WHAT???? Yes, I hear you saying - cheese-starved Wisconsites?
Well, let me be the first to tell you that while you may think it's easy to find good cheese in a retail setting in this state -- as we're America's Dairyland and all -- it's actually not. More than 90 percent of all cheese made here is shipped to the coasts. In fact, I've had better luck buying Wisconsin artisan cheese in San Francisco and New York grocery stores than my local grocery store, although admittedly, it costs twice as much.
In any case, all that is about to change, thanks to two entrepreneurs who decided to end the retail dearth of Wisconsin artisan cheese.
First, there's the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe at the corner of S. 69th and W. Becher streets in West Allis. When the original store burned down in February, owners Mark and Linda Lutz knew immediately they would rebuild. The result is a spacious, well-lit, modern-looking cheese store carrying 250 cheeses from around the world, U.S., and yes, Wisconsin. Gone however, is the terrazzo floor, the marble-topped checkout desk and the rest of the Old World ambiance the former store boasted.
However, if you're looking for Old World ambiance, Fromagination at 12 S. Carroll Street on the Capitol Square in Madison, fits the bill. With its reclaimed slate floor, vintage fans, old clocks, antique shopping baskets and wide selection of Wisconsin artisan cheeses, this particular store has answered the cheese prayers of south-central Wisconsin consumers.
Owner Ken Monteleone (pictured above) was absolutely packed on opening day -- in fact, there was a line-up of five deep all along the counter waiting to buy cheese, with one man repeatedly wailing at the top of his voice, "It's so wonderful - I feel like I'm in Italy again!" This being Madison, no one gave him a second look.
Ken is featuring exclusive Wisconsin artisan cheeses for the first 30 days he is open, and then plans to expand his coolers to include cheeses from around the world and U.S. in time for the holidays. He also offers a small lunch counter, catering, gift baskets and an entire store full of "perfect companions" for cheese. This could indeed by my new favorite place in the world.
Congrats to both the Lutzes and Monteleone for giving Wisconsin much-needed retail space for Wisconsin artisan cheese!