When you’re visiting a foreign country, I believe it is important to eat the local food—and as a born-and-bred Minnesotan, I am bound by tradition to call Wisconsin “foreign” (even though its just across the river….). That means that when I visit Oshkosh, I am required to sample the three basic food groups—Beer (Spotted Cow preferred), Brats (honestly—you can do better than Johnsonville, even though they aren’t bad), and the stuff of legends—cheese curds!
Growing up half-German, I spent a lot of time at family reunions in the farm country southwest fo the Twin Cities. Large gatherings where the kids ran around getting into trouble among the barns and grain storage bins while the adults spoke (and gossiped) of relatives spread across the county as if the county was a wide world. Parents with kids spoke English, while the older generation conversed in the Germanic mother tongue—at least that was where they retreated after a couple of beers. Beer was not optional, and younglings simply got smaller cups than adults—but we still drank a little beer. Yet I never became an aficionado, and still to this day can’t tell which beer to order when I am dragged into a local brewpub that is as proud of the clever names they give their custom beverages as they are of the beverages themselves.
“Give me something local and dark (or light, depending on my mood)” is about all I can get out, and as long as it is cold and I can hang on to the same glass for awhile, I’m good. But there is something about Spotted Cow—a mass-produced beer that you can only get in Wisconsin, it seems) that I actually enjoy drinking. And so, for that week in Oshkosh, I drink my allotment of beer for the summer—because “hauling Spotted Cow west of the Mississippi is bootleggin’! “
Now Brats—I grew up with Bratwurst that was hand-made by the local butcher, often made from cuts of meat from animals that walked the farm where the barbeque was held! Coarse-ground, with a little spice, casings bursting from the heat of the grill, char marks on the outside from the grates—now THAT is bratwurst. Mustard in the bun, maybe a little sauerkraut (but only if it is sour and crisp!) and that’s it. Relish is for amateurs according to my family, and if the bratwurst came in a bubble pack, it’s for city folk. You don’t get good Brats at the A&W booth—or frankly, any booth that has a national chain in its name. The best thing you can do is run out to the local meat market or grocer, but the local-made stuff, and grill it yourself. Now THAT’s bratwurst!
Cheese curds —I really miss cheese curds. No one west of the Rockies seems to understand them. Heck, I’m not sure I have found them west of Minnesota. The perfect cheese curd of my youth is firm, squeaky on your teeth, and pulls apart in chunks—there is nothing “smooth and creamy” about a good cheese curd. Salty—they need to be a little salty (naturally—don’t add it!), and if you leave them in the bag in the sun for a few minutes, they start to weep. Deep-fried cheese curds are something recent—I never heard of it until maybe ten or fifteen years ago—but fair food vendors will deep fry anything, and you know what—they aren’t bad! Well, flavor- and texture-wise that is—there is probably nothing at all good about them when it comes to your health! I will admit that when I get to AirVenture, I have been known to pick up a pack-a-day habit at the aforementioned A&W booth near the Oshkosh Tower. But it’s a vice I can only practice for a week a year—so how bad can it be for me?
To really sample the perfect curds, get out to a local dairy or cheese shop and find the hand-packed individual bags—if they are heat sealed or vacuum packed, they came from a factory. Avoid them. Get them fresh, sit down under a tree in the grass, open the bag—and eat them all. A fist-full of cheese curds will fix whatever ails ya’….or it’ll trigger that heart attack—but you’re sitting peacefully under a tree in the Midwest—and there are worse ways to go.
Enjoy the Beer, Brats, and Curds while you’re at the show—none of them travel particularly well in a light airplane in the summer. But if you do manage to fit a six-pack of Spotted Cow in the airplane, savor it slowly—you won’t find it again until you’re next trip to Wisconsin.