Since we were in Wisconsin, the cheesemaking capital of the U.S., I figured it was appropriate that we do a cheese factory tour during our visit. There are places all over the state that offer cheesemaking tours. (Here is a list of locations.) I chose Cedar Grove Cheese Factory since it was relatively close to our lodging. It was a 45-minute drive deep into farm country. I guess I should say deeper into farm country since anytime we left the Dells we ended up riding by cornfields and cow pastures.
Cedar Grove was smaller than I expected. It consists of a small cheese store attached to the cheesemaking room. We were greeted by a friendly but overworked lady. Not only was she responsible for giving tours but she was also responsible for waiting on customers who enter the store.
My mother, Traci, and I were the only people on the tour at the time. The lady led us around the corner from the register to the observation window where we could see some men making cheese in large metal vats. Our guide began explaining the cheesemaking process at lightning pace. Every time a customer walked into the store, she would politely excuse herself, wait on the customer, and then return to us to continue her presentation. Fortunately for us, there were not many customers at that time of the morning. Our lecture in front of the observation window lasted about 15 minutes. At that point, our guide told us we were free to walk across the parking lot to do a self-guided tour of the Living Machine - a greenhouse where the waste water from the cheesemaking process is cleaned using natural methods and returned to the land.
Things had really gotten hectic when we returned from the Living Machine. As if the lady who had given us the tour was not busy enough, up drove a bus full of foreign tourists. Fortunately, they had their own guide and interpreter who could give the cheesemaking lecture. Our lady at the register could concentrate on ringing up the line of customers that was forming at the counter.
Despite the circumstances, I was able to learn something from this free tour. Cedar Grove has been making cheese for over 100 years. These days, this small facility is not only known for its great cheese but also for its efficiency. Nothing goes to waste. Cedar Grove receives 30,000 pounds of milk per day from local dairy farmers. From this, 3,000 pounds of cheese can be produced. An enzyme is added that causes the milk to form little morsels called curds. The curds are pressed into blocks and aged to become cheese. We were given an opportunity to taste the fresh curds. They are called squeaky because they squeak against your teeth as you chew. I noticed bags of Cedar Grove cheese curds being sold just about anywhere we went in Wisconsin. Additionally, fried cheese curds are a common appetizer on many restaurant menus in the state. We also had the opportunity to taste 5-year aged cheddar. I love sharp cheese so this was a real treat for me.
The runoff from this whole cheesemaking process is a mixture of whey and water. The whey is separated from the water and sent to factories where it is used to make butter or used as an ingredient in cereal, cookies, and other products. The water is sent to Cedar Grove's Living Machine where it progresses through tanks containing bacteria that eat toxins. The water is then filtered through plants that remove more impurities before being returned to the land as clean water. This clean water helps grow the grass...and the grass feeds the cows...and the cows make the milk... Hi-ho, the derry-o, the process starts again.
milk tanks - 30,000 tons of milk received daily for cheesemaking
Living Machine - runoff water cleaned using bacteria and plants
Living Machine - fish swimming in biologically cleansed water
Our day of sightseeing did not end at the Cedar Grove Cheese Factory. We drove back to the Dells to do the Upper Dells Boat Tour. It was a 2-hour tour of the portion of the Wisconsin River above the dam. It was a chilly day so we were seated inside the boat instead of on the open top deck.
Long before the Dells contained waterparks and amusement parks, tourists were coming to the area as early as the 1850's to canoe the Wisconsin River and admire the sandstone rock formations. As we floated along, we were able to look through the windows and admire the same odd rock formations that have been standing in this area for 500 million years. The Wisconsin Dells is one of the few places in the world where this type of exposed bedrock can be observed.
Our guide pointed out rock formations and told us their local names such as Chimney Rock, Alligator Rock, and Black Hawk's Profile. These were fun to spot but what I really enjoyed about the Upper Dells Boat Tour were the two shore landings.
Upper Dells Boat Tour
The first was Witches Gulch. As we walked along the wooden walkway, I felt like we were walking through a dark enchanted forest full of sandstone rocks and trees. There were unlit torches along the way. Traci remarked it seemed like we were on the reality TV show Survivor headed to Tribal Council to find out who gets voted off the island.
Traci and my mother were snapping pictures until I noticed we had started to lag far behind our tour group. Thinking we were missing narration from our guide, we hurried along the path to catch up. However, there was no narration - just a souvenir shop, a snack bar, and restrooms.
After about 20 minutes, everyone made their way back to our boat so that we could be transported across the river to our second landing. It was here that we were led to Stand Rock. These tall pedestal sandrock formations are where H. H. Bennett introduced the world to stop-action photography when he photographed his son leaping across the two rocks in 1886. We were given the chance to capture a similar photo by means of a German Shepherd trained to leap across the gap. Unfortunately, the dog jumped too fast for us to capture the shot.
We continued up a long ramp that ended with another souvenir shop, snack bar, and restroom facility. There was an area labeled "scenic overlook" so I headed there to take a look. I assumed I was missing something because the view of the river was not anything special in my eyes. We headed down some steps to the boat which had moved to meet us at this new location and then headed back to port. For dinner that night, we dined at Famous Dave's in Downtown Dells.
sandstone rock formation
Stand Rock - trained dog leaped across these rocks for us
Witches Gulch - like walking through an enchanted forest
walking deeper into Witches Gulch