Monroe Wisconsin – Gateway to Cheese Country
Billing itself as the Cheese Capital of USA there are about twenty cheese factories and producers within 25 miles of Monroe. While best known for its cheesemaking and related dairy industries, the town itself is steeped in Swiss Heritage. Lots of interesting things to see and do. I cover some of them in this article.
Downtown Monroe has a traditional historic town square, centered by the 1891 Green County Courthouse with a 120 foot clock tower. All around the square are interesting shops, restaurants, and retail operations.
Monroe Area Cheese Factories and Stores
If you are interested in tasting and buying some locally made Wisconsin Cheese, a must stop is the Alp & Dell Cheese Store located adjacent to the Emmi-Roth Cheese Maker’s factory and warehouse. In addition to being able to browse and sample over a 100 different varieties of locally produced cheese and sausages, there is a a viewing hall where you can watch the Roth Kase cheesemakers at work. The store also offers imported cheeses from Europe and a selection of wines, distilled spirits, and locally produced beers.
Here’s a list of Monroe Area Cheese Factories and Outlet Stores.
Visit the National Historic Cheesemaking Center and learn about the Cheesemaking process, Monroe’s Cheesemaking past, and present cheese producers
More Monroe Wisconsin Visitor Attractions.
The Historic Town Square, surrounded by the stately 1891 Green County Courthouse, is not only steeped in well-restored historical structures (built between 1870 and 1910) it hosts several unique shops, boutiques, sidewalk cafes, pubs, and retail businesses. One of my favorite town square establishments is Baumgartner’s Tavern and Cheese Store. We always have a great time enjoying a draft beer, a bratwurst, a cheese sampler in a real swiss tavern. They’ve been doing business in the same location since 1931.
Here’s a slide show of just a few of the interesting shops around the square, all of them located in historically significant buildings.
Slide Show: Walking Around the Monroe Town Square
Visiting the Monroe-Huber-Minhas Brewery
About two blocks off the square, within walking distance, is one of Monroe’s oldest establishments – the 1845 Joseph Huber Brewery – now doing business as the Minhas Craft Brewery and Distillery.
It claims the title to the Midwest’s oldest brewery, originally founded as the Monroe Brewing Company in 1845. It became the Blumer Brewery in 1906 and continued operations under that name until Joseph Huber purchased the brewery in 1947. The Huber family managed the brewery for several years until 1994 and then was sold to Weinstein family who continued to operate it under the Huber name. In 2006 the Minhas family acquired the brewery, modernized its operation, and renamed it the Minhas Craft Brewery.
Minhas Brewery Tours
Minhas Brewery offers tours 7 days a week. When my wife and I took the tour two years ago, we also received a complimentary six pack of 4 craft beers, a Blumers Soda, and Minhas Sampler glass. After the tour we were able to sample up to 30 different brews in their tasting room. It was a fun and interesting tour.
While modern methods and business practices are used in the Minhas Brewery, they have retained some traditional brewing methods and traditional equipment. So you’ll see a mixture of old and new in the brewery facilities. It will be quite a contrast to those who have taken the New Glarus Brewery (15 miles north on Hwy 69) tour, a very new facility that is the apex of automation and modernization.
Minhas brews quite a variety of brews and most of them are not under their own label. An important part of their business is private label brewing and bottling for a number of smaller breweries using their recipes and specialty brewing for other retailing entities (like Trader Joes) who want their own branded beer product.
The Welcome Center and Gift Shop is very modern and filled with several varieties of beer at sale prices, and beer and brewing clothing, glassware and collectibles.
Dining at Turner Hall
Within walking distance of the town square is Turner Hall, located in a historic building with a Swiss Ratskeller atmosphere & Swiss cuisine in their restaurant.
The Monroe Turner Hall organization was established in 1868, it is believed to be the only Turner Hall of Swiss origin left in the United States, and is likewise one of the oldest, continuously-running Swiss entities in this country. The building, a Swiss Emmenthal-style chalet designed by German architect Max Hanisch, is listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places and is handicapped-accessible.
The original structure burned to the ground in 1936 and was replaced on the same site by the current swiss chalet style building in 1938.
Within the historic Monroe Turner Hall is an authentic Old World Ratskeller Restaurant, an elegant Grand Hall with the area’s largest wooden floor, and a “retro” 8-lane Family Bowling facility. Its’ Swiss Heritage Series of special events features an annual line-up of programs, concerts and events that perpetuate and nurture all things Swiss.
The weekend after Thanksgiving Turner Hall hosts their annual Christkindlmarkt – Old World Holiday Shopping Market Christkindlmarket is a German tradition dating back to the 14th century, the Christkindlmarkt features unique items from hand-selected quality vendors for your holiday gift-giving.
A few years ago my wife and I dined in their Ratskeller Restaurant after our Minhas Brewery Tour. I ordered the sauerbraten and Jo chose the Norwegian grilled salmon + roesti. The Rathskeller offers good service and decent prices on Swiss and American dishes. Jo was well impressed with her salmon. However, I felt my sauerbraten was not quite up to par. They were handling a wedding reception that same afternoon up in the Grand Hall so the kitchen staff may have been more pressed than usual. As I did like the atmosphere and service, I would return for another meal and a second try to measure up to my previous experience with Swiss and German meals.
Here’s some more Monroe Area Attraction Links
- Rainbow Confections
- Monroe Area Cheese Producers
- Monroe Cheese Days
- Monroe Area Cheese Factory Outlets and Retail Stores
- Green County Historical Society
- Main Street Monroe Things to See and Do
- Monroe Wisconsin Historical Sites
- Monroe and Green County Wisconsin Events
- RV Camping at Green County Fairgrounds