The jar was filled with pairs of sausages that weren't wrapped in cellophane, but were tagged with a label bearing the word "Landjaegers."
The other side of the label announced the twin links had been made at Zuber's Sausage Kitchen in Monroe.
With the scent of Landjaegers (pronounced londyagers) in our nostrils, we resumed our journey south with renewed enthusiasm. Where there were quality sausages, there must be premium cheese.
Before leaving Colorado I had done some research and learned that the last limburger cheese factory in the United States is in Green County, in the town of Monroe.
The Green County seat is about the size of Steamboat Springs, and on the town square, across from the handsome red courthouse, is an establishment dating back to 1931. It is known as Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern.
The inside of the tavern is dominated by darkly stained wood and a large mural painted by the local high school art teacher. It depicts a legion of German beer steins waging a medieval battle against wine bottles firing volleys of corks. You have to see it.
Still, Baumgartner's is famous, not for its mural, but for its cheese sandwiches. In particular, Baumgartner's is acclaimed for its limburger sandwiches, which are stuffed with a slab of the pungent dairy product produced nearby at Chalet Cheese Cooperative.
Our food server, Debbie Campbell nods approvingly when we say we have traveled many miles for the specialty of the house.
"What kind of meat do you want on the sandwich?' Debbie asked. "Salami, hard salami or braunschweiger."
We took Debbie's recommendation and went with the local liverwurst, ordering a big glass of Huber Bock beer.
There really was little choice in the beer department after we shook hands with the owner of Baumgartner's, John Huber.
John's grandfather, Joe, took the local Huber Brewery to regional prominence, but the family sold the business to one of the country's brewing giants some years ago.
When Debbie brought the sandwiches they were served on plain squares of white paper. They were a good four inches thick and they were impressive.
Wrapped between two slices of rye bread was a half-inch of raw onions, an inch of braunschweiger and an inch of that splendidly odoriferous limburger.
What does limburger actually taste like?
I'm not certain I can compare it to anything. But it tastes strong. Really strong.
We were still tasting our sandwiches hours after leaving the tavern, and that makes them a really good deal when you consider they only cost $2.75.
By now, many of you are probably saying out loud, "Tom, it just doesn't seem fair that I am likely to go through life never having experienced a limburger sandwich from Baumgartner's Cheese Store and Tavern."
Dear readers I have got some good news for you.
The staff at Baumgartner's is standing by seven days a week from 8 a.m. until midnight to take your holiday orders.
Call them at (608) 325-6157, and for less than $20, they'll send you a pound of limburger, a pound of aged cheddar and a couple of pairs of Landjaegers.
They have a philosophy at Baumgartner's. It's printed on their brochure, and I think you will appreciate it.
"In a time when things keep changing every day, it sure is nice to have one place that stays the same."
Rural Wisconsin is alive after all. Slice up some stinky cheese.