A reader writes:
The sole company that makes Limburger cheese is in Wisconsin, of course – in Monroe. A good friend of mine worked there in high school and became very fond of the cheese. He makes the drive from Madison once a month or so to get some. He keeps it hermetically sealed in the fridge, and his wife only allows him to open the container and eat the cheese outside. His preferred method is on rye with a fresh slice of onion, and a beer.
It does smell terrible. Some describe it smelling like old tennis shoes. However, it tastes great – very complex. I'm lucky enough to live within an hour of the only maker. If you or any of your readers are ever in Wisconsin, stop at Baumgartner's in Monroe for a Limburger cheese sandwich.
As an émigré from a nation with a rich cheesemaking tradition, I'm a bit surprised at your (reading between the lines) apparent lack of familiarity with Limburger. Granted, Limburger is nothing like a rich Wendsleydale, but, despite its pungent reputation, it truly is one of the world's great cheeses. If you've never had an opportunity to try it, you really should find a good cheese shop and see if the staff won't give you a sample.
Your post on Limburger gives me the opportunity to say a few nice things about my adopted home state, Wisconsin. In February, I emailed you about the protests here in Madison. Despite my professed disapproval of the Governor's agenda, I still do speak highly of Wisconsin to friends living elsewhere – not an easy trick for a native Minnesotan. Wisconsin has a well-deserved reputation as a bastion of the American brewing and cheesemaking communities. In your series of posts on America's corner pubs you highlighted responses from readers singing the praises of Wisconsin's taverns.
Our cheese is every bit as good as our beer. In addition to Myron Olson, the Master Cheesemaker who crafts the cheese mentioned in the article you cited, there are 43 other Master Cheesemakers at work in Wisconsin – the only state to offer such a credential (administered and bestowed by my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin-Madison). And my wife and I belong to a CSA which gives us twice-monthly deliveries of goat cheese from a small farm less than 25 miles from our house in Madison. Their fresh goat cheese and feta (a must in a partially Greek household) is fantastic.
Everyone in the country knows about California's world-class wine, partially because Californians are not shy about crowing about their vinters, but I suspect relatively few people living outside the Upper Midwest are aware that Wisconsin's beer and cheese truly is world class. This is partially because the more immediate association is Schlitz, Pabst, Miller, and orange cheddar, and partially because folks from Wisconsin are nearly as self-effacing as Minnesotans.
So why am I contradicting that disposition by emailing you to ballyhoo our foodways? Simply because in a past life I worked in plenty of kitchens and ate my way around enough of Europe to know what truly good cheese and beer is, and that it's right here, less than two and a half hours' flight from New York or Washington. Consider this a standing invitation to come visit Madison, Andrew, and drink some beer from New Glarus, Lake Louie, the Great Dane, or Ale Asylum, and try some Limburger, bandaged Cheddar, or anything else at Fromagination, just across the Square from the Capitol. I promise you won't be disappointed.
When I was a kid, my father taught me a drinking song, variants easily found here and there via Google, featuring the stanza:
Oh the Irish eat potatoes and the French eat peas
But the goddamn Dutch eat Limburger cheese
Your post about Limburger reminded me of a long-lost tradition I used to absolutely love in NYC. McSorley's Ale House on East 7th Street claims to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the city, and it remains a landmark. However, in recent years, McSorley's has abandoned some of the charm and character that made it one of my favorites – including the original and authentic limburge/onion/cracker snacks.
I started enjoying McSorley's just about the time when they were first allowing women to enter the bar (very early 1970s); for the first hundred years or so, no females were allowed in the bar, and this was only changed after legal action required same. The place was particularly entertaining during the first few years after women were allowed – there was still only one unisex toilet, and the toilet stalls had no doors. Women had to decide whether they wanted to use the facilities in house or hold it in until they could arrive at a more private place to pee.
But the real joy was the plain crackers served with goopy, drippy, extremely smelly limburger, with huge slices of raw onions on top. A few beers (or more typically, more than a few) with this wonderful bar snack was one of the very best treats in all of New York City. The stench was palpable, but the flavor was incredible.
Limburger brought back all of the above from deep in my memory banks, thanks.