The Wisconsin Series - SE Wisconsin

This journal will feature a number of attractions and things to see within an hour's drive of Milwaukee.


Apples Rule the Day!

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MilwVon on October 18, 2012

Apple Holler is a family farm that is well known throughout SE Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. Visible from I94, those driving by on any weekend in the fall may be put off trying to visit during what I would assume is their busiest time of the year. Cars can be seen parked along the frontage road for blocks. For our trip, my friend Pam and I decided to go midweek thinking it would be less crowded. WHOOPS - it was a hopping place on a Tuesday with school field trips and a group of seniors visiting from Illinois.

Apple Holler is first and foremost a working apple farm, hence their name. Visitors can buy apples from inside one of the many shops on the property or they can go out in the orchard to "U Pick Em". For those not interested in picking apples, they do have large bins of freshly picked apples available for purchase out at their market barn. In addition to a large assortment of seasonal varieties of apples, you can indulge your apple cravings with a number of sweet treats including caramel apples, apple fritters or dumplings and of course PIES!

Our visit was planned for lunch and arriving shortly after noon, it was nice to be able to walk right in and be seated without delay. Their restaurant has that home cooking feel without even seeing a menu. Servers were dressed mostly in denim coveralls and very friendly. Once we ordered our meals, our beverages arrived with a nice sampling of corn bread and homemade apple butter. What a smart marketing tactic, as the yummy bread treat is available for purchase in the adjacent general store.

They have a wide variety of menu items for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pam had a nice walnut-apple salad that also had craisins and crumbled bleu cheese, with a side of sweet potato fries. I went with their open faced turkey sandwich which was served with mashed potatoes and apple bread stuffing. I was really impressed with just how good my lunch was. Pam said that her salad was outstanding as well. Prices were reasonable, with our lunch plus soft drinks coming to roughly $23.

While they have a pretty standard menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they do offer blue plate specials daily plus a weekend prime rib offering on Saturday and pot roast on Sunday.

For those who enjoy a show with their dinner, there is the Red Barn Dinner Theatre with lunch and dinner shows. Right now, their production of "Murder! The Wicked Witch of the West Hollered - An Interactive Murder Mystery Experience" is being featured at a price of about $50.

If you have children, I think you are Apple Holler's targeted market. There are literally dozens of activities for kids on the farm. For the main admission price ($3 weekdays and $5 weekends) folks are provided access to a number of areas in the park including an assortment of mazes, the goat's barnyard, "Bunnyville", a playground area including a wooden Amish train and several farm exhibits.

Additional activities are available for a fee. Tickets are sold for $1 each with pricing set on a multi-ticket basis. Pony rides, hay wagon trips into the orchard, the bounce house and train rides are just a few of the options available. I had read about gem stone mining, but didn't see that during our brief visit.

The general store is worth browsing especially if you are interested in buying local Wisconsin items including New Glarus Brewery beer, hand made crafts, wine and cheese. In the back of the main store, there is also a deli with sliced meats & cheeses, as well as "take and bake" pies. Both chicken pot pies and apple pies are available in the freezer case.

I purchased two apple turnovers ($1.79 each) and two plain caramel apples ($3.99 each) to take home. Regarding their caramel apples, they offer a number of varieties including nuts, sprinkles or mini M&M's toppings. David and I shared one of the caramel apples after dinner last night. I could not believe how crisp and sweet the apple was. I had to call today to find out what variety it was. I was told that currently they are making them with Cortland apples. I had never heard of that variety, but will say it was one of the best apples I had ever had!

For families planning a day at Apple Holler, be sure to bring plenty of cash as there are many ways for them to separate you from your money. I don't say that in necessarily a bad way; only to point out what one of their employees told me as I tried to step inside the park to take a photo: "They pretty much charge for everything here." I wasn't particularly interested in the park and wasn't going to pay $3 to take some photos for this review to promote them . . . so I just took what photos I could from the outside perimeter of the farm park itself.

FYI . . . they even charge for parking! As we approached their main parking lot, there was a large sign that read "PARKING $5" so we parked on the frontage road and walked the short distance to the restaurant. There is something wrong with charging people to park if they are coming to spend money in your restaurant or gift shop. For that reason they only get a "three" out of five from me. Seriously, don't insult your customers by charging them to park!

Right now they are promoting their pumpkin patch & self-picking. Later this winter they will offer sleigh rides on a reservation only basis. More information, including pricing is on their website (www.appleholler.com). Lastly, they do offer a venue for special events as well as pig roasts and catering for those interested in hosting larger events.
Apple Holler Family Farm
5006 South Sylvania Avenue
Sturtevant, Wisconsin
(262) 884-7100

Pleasant Little Find Just North of Milwaukee

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 2, 2012

As I planned for this particular journal, I researched local points of interest that are off the beaten path. Milwaukee is rich with brewery history and our cheesemaking tradition can also be found close to the city. In spite of our vast rural farmland that can be found throughout the state, I was surprised to learn that we had a winery just one county north in Cedarburg (Ozaukee County).

Located in the Cedar Creek Settlement, the Cedar Creek Winery has been in existence since 1990 when the Wollersheim family purchased the Stone Mill Winery which had occupied this space since 1972. The Wollersheims also own and operate the Wollersheim Winery in Praire du Sac, located on a 27 acre vineyard overlooking the Wisconsin River just northwest of Madison. It is from their Praire du Sac vineyards that three varieties of grapes are grown for use at the Cedar Creek Winery. They are the St. Pepin, the La Crosse and the Marechal Foch. To supplement their needs, they also purchase grapes that match their precise specifications from Washington State and the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

Upon arrival to the Cedar Creek Settlement, visitors are encouraged to first stop by their gift shop and tasting area. It is here that you can purchase or sample any of their 12 year-round wines plus any that may be in season at the time of your visit. With the Christmas holiday right around the corner, they are currently featuring two seasonals. A third seasonal (Strawberry Blush) is a late spring/early summer offering. For a detailed wine list, check out their website: http://www.cedarcreekwinery.com/wine_list.asp .

For my visit, I was looking forward to taking their tour. Guests purchase their tour tickets ($3) inside the gift shop and meet out on the main landing in the Cedar Creek Settlement shopping area. Mary was the guide for my 3:30pm tour. She was very pleasant and knowledgeable of the winery's history and production process, very willing to answer any questions asked.

The short walking tour took about 30 minutes and included their production area located beneath the shopping levels, in the underground limestone cellar. After learning a little bit about the history of the building and the winery itself, we went into a small presentation area where a short five or six minute video was shown. It highlighted the process of making wine, from the vineyard to the bottle.

It was nice to learn more about Philippe Coquard, the winemaker for both Cedar Creek Winery and Wollersheim Winery. As part of a student program, he came to Wisconsin in 1984 from France bringing with him a family heritage of winemaking. Today through his passion for creating high quality wines, distinctive to Wisconsin, many awards have been bestowed at national and international competitions.

We next went back to the area where the fermentation and aging occurs, as well as bottling and packaging. It was interesting to learn about how Cedar Creek Winery produces some wines (including their Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio) using a cold fermentation method and no aging; while their reds (Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah) undergo a warm fermentation and aged in oak barrels; and others (Bon Vivant, La Belle V and ROSÉ) are also cold fermented but aged in a large stainless steel tank.

Mary also explained their oak barrel process, from trees in Western Wisconsin and Minnesota, to the coopers who make them in Kentucky, to how each is marked to explain how the way the barrel was made affects the characteristics of the wines that are aged in them. During my visit, there was a rack of oak barrels that were aging their Syrah.

Once the oak barrel aging process has been completed to the wine maker's specifications, all of the contents are brought back together so that the unique flavors of each barrel can naturally form the consistent flavor desired for that particular batch. With the flavors married, and sediment filtered away, bottling is done.

Out in the bottling area, all bottles are processed by hand. Having just bottled their Cabernet Sauvignon last week, they were completing the bottling process by hand-capping during my visit. Unfortunately, they were not able to sell any yet, so I will have to make a return trip to pick up my hubby's favorite wine later this month.

After the completion of the tour, visitors are welcomed to the tasting area to sample. I tried the Chardonnay, the Christmas White and Cranberry Blush . . . and purchased bottles of the Chardonnay ($12) and Cranberry Blush ($8). While I also liked the Christmas White, I thought I should wait to buy additional bottles when I return to buy a couple of bottles of the reds.

Tours are offered daily at 11:30am, 1:30pm and 3:30pm. Due to special community or winery events, however, tour operations may be suspended so you would do well to check their website (http://www.cedarcreekwinery.com/tours.asp) or make a call before heading out. One note about the tour . . . because of the age of the Cedar Creek Settlement building and the location of the winery and their cellar, there are two half flights of stairs that must be navigated to fully access all areas during the tour.
Cedar Creek Winery
N70 W6340 Bridge Road
Cedarburg, Wisconsin, 53012
(262) 377-8020

How About Cedarburg, Wisconsin?

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by MilwVon on November 2, 2012

For visitors to Milwaukee or SE Wisconsin, you may want to consider a short jaunt up to Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Located less than 30 minutes from downtown Milwaukee, Cedarburg is far enough out of the city to give you a flavor of what life in rural Wisconsin is like while also providing for a bit of the eclectic and historical.

The Village of Cedarburg was founded in 1845 as a number of mills were being built along Cedar Creek, which runs through the center of the city today. Today several of the old buildings built, including the Cedarburg Mill, Concordia Mill and Hilgen & Wittenberg Woolen Mill remain standing and are listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

The woolen mill dates back to 1864 and operated here for more than 100 years, until closing their doors in 1969. Three years later, the original main stone building was acquired and subsequently developed into the Cedar Creek Settlement, an eclectic group of shops including art galleries, antique stores and a winery. Many attribute Cedarburg's designation as a tourist destination to Jim Pape who created the Cedar Creek Settlement with the founding of the Stone Mill winery in 1972 and the expansion with retail shops and a restaurant in 1973 and 1974.

Washington Avenue is the main thoroughfare through the historical district and is worth exploring. If you continue north, you will come to another piece of Wisconsin history . . . the last covered bridge in the State of Wisconsin.

I have been fascinated with covered bridges since seeing my first one near my grandma's Georgia farm back in the 1960's. Of course the movie "The Bridges of Madison County" (Clint Eastwood & Meryl Streep) also stirred my interest, especially when we lived in Iowa several years ago.

The Cedarburg Covered Bridge was known as the "Red Bridge" and was built in 1876 with pine and oak timbers cut and milled near Baraboo, Wisconsin. They were hauled approximately 100 miles to the bridge location over Cedar Creek where workmen assembled the 120' long by 12' wide by 13' high bridge. The bridge is a lattice truce construction, which is considered to be very rare today.

If you look at the photos attached to this story, you will see the concrete support at the center of the bridge span. It was added in 1927 in order to provide the support necessary given the advent of the automobile and the additional weight the bridge had to withstand.

In 1962 the bridge was moved approximately 50 feet from its original location in order to build a more modern bridge which is still in use today for vehicle traffic in the area. The Cedarburg Covered Bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on March 14, 1973.

This area around the bridge has been developed into a county park, with a footbridge crossing the creek approximately 20 yards from the original covered bridge. Picnic tables and port-a-potties make this a very nice location for a picnic lunch, cookout or hike.

I hope that visitors to Milwaukee will consider a day trip to Cedarburg! Throughout the year they host many events and festivals including the Strawberry Festival in late June that attracts visitors from a four state area. Other special events include the Winter Festival (February), Cedar Creek Settlement Festival (March), Fall & Harvest Festival (September) and German Festival/Oktoberfest (October).

For more information on Historic Cedarburg including lodging, dining and other activities, check out their website at www.cedarburg, org.


Classic Fall Drive Pilgrimage

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MilwVon on October 10, 2010

Holy Hill is an area located roughly 30 minutes north of the Milwaukee in an area known as the Kettle Moraine. Created by glaciers thousands of years ago, the "kettles" are pockets where once the frozen ice melted creating lakes and in some cases dry "holes" in the land. The rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine are especially beautiful in the fall.

It is known as Holy Hill in part because the Native American Indians believe the lands were sacred. While the US Government had the land for a period in the mid 1800's, it has primarily served as a religious center for nearly 200 years. Today the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians at Holy Hill stands 1,300 feet above sea level overlooking the vast countryside.

The grounds are open to visitors throughout the year and are an especially busy place in the fall when folks from around the Midwest come to the kettle moraine area of Wisconsin to travel along the Wisconsin Heritage Trail. While visiting, guests can climb the 178 stairs to the top of the open spire to see out as far as the downtown skyline of Milwaukee. There are also several nice shaded picnic areas both on the front (main) side parking area and the lower level lot at the foot of Holy Hill. Many families were here enjoying the warm fall day; clear skies and air temps in the mid 70's.

Back up at the main sanctuary, visitors also have the opportunity to shop in the gift shop or grab a bite to eat at the Monastery Cafe. Burgers, brats, chips and fresh baked goods were available for those who didn’t pack a picnic basket.

The church was built in 1926 and maintains a very extensive calendar of masses, confessions and prayer retreats. With an extensive restoration completed in 2006, the inside of the church reminds me of the many I've seen in Germany. It was in 2006 that the basilica celebrated its centennial with placement in the National Registry of Historical Places and being dedicated as a minor basilica (just one of fewer than 60 in all of the USA).

More information including hours of worship and times open to the public and a very detailed historical overview may be found on their website: www.holyhill.com.
Holy Hill
1525 Carmel Road
Hubertus, Wisconsin
(262) 670-8820

Fun for Kids Young & Old

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on October 17, 2012

Who doesn't like jelly beans? The Jelly Belly Tour in Kenosha County, Wisconsin is a fun way to learn about the gourmet candy, and sample their many flavors and other confectionery treats. With Halloween right around the corner, even candy corn seems special when sampled in their store.

Located about 10 minutes east of I94 just north of the WI/ILL state border, this Jelly Belly location is a warehouse operation. Their free 30 minute tour is provided via a guided train ride around the perimeter of the warehouse that provides video supplemented by the tour guide along the way. Each of the five stops were educational and contributed to visitors' understanding of the history and manufacturing process.

Stop 1 provided a history of the company, dating back to immigrants from Germany back in the 1860's. Jelly Belly as a brand was founded in 1976 and was largely launched into the public's awareness thanks to then California Governor Ronald Reagan.

Stop 2 discussed the mosaics created from Jelly Belly beans. It is amazing to me the art that has been created using jelly beans. At the start of the tour, they had a couple of actual pieces on display, including one of England's Queen Elizabeth. (Be sure to take a look at the photo attached to this review!)

Stop 3 summarized the manufacturing process and creation of the actual "bean". The flavoring process used as well as innovative creativity are explained. As an FYI, Jelly Belly beans are actually made north of Chicago our out west near Oakland, CA.

Stop 4 showed visitors how the jelly beans are glazed and finished, which includes imprinting the "Jelly Belly" name on each and every bean. Here we were also shown how they make their taffy products. For me, this was one of the most amazing things to observe. Ever wonder how they get those little Christmas trees in the center of a piece of candy? Well we saw how it is done! Remarkable indeed.

Stop 5 was the final stop of the train ride tour. Here we learned about their quality control process and packaging. This was the first place we heard the term "Belly Flop". Belly Flops are the irregular jelly beans, either too large or too small . . . or perhaps just shaped in some weird form. Inside the adjacent Jelly Belly Store, these "Belly Flops" can be purchased in large 2 lb bags for half price. Unfortunately, the bags are a mix of flavors, many of which are rather scary . . . but I'll get to that shortly.

After the completion of the tour, all guests were provided a 2oz sample bag of Jelly Belly beans.

My friend Pam and I visited the warehouse tour midweek, so it was relatively quiet. Our tour only had about 15 people, less than a quarter of what the train could hold. I noticed as we rode through the warehouse, they had at least two other trains to be used on busier days, like the weekend. There is a separate entrance into the tour area, with the store adjacent in the same building. Normally tours start from the far right side of the warehouse, and ends depositing riders at the store. For our tour, however, we started and ended from the store.

Outside of the warehouse tour entrance, the sidewalk is marked with large signs indicating the approximate wait time for tours from a couple of spots outside. So if you arrive during busy days, you will have some idea how long you can expect to wait. If you only want to shop, there is a separate outside entrance into the Jelly Belly Store.

The Jelly Belly Store is pretty impressive. As you enter, immediately to the left is a sample bar area where uniformed employees will hand you samples as your request them. I would imagine this would be an area for significant waiting if they are busy. There is also a small snack bar area for those who want or need something a bit more substantial than candy to eat.

Jelly Belly has a "menu" of 50 flavors plus a number of additional seasonal and special flavors. You can buy them ala carte, filling your pouch with whatever you wish to purchase at a price of $9/lb. Given that Jelly Belly beans are truly a gourmet product, that is reflected in the price.

I previously mentioned the "Belly Flops". They had large bags of those sold as an assortment, $9 for a 2 lb bag. Additionally, if you buy three bags, you will receive two additional bags for free. That would get your price to 10 pounds for $27. Not too bad, if you need that much candy and are not too concerned with what flavors you may get in your bags.

Because Jelly Belly makes a number of quite gross flavors, there is no way I would buy an assortment bag of beans. Something about eating anything that may include such flavors as booger, skunk spray or barf just turns me away. For those faint of heart like me, steer clear of the "BeanBoozled" flavor line!

There are also a lot of other candy treats available for purchase including taffy, Sunkist fruit slices, caramel corn, gummies and chocolate nut clusters. In addition to my 1 lb bag of Jelly Belly beans (orange, cherry and lemon flavored), I was happy to buy a couple of small bag of irregulars . . . dinosaur eggs and dutch mints.

For more information including hours of operation, check out their website at: http://www.jellybelly.com/visit_jelly_belly/wisconsin_warehouse_index.aspx .
Jelly Belly Visitor Center and Warehouse Tours
10100 Jelly Belly Lane
Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin, 53158
(866) 868-7522

Third Generation Cheese Factory

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by MilwVon on October 31, 2012

Wisconsin is not only the largest cheese producing state in the United States, it is where two varieties were invented back in the 1870's . . . Wisconsin Brick and Colby. Since 1922, Widmer's Cheese Cellars has been producing award winning, handcrafted cheese, including brick, cheddar and colby. John Widmer emigrated from Switzerland to America in 1905. After serving as a cheesemaker's apprentice for several years, he settled in Theresa, Wisconsin in 1922 and founded Widmer's Cheese Cellars. Today Joe Widmer is the owner and master cheesemaker at the same location found by his grandfather.

From the street Widmer's looks like any neighborhood house with an adjoining tavern or corner market. It is a small building with an equally small entry area where their retail sales are offered. During my midweek visit, there were a number of locals who stopped in to buy cheese. Amazingly, not 20 feet from the sales area were the cheese vats and production area. It is from this area that you are welcomed to observe the magic that creates cheese from milk.

Production starts daily at around 4:30am, with visitors welcomed from 6:30am until 5:00pm. Folks are encouraged to arrive early, however, if they are interested in watching cheese being made. They do offer a daily (free) guided tour at 9:30am, but be sure to call ahead to reserve your spot. My suggestion would be to arrive a bit earlier than that in order to watch the process of turning milk into curds and whey. While they do cover these steps in the video they'll show you later, there is nothing like watching as the cheesemaker continually stirs as the milk thickens and curds form.

One of the ladies from the back area came to get our small group of four to take us back to the packaging & shipping area. It was here that we watched a short 10 minute video that provided an overview of the Widmer family, the cheesemaking process to include aging, and the differences in the varieties of cheese produced here.

After the video, licensed cheesemaker Lenny came out to tell us a bit more about cheesemaking and to answer any questions that we may have. We learned that Widmer produces roughly 2,000 pounds of cheese a day, Monday through Friday. The 20,000 pounds of milk required arrives daily from just four local farms. Lenny explained that the milk fat content varies throughout the year based on the type of feed the cows are getting but that generally it ranges from 9:1 (milk to cheese) to 11:1 with the 10:1 being the rough average throughout the year.

After spending some time with Lenny, he offered the opportunity to sample three cheeses plus a nice white brick cheese spread. Of course, everyone was invited to make personal purchases in the retail store.

When we returned back to the retail store, the curds were being scooped out of the vat, filling the cheese "hoops" or forms in approximately five pound rectangular blocks. Each form would have a brick placed on the top to help compress the cheese curds. The hoops are turned three times throughout the day in order to help provide a consistent and solid cheese. The next morning the cheeses are placed in a brine wash for 12 hours.

From the brine tank, the cheese is then placed in the curing room, which has a steady temperature of 70F. The cheese cures for approximately a week, during which time it is washed and turned daily. The cheese i then packaged in either foil or vacuum packaging. Aging would then take place, depending on the variety of cheese. The brick cheese we saw being packaged for shipping was about six weeks old.

Widmer's offers an up close and personal view of how cheese is made, holding true to the traditions of the old country brought to America during the 19th century. Today there are fewer than 100 of these small craft cheese factories still in operation here in Wisconsin. It would appear to be a dying profession in this day of high tech mass production.

Theresa, Wisconsin is about an hour from the Milwaukee. Located just ten minutes off I41, it is quite accessible for travelers heading north to Fond du Lac, Appleton or Green Bay. For any visitor coming to SE Wisconsin, Widmer Cheese Cellars is well worth your time.
Widmer's Cheese Cellars
214 W. Henni Street
Theresa, Wisconsin
920-488-2503

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