Ultimate Food Trails in Wisconsin and Michigan
Southwest Wisconsin: Pastures of plenty
Swiss immigrants brought their doe-eyed cows to southern Wisconsin in the 1800s, and the golden promise of cheddar, Havarti and Jack has lured travelers ever since. But if you come here just to get your dairy on, you're missing out.
The verdant valleys between the Mississippi River and Madison cradle one of the Midwest's most diverse pockets of food culture: high-brow, hole-in-the-wall, farm-fresh, ethnic and even downright kooky. You can buy bulging melons from a produce stand in Spring Green, then drive 40 minutes to Middleton and find yourself amid the National Mustard Day fest, where families feast on free hot dogs and frozen mustard custard.
We couldn't resist making this a long-weekend (300-mile) drive, but if you'd prefer a more compact, two-day trip, visit just the Swiss villages of New Glarus and Monroe or explore the Amish farms and roadside stands around Viroqua.
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Middleton to Albany
1. National Mustard Museum Whether you like it stone-ground, spicy or sweet, you'll get a kick out of this good-humored shop and museum. (800) 438-6878; mustardmuseum.com
2. Bloom Bake Shop A stylish corner bakery sells clever treats like the Be Elvis whoopie pie with banana-chip cakes and peanut butter frosting. (608) 831-5797; bloombakeshop.com
3. New Glarus Bakery Try the Swiss pastries you can't get at home: honey sticks and nut horns. (866) 805-5536; newglarusbakery.com
4. Ruef's Meat Market What's the difference between schublig, cervelas and mettwurst? Just ask! (Bonus: Most cured meats travel well, even with no cooler.) (608) 527-2554; ruefsmeatmarket.com
5. New Glarus Brewing Company A $3.50 ticket buys a souvenir glass, three small beer samples and a spot to enjoy them in the hilltop beer garden. Note that tours and sampling are only available until 4 p.m. (608) 527-5850; newglarusbrewing.com
6. Glarner Stube The name means "the living room of New Glarus," and the homey Swiss fare fits the description. Order the kirsch-spiked fondue. (608) 527-2216; glarnerstube.com
7. The Dining Room at 209 Main Tiny town. Dazzling menu. Entrees (habanero pork, curried swordfish) change often; the sticky toffee pudding has a cult following. (608) 938-2200; 209main.com
8. Albany House B&B Breakfast might include chocolate bumbles or plum cake at this arty 1908 country home along the Sugar River. Four guest rooms, a two-room suite and a cottage all feature private baths. From $99. (866) 977-7000; albanyhouse.com
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Monroe to Fennimore
9. National Historic Cheesemaking Center A small museum in the Green County Visitors Center has a fascinating collection of vintage dairy equipment and photos. (608) 325-4636; nationalhistoriccheesemakingcenter.org
10. Alp and Dell Cheese A huge Swiss-owned factory supplies this shop, so the variety is great. We love the sale bin. A viewing gallery offers glimpses of the cheese-making facilities, but the shop is the real draw. (608) 328-3355; alpanddellcheese.com
11. Baumgartner's Tourists check out the beer stein mural at Wisconsin's oldest cheese shop while locals eat roast beef at this funny Swiss-tavern-meets-diner (pictured). (608) 325-6157; baumgartnercheese.com
12, Brewster House Restaurant/Shullsburg Cheese Store It's fun to see the storybook-cute hometown of a popular Midwest cheese brand (and to eat a piece of pie in the restaurant). (608) 965-3855; shullsburgcreamery.com
13. Potosi Brewery A spectacular restoration has made this small-town (nay, tiny-town) brewpub a surprising destination. The restaurant serves tasty pub grub; the free museum is a treat. You also can pay $5 to tour the extensive National Brewery Museum. (608) 763-4002; potosibrewery.com
14. Carr Valley Cheese This highly respected company is our pick for high-end, artisan cheeses such as Billy Blue and Cocoa Cardona. Splurge on a wedge, and savor it with sliced pear and honey. (608) 822-3777; carrvalleycheese.com
Wisconsin food trail highlights: Viroqua-Westby to Spring Green
15. Driftless Cafe Earthy, cozy and ever so slightly funky, Viroqua's nicest restaurant serves local trout, piping-hot pizzas heaped with veggies (pictured), and homey pies and cakes. (608) 637-7778; driftlesscafe.com
16. Viroqua Farmers Market Glossy peppers, plump eggplants--this is your best bet for fresh produce (and chorizo tamales) on the route. This Saturday farmers market is held on Main Street. (608) 637-2575; viroquatourism.com
17. Trillium Cottage You'll forgive the lumpy beds at these charming cottages on a family farm when you see fresh eggs in the fridge and twinkly stars in the night sky. From $110, with a two-night minimum on summer weekends. (608) 625-4492; trilliumcottage.com
18. Hidden Springs Creamery Call before visiting this idyllic farm, where draft horses till the fields and lavender flavors the sheep's milk cheese. (608) 634-2521; hiddenspringscreamery.com
19. Pecks Farm Market East Families come for the petting zoo and train rides, but even they don't leave without a big round watermelon. (608) 588-7177; pecksfarmmarketeast.com
Southwest Michigan: Lakeside bounty
Shorter than our sweeping Wisconsin loop, this easy lakeshore route makes a tidy two-day trip - or stretch it to three with shopping in South Haven or Saugatuck. Our 125-mile (each way) route follows the shore south from Saugatuck almost to the Indiana state line, dipping inland to explore towns and wineries.
Southwest Michigan in summer looks like the colorful label on an old fruit crate: sun-drenched orchards, sparkling water and the sweet promise of golden apricots. Even the highway names (Blue Star, Red Arrow) have a cheerful, vintage character.
But the Fruit Belt, as this area is called, has a sophisticated side, too. For decades, vacationers have followed Lake Michigan east from Chicago, bringing their urban tastes with them. That explains the posh hotels and fine dining, but in this revived age of eating locally, they seek handmade cheese, small-batch wine and canned garden tomatoes, too. The flavors of our past have become the ingredients of our future, and Michigan offers them in abundance.
Michigan food trail highlights: Fennville and Saugatuck
1. Sunrise Orchards Farm Market Start your trip with a photo in the hollow wood pumpkin outside this produce stand that sells local fruits and veggies plus armloads of cut flowers. (269) 561-2854
2. Evergreen Lane Farm and Creamery A narrow road winds through trees to reach this farm, where you can sample chevre and meet the bleating herd. Drop-in customers are welcome, but calling ahead is smart. (269) 543-9900; evergreenlanefarm.com
3. Fenn Valley Winery Whether you like sweet, dry or fruit wine, you’ll find something here to suit your palate; Fenn Valley makes 36 styles! (269) 561-2396; fennvalley.com
4. Salt of the Earth Meats smoked on-site. Fresh salads served family style. A bakery stocked with crusty loaves to take home. Local fruit and gelato layered in summer sundaes (pictured). Yes, please! (269) 561-7258; saltoftheearthfennville.com
Michigan food trail highlights: South Haven to St. Joseph
5. Carriage House at the Harbor At this sprawling Victorian in South Haven, wake up to breakfast on the screen porch: quiches, berries and specialty scones. (269) 639-2161; carriagehouseharbor.com
6. Sam's Sweet Corn A colorful sign tips Blue Star Highway travelers off to this tiny roadside stand, where beefsteak tomatoes shine beside tidy stacks of ears. Pictured. (Blue Star Highway at 16th Avenue).
7. DeGrandchamp Farms The U-pick season at this 130-acre farm stretches through all of July and August. Eat a few fat, juicy berries right off the bush, but save the rest for your bucket! (888) 483-7431; degrandchamps.com
8. Caffe Tosi Fresh-baked bread is the best part of a sandwich at this stylish spot in St. Joseph. Try the chicken salad on rosemary focaccia. (269) 983-3354; caffetosi.com
Michigan Food trail highlights: South of St. Joseph to New Buffalo
9. Round Barn Winery A terraced patio. Live music. A craft brewery. Even a distillery that bottles rum, bourbon and vodka distilled from grapes. Wine has become just one part of the experience--but we're not complaining! (Pictured) (800) 716-9463; roundbarnwinery.com
10. Hickory Creek Winery Lush flowerbeds greet visitors at this intimate quality-over-quantity winery specializing in dry varieties. Sit a while under the apple tree or stroll through the vineyards. (269) 422-1100; hickorycreekwinery.com
11. Luisa's Cafe and Harbert Swedish Bakery You have a choice here. Be a grown-up, and order crab cakes. Or give in to your inner second-grader and barrel through chocolate chip pancakes. It's a win-win. (And that's before you visit the Scandinavian bakery.) (269) 469-9037; harbertswedishbakery.com
12. Tabor Hill Winery Enjoy wines in the tasting room and rock lobster with sweet corn risotto in the dining room (complete with a vineyard vista). (800) 283-3363; taborhill.com
13. Froehlich's At her little bakery-deli in tiny Three Oaks, Colleen Froehlich, granddaughter of a grocer, bakes homey bread (honey sunflower), cans her own garden produce (old-fashioned dill pickles) and sells hearty sandwiches (smoked turkey with veggies). (269) 756-6002; shopfroehlichs.com
14. Brewster's Italian Cafe Snag a seat near the patio fountain, and settle in for a hearty feast of meatballs and marinara sauce popping with authentic spices. (269) 469-3005; brewstersitaliancafe.com
15. Marina Grand Resort This sleek New Buffalo hotel overlooks the harbor, so you'll drift off to sleep to the distant, steady clanging of bells on the marina. (877) 945-8600; marinagrandresort.com