Ralph Bruno was re-upholstering his mother’s couch when he got the idea to create a cheese hat. People from Illinois would often refer to us northerners as cheeseheads, so Bruno cut out a cheese wedge out of the stuffing, burned some holes in it and painted it cheddar yellow. He wore it to a Brewers game in 1987. People noticed, it caught on and the rest is history.
When you meet someone from Wisconsin, I want you to be prepared. If you read, ruminate and resolve to embrace this inside information, I guarantee that you’ll have no language barrier blocking your budding future friendship.
1. Brats. Even among Wisconsinites, you’ll have arguments over brats. What is the best brat, Johnsonville or Klements? What’s the true brat bun, a hard roll or a over-sized weiner bun? Do you boil before grilling or slap them right on the grill? There is a lot that goes into having the perfect brat experience.
I fall into the Johnsonville camp and will stake my reputation on the following statement: There is nothing like two Johnsonville brats on a hard roll. My parents must have thought the same thing because we would drive from Appleton to Johnsonville, 54.2 miles to stock up on Johnsonville meats: brats, weiners and summer sausage. That was in the late sixties, when you could only get Johnsonville brats in where else, Johnsonville.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, then how about this. Since 2001, Johnsonville has been the featured brat of the World’s Largest Brat Fest, 209,000 sausages consumed in 2010.
2. Brandy is not a liqueur. This is not your sit around in your dinner jacket, sipping cognac, puffing on a cigar state. Brandy is often used in lieu of whiskey. Be forewarned. If you order a manhatten in a local tavern in Cheesehead country, you’ll get it with brandy unless you specifically ask for whiskey. Same can be said for an old fashioned. You can even get old fashioneds to go in a six-pack for your tailgate party, see #9.
Korbel ships 43.5% of its brandy production to Wisconsin.
Only California drinks more brandy than Wisconsin. In 2012, California-based Korbel shipped about 324,000 nine-liter cases of brandy. Of those, about 141,000 – 43.5% of Korbel’s production – went to Wisconsin.
3. Packer history. It goes without saying that you need to know some Packer history. It’s the only team that is owned by shareholders. In 1919, the Indian Packing Company organized a company football team with Curly Lambeau as the coach. According to the official Packer website, 360,760 people (representing 5,011,558 shares) are owners of the iconic franchise.
Known as Title Town, Green Bay is the smallest city to have an NFL team. It may be small, but there is plenty of help when it comes to removing snow in Lambeau for a big game. Fans will take off work to be a part of the “grounds crew” at Lambeau.
4. Women’s formal wear is a new Packer sweatshirt. Okay. This is a joke my husband likes to tell because he’s from that state south of the border.
5. Deer hunting is a nine day holiday season. Over 600,000 hunters bought licenses in 2014 according to the DNR. I’ve known people to finish their early Thanksgiving dinner and then get in a few extra hours of deer hunting.
6. Sturgeon spearing is a winter sport. For two weeks in February fishermen sit in their ice shanties and stare into a 5×2 foot hole in the ice (carved with a chain saw) waiting to spear a big fish. Hard to believe, I know, but true. Smoked sturgeon is very tasty and especially nice because it’s boneless.
7. Roads on the lakes. See #6. How do you expect to get to your shanty? Duh.
8. Master cheesemaker program. Wisconsin is the only state to offer the program, taking three years to complete. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we take our cheese seriously.
9. Tailgating is a year-round sport. We’ll use any excuse to tailgate. Packer games are the ultimate place to tailgate and fans will never be dissuaded because of subzero temperatures. Brewer games, Badger games, and even Grateful Dead concerts at Alpine Valley in the 80’s, or so I’ve heard, are just a few from the long list of excuses.
We take our card games seriously.
10. Euchre/Sheepshead. Coming to Wisconsin and don’t play cards? You better pick up your Hoyle and read it on your bus trip to Wisconsin. Euchre is the most popular because it’s played all over Wisconsin with many areas hosting tournaments. Sheepshead is a little more regional and well known in the German community, 2-8 players so it’s more versatile than the four-handed Euchre.
11. Beer is ordered by tap not a draft. The proper way to order a tap beer is to say, “I’ll have a tap beer.” A draft is what you get on those windy, winter days when you have old windows with even older storm windows.
12. Home of Harley Davidson. If you’re a biker, you probably know this already. You can check out the museum if you’re traveling through Milwaukee.
13. Friday night fish. Look for a tavern, supper club or VFW for your local fish fry. Mostly concentrated along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Winnebago where a heavy German population settled, the Friday night tradition is a great way to get together at the end of week for some gemutlichkeit.
14. Winnebago lakeflies. Nasty, nasty and more nasty. Think plague of locusts in biblical proportion. Keep your mouth shut and eyes partly open while power washing your windshield to clean the bugs. Don’t plan your Mother’s Day visiting anyone living around Lake Winnebago because there’s a good change you’ll run into a hatching.
15. Mosquito is the state bird. You’ll hear this often during a bad mosquito season. I’m sure this isn’t just Wisconsin, but we like to think we’re special when the mosquitoes are particularly annoying.
16. Wisconsin: Illinois’campgrounds. Any Wisconsin camper will declare that this should be our state motto. We have beautiful and well-maintained campgrounds that our southern neighbors flock to every summer.
17. Home of the cheese curds. These tidbits are rarely found outside of Wisconsin. Stop at any cheese shop and you’ll find a fresh batch of cheese curds. Before the cheese coagulates, curds are collected from batches of cheddar cheese. They are less than a day old and squeaky when eaten. Deep-fried cheese curds is a staple bar food.
18. Limburger cheese. The only place making limburger cheese in the US is in Monroe, Wisconsin. Follow the smell if you’re interested.
19. 30 degrees is still considered shorts’ weather. I’m not one to partake in this adventurous wardrobe display, but it’s not uncommon to see the frostbite fearless baring their legs.
And there you have it. The list to end all lists, your guide to talking to a cheesehead. I could go on and tell you about all the famous people who were born here, boring!, or equip you with a big list of other websites with interesting facts about Wisconsin, yawn!, but this would be unnecessary.
I’ve given you the meat of what you need to know, so be ready. The next time you find yourself invited to a Friday night fish fry at the VFW, drinking a tap or brandy old fashioned, discussing the upcoming Packer game, you’ll be ready to declare that your favorite bratwurst is Johnsonville.