Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Minnesotan’s take on Wisconsin August 26, 2016

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WHEN I TOOK A ROAD TRIP to Boston earlier this year, I learned something about my home state. Or rather, what others think of Minnesota. Whether in Indiana or New York or Massachusetts, folks reacted the same upon learning I was a Minnesotan. “It’s cold there,” they said.

Yes, it’s cold here. But not year-round. In the end, I decided, let them believe what they wish. Such opinions keep Minnesota from becoming densely populated like the Coasts.

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

Rolling hills and farms define the land east of La Crosse along Interstate 90 in the southwestern part of Wisconsin..

But that got me thinking about how I view people and places, specifically Wisconsin and its residents. I’ve traveled there many times in the past five years to visit my daughter Miranda who lives on the northeastern side of the state.

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house?

Packers fans houses in Wautoma? Or simply a gold house and a green house? Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Here’s my outsider’s impression of Wisconsinites: fanatical about the Green Bay Packers, crazy about brat and fish fries, and lovers of cheese and beer. Wisconsin residents also seem particularly opinionated. And many love to hunt. Of course, I’m sweeping my neighboring state with a broad brush of generalities. Just like others do about Minnesota.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers.

A tribute to Aaron Rodgers on a barn along Highway 10 west of Appleton. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Let’s examine my impressions more closely. I’ve seen Wisconsin fire hydrants painted Packers green and gold and brat buns and kettle corn in the same colors. And I’ve photographed a barn with this message: #12 is #1 G. If you’re not dressed in a Packers jersey on game day, well, you feel totally unfashionable. On game day weekends, Green Bay area hotels jack up the room prices as much as $100. My daughter clued me in on that.

The brat barn, not to be confused with a dairy or pig barn. You can purchase StoneRidge meats here.

The brat barn, stationed outside the Piggly Wiggly in Wautoma. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

I’m not a brat lover, so I could never pass as a Wisconsinite. From my observations, brat fries are the most popular fundraiser in this state with brat fry shacks stationed outside many grocery stores. Friday night fish fries are equally as popular.

Van Handel's Cheese Hut, also a gas station, is located in Appleton.

Van Handel’s Cheese Hut, also a gas station and convenience store, is located in Appleton.

Wisconsin definitely lives up to its name as the Dairyland State. Cheese stores abound. The funny thing, every time I travel to Wisconsin, Miranda asks me to bring cave-aged blue cheese from Faribault. So I stash wedges in a cooler and sneak Minnesota-made cheese across the border.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

I photographed this signage along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

Like cheese, booze is readily available in Wisconsin. For example, you’ll find walk-in beer coolers at Kwik Trip convenience stores, co-joined grocery and liquor stores, and lots of breweries. Twelve Wisconsin communities rank in the top 20 drunkest cities in America. According to a May 2016 report on 24/7 Wall St, “Appleton is home to the largest share of binge and heavy drinkers in both Wisconsin and the country.”

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A strong opinion expressed on a billboard along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

On a recent visit, and in past visits, I’ve also noticed plenty of opinions posted roadside, sometimes on billboards and other times on homemade signs. In Redgranite, a homeowner recently scrawled “Send Hillary to prison” and placed the message board along busy State Highway 21. I’ve also noticed strongly worded messages in billboards posted along Interstate 41 between Appleton and Oshkosh.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

A pawn shop, somewhere along State Highway 21 between Omro and Tomah advertises guns.

Finally, hunting seems a popular sport in Wisconsin based on the number of deer stands and deer processing places. While I’m not a big fan of hunting for sport, I do appreciate that hunting makes for fewer deer on roadways.

So…is my general assessment of Wisconsin fair and/or accurate? I do, by the way, really like Wisconsin, including the cheese and the beer.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In rural Nerstrand: Of sheep & cheesemaking July 26, 2016

 

Approaching Shepherd's Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

Approaching Shepherd’s Way Farms, rural Nerstrand.

I WAS SMITTEN, simply smitten by the two-day-old lambs at Shepherd’s Way Farms. I wanted to snatch one of the babies from an outdoor pen, tuck it under my arm and scamper to the van.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 111 white lamb

 

Lucky for the owners of Shepherd’s Way, I am not the rustling type. And lucky for Shepherd’s Way that a hawk, eagle or other predator did not discover these unexpected pasture-born lambs—born out of the regular lambing season.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 151 penned lambs

 

The lambs, penned under the shade of sprawling oaks, proved a popular attraction during a recent 2106 Eat Local Farm Tour at Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read’s dairy sheep farm near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 143 Burr Oak cheese

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 173 sheep in pasture

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 145 Big Woods Blue Cheese

 

Here sheep graze pastureland, fueling up to produce milk for award-winning handcrafted artisan cheeses. Farm tour visitors sampled those cheeses which range from creamy Shepherd’s Hope to the denser, firmer Burr Oak to a blue cheese appropriately named Big Woods Blue. I found the cheeses especially flavorful and the softer cheeses exquisitely creamy, traits attributed to the higher fat content of sheep’s milk.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd's Way Farms.

Farm co-owner and cheesemaker Jodi Ohlsen Read talks about Shepherd’s Way Farms.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

The tour group heads toward the barn.

Looking through a window, visitors get a look at the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Looking through a window, visitors see the area where the sheep are secured and fed during milking.

Again, through a window, visitors view aging cheese wheels.

Through an interior window, visitors can view the cheese.

Jodi led visitors on a tour past the milking barn and cheesemaking and aging rooms. As we followed her along a hallway separating us from the operational area, we learned about cheesemaking from start to finish. She’s the cheesemaker. Oversized windows allowed for viewing. Here, some 240 sheep are milked in a process that takes about four hours from set-up to milking to clean-up. Jodi noted that if you don’t like to clean, then sheep dairy farming/cheesemaking is not for you.

Jodi answers questions once the barn tour is finished.

Jodi answers questions following the barn tour.

It is clear from Jodi’s tour that she loves this rural way of life, this place where she’s raised four sons. Although grown, those young men still occasionally help, this day at the tour and also with marketing the family’s cheeses. Shepherd’s Way cheese sells primarily in the Twin Cities—at farmers’ markets and select grocery stores—but also as distant as Chicago and the East Coast. The farm also has a Community Supported Agriculture program.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Promotional art showcased inside the on-site store.

Classes, tastings and tours are also offered at the farm by the well-spoken and knowledgeable cheesemaker who comes from a pre-dairy professional background in writing and editing.

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 127 sheep by barn

 

Listening to Jodi affirms the farm’s mission statement published on its website:

At Shepherd’s Way Farms, we believe there is a way to live that combines hard work, creativity, respect for the land and animals, and a focus on family and friends. We believe the small family-based farm still has a place in our society. Everything we do, everything we make, is in pursuit of this goal.

Shepherd's Way Farms, 150 bottle feeding lamb

 

I left Shepherd’s Way understanding this family’s passion, appreciative of their hard work and savory cheeses, and still wishing I could snatch a lamb.

BONUS PHOTOS:

 

Shepherd's Way Farms, 106 silos & barn

This 1940s former dairy barn and the attached lower building have been converted in to a milking parlor, a cheese production room and a cheese aging room.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

This is a beautiful old barn. I especially like the character of the entry.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

Incredible aged oaks tower near the old barn.

There's a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

There’s a second barn on the property, this one moved several miles from Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. The 120-foot long barn replaces the lamb nursery destroyed in a 2005 arson fire.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

This farm cat hides in a wooden box outside the farm shop/tasting room.

Outside the tasting room/store.

Outside the tasting room/store.

FYI: Click here to read my previous post about Simple Harvest Organic Farm, another Nerstrand area farm I visited during the 2016 Eat Local Farm Tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Next time pull off in Pine Island June 17, 2015

Approaching Pine Island on Highway 52 southbound.

Approaching Pine Island on U.S. Highway 52 southbound.

TRAFFIC ZOOMS BY on U.S. Highway 52 around Pine Island, hurried motorists rushing to Rochester or St. Paul or places in between.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

On the left, a street sign directs motorists to U.S. Highway 52. On the right, the antique store that was closed the afternoon of my visit to Pine Island.

I’ve been one of those travelers all too many times while en route to and from Wisconsin. Never pulling off to explore Pine Island. But always wondering what this small town holds and thinking I really ought to stop at the highway side Pine Cheese Mart.

It’s too late now to visit the Cheese Mart. The long-time business folded last year after an exit into Pine Island was closed due to traffic safety issues. That closure made navigating to the Mart cumbersome, resulting in a business downturn. So I missed out on the cheese.

A view of Pine Island's Main Street while driving into the downtown.

A view of Pine Island’s Main Street while driving into the downtown.

Early this spring, my husband and I took a day trip to Pine Island. We hopped in the van with our Minnesota atlas and road map and headed east, stopping first in West Concord.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory.

My favorite scene of the day by the old butter factory where, yes, butter was once made.

I should have done my homework. After the fact, I learned that Pine Island was once considered “The Cheese Capital of the World” That would have been in the opening decades of the 20th Century when some 40 cheese factories existed in the area. In 1911, Pine Island cheesemakers crafted a 6,000-pound block of cheese for the Minnesota State Fair, earning that cheese capital title for the town.

Today the small cheese factories are gone with only the large Land O’ Lakes cooperative producing cheese. But the community honors its cheesy past with an annual July Cheese Festival.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community's rich cheese past.

Look closely at this downtown mural and you will see a hunk of cheese, a visual tribute to this community’s rich cheese past.

Perhaps I missed it. But I didn’t notice anything visually significant tipping me off to Pine Island’s rich cheese history other than a mouse and a block of cheese painted onto a downtown mural and a lovely brick building labeled BUTTER-FACTORY.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

This old butter factory now holds bicycles available to ride on area trails.

I should have done my research. The old Butter Factory today houses bikes and bike helmets available to borrow at no cost from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on weekends to cyclists using the nearly 13-mile Douglas State Trail from Pine Island to Rochester and Pine Island’s Paths to the Past trails: Historical Trivia Trail, Young People’s Path and Homes & Heritage Trail. Check ahead as this usage is seasonal.

So I missed a few things this visit. But I didn’t miss the remarkable historic architecture that defines the downtown business district:

Downtown buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

Downtown historic buildings feature stunning architectural detail.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A broad view of downtown historical buildings with grand architecture.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building.

A stairway appears like a work of art on the side of an aged building. I stood in an alley and aimed my camera up.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

More historic buildings, including one that houses the post office.

The top of City Hall.

The top of City Hall.

And some of the beautiful old homes close to downtown:

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house while driving by.

I snapped a quick shot of this lovely house with a wrap-around porch while driving by.

Another sweet house near downtown.

Another sweet house near downtown.

I was disappointed, though, to find the one antique/furniture refinishing store, Green’s Stripping & Antiques, closed when I was there.

Likewise, I really wanted to get inside the Olde Pine Theater:

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

The theatre that I wished I could have seen.

Maybe next time.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Many small towns still have thriving hardware stores like this Hardware Hank.

Parked outside Hardware Hank.

Outside Hardware Hank.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I even noticed a below street level barbershop.

I spotted the spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

I spotted this early spring scene in a flower box outside a downtown business.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Murals grace the sides of two brick buildings sandwiching a vacant lot that is now a downtown mini park.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island's mobile home court across the cornfield.

Driving out of town, I shot this image of Pine Island’s mobile home court across the then stubbled cornfield.

IF YOU KNOW Pine Island, what other things did I miss on my first visit to this Minnesota community of 3,300 residents?

How did Pine Island get its name? According to the Minnesota Historical Society “Minnesota Place Names,” an early settler named the town Pine Island in 1855 for the large, lone white pine on a small island in the Zumbro River. The island was once thick with pines and was once a winter shelter to the Dakota.

Check back to read about the Rainbow Cafe, where we ate lunch.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think Wisconsinites love beer, brats & cheese, you’d be right April 24, 2014

IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:

Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Wisconsinites love their brats.

Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.

And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter "speared" a catfish instead.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.

The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.

foods

Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.

“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”

Via museum magic, you can actually press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

 

Smell the cheese.

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive computer screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed "The Dairyland State."

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”

 

Test your knowledge of cows.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin's "soul food." lots of cheese, brats and beer answers.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.

Define Wisconsin “soul food.”

Another overview

A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.

Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Identify old kitchen tools…

Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

 

Red Dot potato chips

Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, area is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.

Another

The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.

Supper club signage close-ups.

Supper club/bar signage close-ups.

The Pig Fair...

The Pig Fair…

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that's Reddi Kilowatt there on the wall.

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.

And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.

Don't miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A wannabe dairy princess June 20, 2013

The barn where I labored alongside my father while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

The barn where I labored alongside my father and siblings while growing up on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. File photo.

GROWING UP ON A MINNESOTA DAIRY FARM, I’ve always loved dairy products.

Fresh milk from our herd of Holsteins.

Butter and cheese from the bulk truck driver who picked up milk from our farm.

Singing Hills Coffee Shop's delicious maple bacon sundae.

One of my new favorite ice cream treats, a maple bacon sundae from Singing Hills Coffee Shop in Waterville. File photo.

Ice cream from the Schwans man. (My older brother often sneaked the tin can of vanilla ice cream from the freezer and climbed atop the haystack to eat his fill. He failed to remove his spoon, leaving damning evidence connecting him to the ice cream caper. I was too obedient to attempt such thievery.)

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing. File photo.

My cheese tastes have, thankfully, expanded beyond American and Velveeta, staples of my childhood. I especially favor the blue cheeses made and aged in sandstone caves right here in Faribault and sold under the names Amablu and St. Pete’s Select. If you like blue cheese, this is your cheese.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

Cow sculptures outside The Friendly Confines Cheese Shoppe in LeSueur. File photo.

I bring up this topic of dairy products because June marks an annual celebration of all things dairy during “June Dairy Month.” This moniker is imprinted upon my brain. I once ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for Redwood County dairy princess.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertised the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Krause Feeds & Supplies in Hope advertises the availability of Hope butter and Bongards cheese. File photo.

Steele County, to the south of my Rice County home, is apparently a big dairy county having at one time served as home to more than 20 creameries. One remains, in the unincorporated village of Hope, producing Hope Creamery butter in small batches. The creamy’s organic butter is especially popular in certain Twin Cities metro eateries.

Owatonna, the county seat, once claimed itself to be “The Butter Capital of the World.” That butter capital title will be the subject of an exhibit opening August 1 and running through November 10 at the Steele County History Center in Owatonna. The exhibit will feature the area’s rich dairy history to current day dairy farming in the county. Events will include a roundtable discussion on the dairy industry and, for the kids, butter making and a visit from a real calf.

Notice the cow art on the milkhouse in this image taken this past summer.

Cow art on the milkhouse of my friends Deb and John, who once milked cows in rural Dundas. File photo.

Calves. I love calves. More than any aspect of farming, I loved feeding calves buckets of warm milk replacer or handfuls of pellets. I once named a calf Princess and she became my “pet,” as much as a farm animal can be a pet. Then my older brother—the one who ate ice cream when he wasn’t supposed to—told me one day that my calf had died. I raced upstairs to my bedroom and sobbed and sobbed. Turns out he made up the whole story of Princess’ early demise. She was very much alive.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Falker of JMF Studio.

The vibrant art of Faribault artist Julie Faklker of JMF Studio. File image.

And so, on this day when I consider June Dairy Month, my mind churns with thoughts of butter and ice cream, of calves and of the dairy princess crown I never wore.

FYI: Faribault area dairy farmers Ron and Diane Wegner are hosting “A Day on the Farm” from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. this Saturday, June 22. Their farm is located just south of Faribault at 25156 Appleton Avenue. The event includes children’s activities, photos with a baby calf and free cheeseburgers, malts and milk. Event sponsors are the Rice County American Dairy Association and the Minnesota Beef Council. The Wegners’ daughter, Kaylee, is the current Rice County dairy princess.

The Redwood County American Dairy Association in my home county of Redwood in southwestern Minnesota is sponsoring a coloring contest for kids and a trivia contest for adults. Click here for details. 

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Piper pets a pig & more fun at tasty BBQ fest in Faribault May 21, 2012

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One of the humorous signs I spotted on BBQ equipment at the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault.

FROM TEAM “Drop It Like It’s Hot BBQ” of Little Canada to “The Oinkologists” from Rochester to the “Uff da- That’s Good Barbeque” from Anoka to “Rebel Fire Que’n Company” from Lake City to “The Heat Is On” from North Saint Paul, the creative names of teams competing in the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault this weekend simply amused me.

Some 63 – 65 teams, depending on who you asked, vied for $10,000 in prizes during the Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault on Friday and Saturday.

My husband and I each ordered pulled pork sandwiches from two different vendors for a taste-test comparison. Hog Wild BBQ and Grill served up a smoke-flavored, ham-like sandwich (above right) while Daddy O’s BBQ Shack presented a pork roast-like sandwich which I flavored with a North Carolina sauce crafted by Jeff LeBeau from The Depot restaurant in Faribault. We each really liked our distinct sandwiches.  However, the bun from Daddy O’s rated far superior to the one from Hog Wild.

This year the Faribo Drag-On’s car club moved its annual show to the fairgrounds as part of the BBQ fest.

From the tantalizing aroma of grilled and smoked meat to the savory taste of pulled pork sandwiches purchased from vendors to the friendliness of the BBQ teams to the tasty cheese samples served by area cheese makers to the 165 classic cars and trucks in the car show, it was an event that truly impressed my husband and me. You can bet we’ll be back next year for the third time.

Mark Born, who started the Minnesota in May BBQ contest 12 years ago.

Mark Born of team “The Heat Is On” from North Saint Paul has been participating in BBQ contests like this for 15 years and has the hardware to prove just how much he’s advanced from backyard smoking of fish and other meat. He’s a multiple grand champion BBQer in seven states and today competes in upwards of two dozen competitions annually as far away as New York, Florida and Las Vegas.

Not only that, 12 years ago Born started the Minnesota in May BBQ competition which has also been held in Cambridge and Austin. For the past two years, Faribault has hosted the event, this year adding cheese to the fest.

Fest-goers could sample and buy cheeses from Caves of Faribault, Alemar Cheese Company of Mankato and Shepherd’s Way Farms of Nerstrand at the cheese shack.

Judges evaluated 10 entries in the Grilling with Blue Cheese Contest. Each entrant received 9 ounce of St. Pete’s Select blue cheese from Caves of Faribault to use in preparing an entree or side dish.

Entries like this one in the Grilling with Blue Cheese contest were judged on appearance/creativity and taste.

Russ and Marti (no last names given; they’re judges) traveled 1 ½ hours from Forest City, Iowa, to judge their 32nd BBQ contest in seven years. As certified volunteer judges, they evaluate the BBQ entries for taste, tenderness and presentation/appearance. They try, they say, not to be too subjective in judging the foods which are delivered, six to a judge, in plain white Styrofoam boxes. Contestants who try “something too fancy” in presentation risk disqualification, Marti says.

And why does this Iowa couple judge BBQ competitions?

“You can’t buy barbeque like this anywhere in the country,” Marti says, explaining that the competitors use the best meats, the best everything, when they compete.

Talk to the BBQers and you’ll learn that some are competing for the first time while others have been at it for years, even decades. They all smoke/grill an abundance of meats, assuring the just-perfect entry to submit to judges.

A BBQer’s extra beef brisket not entered in the competition.

These folks are serious BBQers, pulling into the competitions with over-sized grills and bags of charcoal and secret BBQ recipes they won’t share.

But they also like to have fun.

The Oinkologists, brothers Andy and Mike Braun from Rochester and Hugo, brought along their “lucky pig.” It was their second competition, but first time using their good luck charm.

This pig, which oinks when you pass by it, rested on the hood of an old pick-up until 2-year-old Piper’s mom showed her daughter the pig. After initially backing away from the mascot for team “Drop It Like It’s Hot BBQ,” little Piper eventually petted her papa’s pretty pet pig. Try saying that three times: Piper petted her papa’s pretty pet pig.

A member of Rebel Fire Que’n Company of Lake City, in her fifth year of competing.

“It’s so kicked back,” my husband judged as we meandered among the BBQers’ tents and campers and BBQ equipment Friday evening and Saturday afternoon.

He’s right. The Minnesota in May BBQ festival rates as fun and kicked back—for both contestants and spectators.

DID YOU ATTEND or participate in the BBQ fest in Faribault this past weekend. If so, what did you think of the event? If you’ve attended/competed in a BBQ fest elsewhere, tell us about it via a comment.

CLICK HERE TO READ an earlier blog post from this weekend’s Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival in Faribault.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Come on over to Faribault for a BBQ & more May 17, 2012

An example of the barbecued meat prepared for the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Contest.

MINNESOTA BARBEQUE LOVERS, this is your weekend.

The season’s first of six Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned competitions in our state kicks off this Friday, May 18, with the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

And, folks, it’s free—unless you purchase food and/or beverages from vendors. And you’ll want to, once you smell the tantalizing aroma of BBQed meats. Vendors open to the public at 11 a.m. Saturday.

For the first time ever, Faribault hosted the Minnesota in May BBQ Contest at the Rice County Fairgrounds in 2011. Contestants cooked under tents during a morning downpour. By afternoon, the rain stopped.

Bubba and Sabrina’s home on wheels and traveling BBQ central parked at the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Festival. The couple owns Bubba-Q’s, a restaurant in Ottumwa, Iowa.

Artfully displayed bacon-wrapped pheasant prepared by a BBQ team from Appleton, Wisconsin, during the 2011 competition at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault.

With $10,000 in prize money up for grabs, you can expect some top contenders vying on Saturday for awards in these divisions: turkey product, chicken, ribs, pork, beef brisket, anything butt and dessert. Contestants will be cooking all morning and into the early afternoon with judging from 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.

These delicious-looking apple dumplings were entered in the 2011 dessert division.

Ten cooks will also compete in a “grilling with blue cheese” contest featuring Caves of Faribault cheese. Yes, we have some savory blue cheese made right here in my community and aged in sandstone caves. That contest is set for 3 p.m. Saturday.

Award-winning Amablu Gorgonzola from Caves of Faribault.

The Cheese Cave is a gourmet destination along Central Avenue in historic downtown Faribault. Stop by on Friday or Saturday if you’re in town for the BBQ Festival.

The Friday events, running from 4:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. include a Kids BBQ Competition,  BBQ Cook-Off and live music.

Now I’m not promoting this BBQ fest simply because it’s the nice thing to do. I attended last year and thoroughly enjoyed the festival, including chatting with numerous contestants. You would not believe how far these people travel, how much money they spend and how passionate they are about barbecuing. Click here to link to a blog post about the 2011 Minnesota in May BBQ Festival, which did not include cheese. Click here to read a post about BBQers Bubba and Sabrina from Iowa. And click here to read a third story from the 2011 BBQ fest.

The logo for the Faribo Drag-On’s car club on a member’s vintage car.

This year a car show, hosted by the Faribo Drag-Ons from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Saturday, has been added to the festival.

Other draws include a Saturday pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. ($5 cost), live music, food and non-food vendors and more. Click here to read a promotional flier about the Minnesota in May BBQ & Cheese Festival.

Contest and festival proceeds will benefit IRIS (Infants Remembered in Silence) and The Faribo Drag-Ons. Two more good reasons to attend.

If you can’t make it to the Faribault BBQ festival, you’ll have more opportunities from June through September to attend Minnesota barbeque fests—in Owatonna, Rochester, Marshall, Albert Lea and/or Worthington. Click here to read details from the Minnesota Barbeque Society.

HAVE YOU EVER ATTENDED a barbeque festival? Please submit a comment and share your experience.

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This file photo shows the Faribault Woolen Mill days after a flash flood in September 2010 and before the mill reopened a year later. The mill had closed in 2009 and was not in operation at the time of the flood.

P.S.  If you’re in town for the BBQ fest, take time also to check out the Faribault Woolen Mill retail store across the Cannon River just south of the fairgrounds. The store, in the recently reopened and revamped historic mill, opened Tuesday. Retail store hours are 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Differences & bridges October 24, 2011

I WANT TO SHARE two items with you today. Both are different, yet alike, because they’re about differences. Differences between cultures and differences between states.

Humbird Cheese, a popular tourist stop at Tomah, Wisconsin.

Let’s start with the humorous of the two, a little story from my second daughter, who lives in eastern Wisconsin.

Along with a photo, she sent this text message: “They teach them early in wi.”

I studied what appeared to be a child’s drawing of a hefty hunk of cheese and a mouse, along with words too miniscule to decipher on my cell phone screen.

M: “It was a drawing with a haiku in a surgery dept waiting rm. Can u read the haiku or is it too small?”

Me: “I can’t read it.”

M: “It says ‘I love to eat cheese. Swiss Colby pepperjack too. I’m almost a mouse.’ By devon age 9.”

Honestly, don’t you just have to laugh at the subject of this haiku. Of all “the things I love,” this 9-year-old Wisconsinite wrote about cheese?

Would a Minnesota child ever choose to write a cheese haiku?

Wisconsin, I love your cheese, really I do. And I love how your kids love your cheese.

Numerous cultures were represented during the International Festival held in September at Central Park in Faribault. Here singers perform the Mexican national anthem in the band shell.

NOW TO THE OTHER  STORY about differences, written by sports reporter Brendan Burnett-Kurie and published Sunday on the front page of The Faribault Daily News. Here’s the headline for that top-notch feature, which should be required reading in every Faribault (maybe even Minnesota) classroom and home:

“The beautiful team…How the Cannon Valley soccer team bridged cultural gaps and came together around the game they love.”

I tipped Brendan off to this story after my good friend Mike Young told me about the soccer team at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School in Morristown. Mike serves as the school’s volunteer development director. Yes, you read that correctly. Volunteer.

But back to Brendan’s story. He wrote about the school’s recently-rejuvenated soccer team which includes a melting pot of students—of different ethnic backgrounds, different sizes, different ages and from different schools. (CVLHS, with less than 20 students, couldn’t field a team solely from within.)

It’s one of those feel-good stories that make you smile. These boys became a team and became friends. Differences didn’t matter to them. Not differences in their skin colors, their heights, their ages, their shoe sizes, their anything.

Brendan writes: “One day during practice they all took off their shoes and flipped over the tongues, comparing the sizes. Little fourth-grader Yianko Borrego had size 4 feet. The largest were size 13.”

These boys can all teach us a thing or a hundred about acceptance.

FYI: To read Brendan’s outstanding feature, click here.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Say “no” to cheese? September 28, 2011

“Did u hear about the anti-cheese billboard up by green bay?” my Wisconsin-resident daughter texted.

Since I discovered her message seven hours after she sent it, I was on my own to investigate. You don’t dangle a tidbit of information like that in front of my eyes and expect me to let it go.

So here’s the deal, according to information I gleaned in a quick online search.

The Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has sponsored a billboard along Highway 41 near Lambeau Field with this message:

Warning:

Cheese Can

Sack Your Health

Fat. Cholesterol. Sodium.

I don’t need to explain. If you want details on the Physicians Committee’s stand, click here.

Originally, the billboard featured an image of the Grim Reaper wearing a cheesehead hat. Now he’s hatless, reportedly due to a threatened lawsuit by the company that makes those signature hats.

So, that all said, I wonder if the D.C. folks understand, really understand, the importance of cheese in Wisconsin.

I’ll take you on a little photographic tour through Wisconsin, showing you images taken within the past 10 months.

I expect this isn’t the last we’ll hear of this billboard controversy.

And, just for the record, I love cheese.

Cheese is a big part of the tourism industry in Wisconsin as evidenced by this photo taken at Simons Specialty Cheese in Little Chute. Yes, those would be the famous cheesehead hats.

Simons Specialty Cheese is one of the retail outlets for Trega Foods, Ltd., which produces natural curds and mozzarella sticks right next door at its Little Chute plant.

Kitschy cheddar cheese shapes sold in Wisconsin.

You can't miss these cows and cheese sign along a Wisconsin roadway.

A small sampling of the cheeses available at Simon's Specialty Cheese.

Humbird Cheese, a popular tourist stop at Tomah.

Promoting cheese on a billboard along a central Wisconsin highway.

SO, WHAT’S YOUR take on the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine billboard and/or its stand on cheese?

 

Say cheese, a Wisconsin experience April 30, 2011

TO TRULY EXPERIENCE Wisconsin, you must, must, visit a cheese store, like Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store in Little Chute, northeast of Appleton. Simon’s offers a Wisconsin experience you’ll long remember.

Simon's Specialty Cheese is one of the retail outlets for Trega Foods, Ltd., which produces natural curds and mozzarella sticks right next door at its Little Chute plant.

And, yes, bring your camera to Simon’s for some touristy photos. Photo ops abound in every aisle.

Start by trying on the cheesehead hats. They’re perfect if you’re a Packers’ fan or are looking for a Halloween costume or, ummmmm, just want to make a fashion statement say in some place like London. I would not, however, recommend wearing a cheesehead hat in Minnesota.

Shoppers, aka tourists, don cheesehead hats and pose for photos at Simon's.

If this boxy style or color doesn’t suit you, then scoot down the aisle and try on a wolf or moose head piece. I would not, however, recommend wearing a furry animal hat in the Wisconsin woods, especially during hunting season.

A wolf disguise... Just a thought here, Simon's, but since your geographical region is called "the Fox Cities/Fox Valley" after the Fox River, how about stocking some fox hats?

If you’re looking for truly unique sunglasses that will turn heads at the beach this summer, then select cheese shades. I promise no one will even consider stealing your chic eyewear. I would not, however, recommend wearing these to, say, Minnesota’s Lake Calhoun, Lake Mille Lacs or Gull Lake.

Chic Wisconsin eyewear modeled by a Minnesotan who likely prefers anonymity.

Now, if you’re hosting a party, you’ve come to the right place. Simon’s offers plenty of conversation starter food choices. Grab a handful or two of cheddar cheese shapes. Cows. Barns. Cupcakes. Beer mugs. I would not, however, recommend purchasing the green and gold Packers and football cheese shapes if you are hosting a football (or any other) party in Minnesota.

Cheddar cheese shapes that are kitschy cute.

Along that same party line, pick up a few bottles of beer fish batter or bread mix. I would not, however, recommend stashing these near Spotted Cow (or any other beer) lest you mistakenly toss the bottled mix into the cooler before leaving on that annual fishing trip up north.

Wisconsin fish batter and beer bread mix, not to be confused with a Wisconsin beer like Spotted Cow.

Finally, even the romantic can find a gift at Simon’s. What better way to say “I love you” for a non-occasion than with a jug of bottled milk? A heart logo on the glass bottle adds just the right romantic touch. I would not, however, recommend this as a replacement for flowers no matter your state of residence.

Romantic or nostalgic, bottled milk is available at Simon's.

There, you have it, directly from someone who’s experienced Simon’s Specialty Cheese and enjoyed every aisle of photo op kitschy-ness. This store is a must-see for anyone visiting Wisconsin.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling