Wednesday, May. 20th, 2015

Bow Down: 5 Magnificent Wisconsin Cheese Pioneers

With great stache comes great cheese.
With a great stache comes a great cheese.

Millions of years ago, glaciers receded from Wisconsin and left behind a lush, green pastureland. The glaciers probably didn’t know it, but their departure set the stage for Wisconsin to claim the mantle of cheesemaking mastery. Wisconsin Cheese has a legendary reputation around the world, but just how did Wisconsin actually become America’s Dairyland and how did fromage become our forte? Today we’re going to take a look at five people in Wisconsin history who pushed the envelope and helped to build Wisconsin’s cheese making heritage.

1. Anne Pickett – 1841, Jefferson County

Seven years before Wisconsin earned its statehood and just as the would-be state was experiencing an influx of immigrants, Ms. Anne Pickett opened the first cottage industry cheese factory operation in America by renting her neighbor's cows. While cheesemaking had been done prior, Ms. Pickett’s operation was the first to sell its cheese statewide. Nothing was cheddar than that. 

2. John J. Smith – 1858, Sheboygan County

Over the following 17 years, little cheesemaking operations sprouted on street corners and in strip malls (if there had been strip malls) all over the state. One such fromagerie was owned by John Smith, who bought Wisconsin’s first industrial scale cheese vat. Smith was also the first to sell his cheese beyond Wisconsin’s borders. To be certain, it was nothing to cheese at. 

Old-timey milk separator in an old-timey cheese plant with more old-timey facial hair.
Old-timey milk separator in an old-timey cheese plant with more old-timey facial hair.

3. Hiram Smith – 1859, Sheboygan County

John’s method was deemed unsatisfactory by critics and he abandoned the business after a year. His brother Hiram picked up where he left off, opening the first full-scale cheese factory operation. Hiram purchased milk from farmers in exchange for a percentage of the cheese rendered. Gouda job, Hiram Smith. You done gouda. 

4. Chester Hazen – 1864, Ladoga

Perhaps no one pioneered cheese in Wisconsin quite like Chester Hazen, who built the first cheese factory that was unattached to a farm. Critics called it “Hazen’s Folly,” lampooning its plan to make cheese from milk of several different herds. One year later, Hazen proved them wrong and was churning out curds from over 300 cows.

By 1875, Sheboygan County alone had 45 cheese factories producing over two million pounds of cheese. By the turn of the century, this rose to over a hundred factories making over 8 million pounds. Wisconsin’s cheese supremacy had begun in earnest. It was the curd heard 'round the world.

A graduating class of 19th century Wisconsin cheesemakers. At this point, I'm convinced
A graduating class of 19th century Wisconsin cheesemakers. At this point, I'm convinced
"magnificent moustache" was a job requirement.

5. Stephen Babcock – 1890, Madison

Stephen Babcock — a University of Wisconsin professor — developed the first milkfat test. This helped dairy farmers determine which cows were making the best milk for cheese, and the test is still in use to this day. He is also the namesake of my favorite ice cream shop in Madison. Since then, our state's cheese scene has been feta than ever.

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Tuesday, May. 19th, 2015

Packers Fans Amongst NFL's Most Grammatically Correct

For whom do you cheer, Brah?
For whom do you cheer, Brah?

Take solace cheeseheads. You may not have gotten last season’s Lombardi, but you do know how to spell it. Because it clearly needed to be done, Geoff Foster at the Wall Street Journal ranked the 32 teams of the NFL by grammar and spelling proficiency. The score was devised by taking 150 fan comments of 50 words or greater on the news section of each team’s NFL page and running them through Grammarly, an automated grammar and spellcheck service. Packers fans did great – rating 31st in worst spelling with only 5.1 mistakes per 100 words. This is considerably better than the NFL average of 9.9, and the worst offender (in more ways than one) in the league: the Washington Redskins with a whopping 16.5. Foster was sure to note that there is no correlation between an NFL team’s fans having clean copy and the team being better at football, but I’m just going to go ahead and call this another win for Pack.

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Monday, May. 18th, 2015

Lowes Creek Mountain Bike Trail Ranked Most Popular in Wisconsin

Trailin' at Lowes Creek County Park
Trailin' at Lowes Creek County Park

Break out your wheels and head over to Lowes Creek Trail, mountain bikers. Singletracks – a blog and online discussion forum for mountain bike enthusiasts — has declared Lowes Creek Trail of Eau Claire the most popular mountain biking trail in Wisconsin. The site took an aggregate of its users quality rankings and favorite trails around the country to declare a most popular trail for each state. Singletracks describes Lowes Creek as being flat with a few log obstacles, hills, and creek crossings with plenty of opportunity for discovering new trails on repeat visits.


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Friday, May. 15th, 2015

May 20: Michael Perry's "The Jesus Cow" Release Reading & Signing

With his eye (and ear) for the comical elements of contemporary rural life, New York Times bestselling author Michael Perry has built a loyal audience with his popular memoirs Visiting Tom and Population 485. Now, for the first time, he turns to fiction with The Jesus Cow (released May 19), an affectionately skewed and big-hearted depiction of one miraculous bovine and the chaos it unleashes. “A wildly comic and deeply felt examination of faith, combining politics, scandal, farming, love, environmentalism and rural philosophy,” says Julie Schumacher, author of Dear Committee Member.

Order The Jesus Cow online! Find the new novel right here.

➜ Join Perry in the Volume One Gallery on May 20 for a special reading and book signing for The Jesus Cow.

Show Details

WHAT: Michael Perry's "The Jesus Cow" Reading & Signing
WHERE: The Volume One Gallery at the Local Store
                     205 N. Dewey Street, Eau Claire, Wis.
WHEN: Wednesday, May 20 • 7pm

Read Volume One's interview with Perry about The Jesus Cow!

A Series of
Adventurous Flops 

Michel Perry’s newest book, The Jesus Cow, is his first adult novel and features a bachelor farmer named Harley Jackson. Harley lives in a northern Wisconsin village called Swivel, not too far north of the university town Clearwater (that’s right, Clearwater) and even closer to the small town of Boomler (that’s right, Boomler) ...  Read More!


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Tuesday, May. 12th, 2015

5 Strangely specific Wisconsin laws (that may or may not be true)

Our law books are full of old and bizarre ... laws. Some are so specific they make you wonder what exact thing happened to someone to make them decide a law should be passed so that no one ever did that thing again. Here's a collection of some unordinary ordinances Wisconsin still has on the books ... three real ones, a maybe, and one that's totally not for real.

1. It is finable for an “offensive” looking person to be on the streets of Milwaukee (True!)

Between the 1870s and 1970s many cities enacted  laws sometimes called 'unsightly beggar' ordinances that prohibited people with disfigurements, diseases, or otherwise unwanted characteristics from being in public. This is definitely no longer enforced.

2. The government may not prohibit manually flushed urinals (True!)

Wisconsin statute 101.07 states that the government may not directly or indirectly prohibit manually flushed urinals. Also, it must take steps to promote their installation. Either someone in the state senate really likes manual urinals, or was probably scared to death by an automatic flushing one.


No you go. No you go. No you go. No you ...
No you go. No you go. No you go. No you ...

3. When two trains stop at an intersection, it is illegal for one train to proceed until the other has (Not Sure!)

Did you have to read this twice? I sure did. How does this even work? I just spent 20 minutes trying to diagram this on a whiteboard and I still don’t understand. Send help. (Despite this law appearing in many, many places around the web, I was unable to verify its actual existence.)

4. It is a Class A misdemeanor to wave a burning torch in the air (True!)

Statute 941.10 indicates that anyone who handles burning material in a highly negligent manner will be subject to prosecution. Specifically, in "...which the person should realize that a substantial and unreasonable risk of serious damage to another's property is created." Wave your torches responsibly, angry mobs.

Pictured above: Certainly not a hat.
Pictured above: Certainly not a hat.

5: It is illegal to cross from Minnesota to Wisconsin with a duck on your head (Myth!)

Now while it’s fun to think that at one point there must have been hordes of Minnesotans crossing the border with foul hats, there just isn’t any law preventing it. The best guess is that this urban legend-ish law stems from a very poor reading of an old Minnesota statute governing the interstate sale of a fabric known as duck cloth.

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Monday, May. 11th, 2015

5 Numbers: Eau Claire’s Dollar Value

1. $4.5 Billion

That’s the value of all the property – residential, commercial, manufacturing, and personal – in the city of Eau Claire, according to a new report by City Assessor Al Andreo. That’s a $68 million increase from the previous year, which is good for both property owners (whose investments are growing) and the city (whose tax base is growing). However, the lingering effects of the Great Recession are still evident: The increase is still before the 20-year average increase.

2. $76.5 Million

The assessment levied on Gerber Products (aka Nestle), the city of Eau Claire’s largest taxpayer, as of January 2014. Gerber edged Mayo Clinic Health System ($73 million) and Oakwood Mall ($72.8 million) on the list of top taxpayers.

3. $914,000

The average value of a commercial property in the city. There are about 1,300 such parcels in Eau Claire, ranging from big clinics to tiny corner stores. Altogether, commercial property in the city is worth nearly $1.2 billion.

4. $138,000

That’s the average value of a single-family home in Eau Claire. That might not seem like much – it’s below the state average – but it adds up: With more than 15,000 such homes, their total value is more than $2.1 billion.

5. $165,000

The median selling prices last year for a home in the Third Ward, one of the city’s older and more picturesque neighborhoods. According to the report, this is the highest median selling price of any neighborhood in town. The lowest median sale price was $92,000 on the city’s lower north side.

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Thursday, May. 7th, 2015

State Budget Committee Deals Confluence a $15 Million Setback

If backers of the proposed Confluence Project in downtown Eau Claire want $15 million in state funding, it likely won’t come in the next state budget. On Thursday afternoon the state Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 along party lines to remove $15 million for the project that Gov. Scott Walker had written into the 2015-17 state budget. The committee’s Democratic minority proposed pursuing state bonds to fund the project instead, but that idea was rejected as well, reported.

Majority Republicans on the committee argued that the state’s limited resources should be prioritized toward K-12 education, not the Confluence Project, WisPolitics reported on its budget blog.

“We’re disappointed on how the vote came out partisan after all this,” state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, said Thursday afternoon. “This does not necessarily kill the project at this point, but it is disappointing. The budgetary process is not complete at all, but this is a setback.”

Wachs, who was lobbying Republican and Democratic colleagues alike on the measure before Thursday’s vote, said there’s still a possibility Confluence funding could be obtained via the state Building Commission. “We’ve just got to keep our chins up and keep going into the wind,” he said.

The proposed community-university Confluence performing arts center is slated to be built along Graham Avenue in downtown Eau Claire with a mixture of philanthropic, state, county, and city funds. Originally, backers had sought $25 million from the state, but they scaled down their plans after Walker offered $15 million in his budget proposal earlier this year. Currently plans call for a roughly $40 million performing arts center, but local funding was contingent on the state contribution.

According to WisPolitics, the Republican-passed motion would require the state Department of Administration to “consult with the developer and others and report back to the Building Commission on progress and if (the Confluence Project) continues to need state assistance.” The proposed spending would not be put in the current budget, although it could be placed in the 2017-19 state building program, WisPolitics reported.

The committee’s vote drew quick – and sometimes angry – reaction from Confluence supporters. On Twitter, Leader-Telegram Editor Don Huebscher, who has frequently editorialized in support of the project, wrote simply that the vote was “infuriating.” Meanwhile, Eau Claire City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle tweeted that the vote was “upsetting to say the least,” but added, “We must keep eyes on longview. Eau Claire is (a) wise & resilient community.”

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VOTE NOW: You Decide Our Next Local Legends Tee

Legendary Local Legends (tees).
Legendary Local Legends (Tees)

Last winter, Volume One and The Local Store launched a new series of limited-edition, vintage-style tees featuring the logos of famous former local businesses we all knew and loved. We called the series Local Legends, and YOU picked the first three tees we made - London Square, Kerm's, and Woo's Pagoda!

Well get ready, because we're launching another Local Legends tee this summer and once again, YOU get to choose the design! This new collection of contenders includes the top vote-getters that didn't make last year's cut, plus additional suggestions from members of our community. Basically, these ideas came from you, and now you get to pick the winner.

Go to our Local Legends page and vote for your THREE favorite options (and/or suggest additional t-shirt ideas). Voting enters you in a drawing for a $50 Local Store Gift Card! Include your email and we’ll let you know when the new tee is ready, just in case you want one. As is the case with all our tees, they'll be printed right here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


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In Nosh News: Partners Pull Plug on Taste of the Valley

Taste of the Valley tasters tasting the Valley.
Taste of the Valley tasters tasting the Valley.

Put away your bibs and jumbo packs of wet-wipes: The Taste of the Valley – the Phoenix Park-based food-a-palooza – is no more. Over the years, the annual event has featured dozens of local food vendors – from mom-and-pop eateries to franchises – dishing out everything from fall-off-the-bone pork ribs to toasted ravioli for thousands eager eaters. The Eau Claire Press Co., publisher of the Leader-Telegram, announced May 6 that the June event will not be held any more. Taste of the Valley began in 2007 and has been sponsored by the Eau Claire Press Co. since 2010. Originally a United Way fundraiser, for the last two years it has benefited the Community Table, which provided many volunteers to staff the event. However, the Community Table recently decided not to take part, which contributed to the decision to end the event, the Leader-Telegram reported. 

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Wednesday, May. 6th, 2015

5 Curious Roadside Attractions Full of Wisconsin Character

Summer is soon upon us and that means one thing for me: road trip season. It's time to get out there and see some of our state's local sights – and character. What do a Tesla-inspired sculpture, taxidermy dioramas, trolls, a viking church and a 55-ton boulder have to do with each other? They're all part of Wisconsin's family of interesting (read: odd) roadside attractions. 

1. Rock in the House - Fountain City

I think there's someone at the door, dear.
I think there's someone at the door, dear.

One fateful day, a landslide sent a 55-ton boulder crashing down the hillside into a home in Fountain City. Instead of removing the boulder and repairing the house, the new owner simply built around the boulder, named it as an homage to a different legendary Wisconsin attraction, and opened it for visitors. When life gives you boulders … make boulderade?

2. Forevertron - North Freedom

Definitely a repair station for steampunk airships.
Definitely a repair station for steampunk airships.

Fashioned by Dr. Evermor (alias of Tom Every, the sculptor) the Forevertron is an enormous 320 foot tall scrap metal sculpture. It looks like an enormous generator that Tesla might have built. Surrounded by a collection of gun turrets, huge insectoid robots and fanciful, science-fiction Victorian architecture, the Forevertron has inspired many scrap metal artists around the country.

3. Viking Church - Washington Island

Mjollnir's stuck in the earth around back.
Thor's hammer, Mjollnir, is stuck in the earth around back.

Known as Stave Churches, these multi-gabled, pagan-architecture inspired churches were common in Scandinavia during the medieval ages. The Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church of Washington Island built this authentic replica in 1993 and it’s currently used for weddings, ceremonies and other gatherings. When I visited it a few years ago I could have sworn that I could hear the crashing hooves of the Valkyrie.

4. Moccasin Bar - Hayward 

Please tell me the wolf got his law degree from Clawumbia. I'll be here all week.
Please tell me the wolf got his law degree from Clawumbia. I'll be here all week.

Hayward’s Moccasin Bar is a trove of taxidermy. It proudly displays the world’s third largest muskie as its crowning piece and also includes scenes of animals such as a rabbit cheating at a game of poker, a raccoon depicted as the victor of a boxing match, and a courtroom with a wolf presiding as judge.

5. Mount Horeb Trollway - Mount Horeb

Someone get this little guy his coffee already.
Someone get this little guy his coffee already.

Thanks to Disney’s Frozen, you probably know that trolls are a popular part of Scandanavian folklore. What you might not know is that Mount Horeb, Wisconsin claims the title of “troll capital of the world.” Not a light claim, but given that the entire town has embraced the idea and imported 12 to 16 ft tall carved wooden troll statues from Norway to plant all over town, I’m going to go ahead and give it to them. I definitely have the power to do that.

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