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Taste the Heartland

While New Southern cuisine has been receiving copious press for its ground-breaking changes in the region’s eating habits and restaurant scene, the Heartlands has had more than its fair share of culinary creations to crow about.

The number of James Beard nominees from the area continues to climb each year, with more than 60 across the region this year alone, as chefs draw from the Heartlands’ deep heritage cuisine to create a new regional food vocabulary. These food experiences showcase some of the great flavors of America’s Heartland.

National Historic Cheesemaking Center

Monroe, Wisconsin

In the heart of Wisconsin cheesemaking country, Monroe is home to one of the only commercial cheese-production facilities open to the public. The National Historic Cheesemaking Museum introduces visitors to the origins of the Wisconsin cheese tradition that still thrives today.

Group visits incorporate the museum and the Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory, which dates back to the 1800s and produced cheese until 1917. The museum highlights the origins in the late 1800s of Wisconsin’s artisan cheese production facilities, many of which share deep ties to immigrants’ native cheese traditions, observed today through special festivals such as when master cheesemakers craft a 90-pound wheel of Swiss cheese during a special event at the museum each June.

Large tour groups will be split among the factory, museum and the Alp and Dell cheese factory, home of the award-winning Emmi Roth U.S.A. production facilities and tasting room. Groups can also opt for a step-on tour provided by a former Monroe mayor on the history of the Monroe area and its many historic and modern cheese production sites.


Hungry Village Tours

Saugatuck, Michigan

After years of leading wine, food and history tours in Europe, Hungry Village Tours owner and founder David Geen moved his base of operations from Detroit to west Michigan to take in the lakefront’s natural beauty. He soon realized how unique the area’s offerings were, not only in the United States but in the world, and began offering food and farm tours of his new area.

“The arts presence makes it a really idyllic place,” Geen said of the lakefront that he promotes as the second most agriculturally diverse region in the country due to its diverse mix of orchards, farms, wineries and cheese producers. His goal is to provide “the hands-on personalized experience of meeting niche producers and winery owners so visitors get the impact of this whole region being the food center of Lake Michigan.”

Geen offers custom itineraries of the lakefront’s food producers based on a group’s interest and available time and has a signature three-hour walking tour and six-hour driving tour that he also offers to the public. “Variety is key,” he said. “That’s why we go to places that are different sizes. Every place we go has a different story; maybe at the goat cheese place there’s a couple that moved here from Chicago to produce artisan goat cheese, and on another one, an artist lives on the farm and grows her own food.”

Gabi Logan

Gabi Logan is a freelance travel journalist whose work has also appeared in USA TODAY, The Dallas Morning News and Italy Magazine. As she travels more than 100,000 miles each year, she aims to discover the unexpected wonder in every destination.