Green County Cheese Days recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, earning the title of the oldest festival in the Midwest. Cheese Days is a three-day festival which takes place only in even-numbered years during the third weekend in September. Held in Monroe, Wis., Cheese Days is exactly what the name suggests, a celebration all about cheese.
Believe it or not, Cheese Days got its start from sauerkraut. In October of 1914, a group of Monroe businessmen trekked to Forreston, Ill., to take part in "Sauerkraut Day." The group returned home from the event bound and determined that if there could be a day honoring sauerkraut, then Monroe could certainly host a day in celebration of cheese. Thus, Cheese Days was born. The first "Cheese Day" was organized in just 19 days and was held on October 28, 1914. More than 3,000 people attended, and they consumed 13,000 free cheese sandwiches made of Limburger, Brick and Swiss cheese.
Fast forward 100 years. The festival, held around Monroe's historic courthouse square, has become a three-day celebration of the area's rich Swiss heritage, vibrant dairy industry, and award-winning cheesemakers and cheese.
Yodeling, alphorn music, coin rolling, polka and authentic Swiss costumes and cuisine are all a part of Green County Cheese Days' tribute to the area's Swiss heritage. Cheese Days 2014 musical highlights included 100 accordions that played the official Cheese Days Song, a full-time master yodeler, and a traditional Swiss band that flew from Switzerland for the festival.
The Cheese Days Parade takes pride in being the only parade led by Brown Swiss cows, which represents the practical tradition of cows being led down from the mountains in Switzerland from summer pastures before snowfall.
With 29,500 dairy cows producing over 600 million pounds of milk, it's no wonder that Green County is home to 12 cheese factories and just as many Master Cheesemakers. Cheese Days allows visitors to experience Green County Gold (cheese) firsthand. Popular Cheese Days delights include a Cheese Tasting Tent, where you can sample your way through nearly 100 cheeses, and festival cuisine including grilled cheese sandwiches, fried cheese on a stick and deep-fried cheese curds. Dairy farm tours are also offered for festival-goers to learn more about how milk is produced.
Among the unique experiences of Cheese Days is Limburger cheese. Limburger, a strong cheese that has a bad reputation for smelling (and tasting) like dirty socks, can be found at the heart of the festival. Green County is home to Chalet Cheese Co-op, the only cheese factory in North America to produce this pungent delight. Personal preference, bravery and open-mindedness are all factors of ones inclination to actually enjoy the cheese, but no Cheese Days experience is complete without a little Limburger.
This year's Green County Cheese Days was held September 19 to 21 and may have been the best festival yet. Around 100,000 people attended, and approximately 6,000 pounds of Maple Leaf Cheddar were used to make the Monroe Optimist Club's famous deep-fried cheese curds - the best deep-fried cheese curd you will ever taste!