History On A Plate: 6 Ways To Taste Milwaukee’s Past
History museums can be interesting, though sometimes a little dry. To add a bit of spice to learning local history, try sampling the foods that represent the cultural heritage. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, there is no shortage of tasty exhibits, which can be enjoyed in the city or ordered to enjoy at home.
Cheese. Wisconsin has fertile land and a balanced climate, for happy, productive cows. The state’s immigrant culture introduced skilled cheese makers, who have been plying and perfecting their trade for over a century. A great place to enjoy the state’s trademark food is at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, on Old World Third Street downtown. The store has been in business since 1938, selling chunks of cheese on site and shipping worldwide. The Cheese Mart now has a cheese bar, extensively stocked with 175 Wisconsin cheeses, Wisconsin beers and wine and serving sandwiches. For the best overview of the state’s premium dairy product, opt for a cheese plates or one of the cheese and beer or wine pairings.
Sausage. Old World Third Street had an active German émigré population, and Usinger’s, right next door to the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, arose from that heritage. Fred Usinger immigrated in the 1870s and began as a Milwaukee “wurstmacher” in 1880. Today, the family-operated business makes over 70 varieties of old world sausage, in the same store, using the original family recipes. Usinger’s ships their products and sells the meats on site.
German foods. Across the street from Usinger’s and the Wisconsin Cheese Mart is Mader’s Restaurant, with roots extending back to German immigrant Charles Mader, who opened his establishment in 1902. The menu now features classics like wiener schnitzel and sauerbraten but also offers starters like reuben rolls and sauerkraut balls and entrées such as beef and mushroom strudel, salmon and trout. The restaurant is a feast for the eyes as well. The business boasts a $3 million art collection, most apparent in the wooden carvings on the walls and the suits of medieval armor.
Brady Street on Milwaukee’s East Side was settled by Italian and Polish immigrants. You’ll find extensive Mediterranean groceries at Glorioso’s, family run for over 60 years. “Extensive” includes 60 different olive oils, 60 cuts of frozen prepared pasta, and sausage made fresh daily. Find a dessert to follow your Mediterranean dishes right up the street at Peter Sciortino’s Bakery, with a dizzying array of cookies, pastries and breads, made from scratch daily. The cannoli is made in the authentic manner, with cherries at the ends, and achieves the perfect balance of just-so-sweetness. I was especially taken with the chocolate coconut dips—unbeatable! Peter Sciortino’s Bakery ships, too, so you can enjoy their baked goods anywhere.
While at Brady Street, be sure to check out Cempazuchi. The regional Mexican food in this vivid, colorful restaurant is terrific, with seven different moles and margaritas made from scratch, but the story behind the restaurant will bring more tears to your eyes than their hottest sauce. Owner Bryce Clark opened the restaurant with his partner in life and business in 1999, who passed away two years later. The restaurant is a fitting memorial, as his memory lives on.
The Public Market at historic Third Ward. You’ll find a hodgepodge of vendors representing Milwaukee’s best in the Public Market, from ethnic foods, cheese, fish, beer, deli sandwiches, ice cream, and candy. (I do believe that the world came to a stop when I ate one of the golf-ball-size chocolate bon bons. If not, I was entirely oblivious to it all.) If you plan ahead, you can also take cooking lessons or view demonstrations at the Market. While there, stop by Buffalo Water Beer to enjoy a new iteration of one of the city’s most well-known products.
Beer. To experience what made Milwaukee famous, you could tour a big brewery, but the mega-plant has moved far from its historic routes. Instead, opt for the tour at Lakefront Brewery. Not only does Lakefront have quality craft beers in a more personable setting, they offer the most entertaining brewery tour I have ever had. You’ll not only learn more about the production of this flavorful-when-prepared-properly beverage, you’ll laugh as you learn.
If you want an on-the-street guide with experience to help you navigate your history lesson on a plate, give Milwaukee Food Tours a call. They take groups to the city’s food highlights, provide generous samples, and offer food for thought as well.
A multisensory history lesson is perhaps most memorable, connecting the experiences of your palate and smell as well as the venue. You’ll undoubtedly remember Milwaukee’s history with the help of these willing instructors.
Annie Tobey is a freelance writer and editor living in Richmond, Virginia. For six years, she’s shared her philosophical passions through V Magazine for Women, combining love for life, the diversity of women, and a celebration of success in all its forms, on the printed page and online, now at www.MyVMagazine.com. She also shares her joie de vivre as a travel writer at www.ActiveWomanTraveler.com. She welcomes freelance opportunities for writing and editing, helping businesses present a polished written message that builds a quality brand. Contact her at email@example.com.
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