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TOPS IN HOPS: Back in the 1860s, Wisconsin was the top hops producer in the nation, with peak production topping out at over 6 million pounds in 1867.

What goes best with Wisconsin cheese?

Commentary: Some say beer; others say wine.

Lewis and Clark, Batman and Robin, and milk and cookies all represent famous duos. You cannot say one without the other.

Now what about Wisconsin cheese? What pairing do we have that goes well with that? Well, some of you may say wine, and some of you may say beer — depending on your personal preferences, of course. In my mind, both of those pairings are right, as long as they come from Wisconsin.

Beer and cheese
Our state is commonly known as the land of beer and cheese. It seems like an apt name since Wisconsin won more awards for its cheese than all other states combined in 2015 and 2016.  Wisconsin is home to 138 cheese plants, all producing high-quality cheese, and over 100 different breweries.  

The only thing that can make this pairing of beer and cheese better is knowing that Wisconsin not only produces beer, but also grows some of the main ingredients needed for beer, such as barley and hops.  

Back in the 1860s, Wisconsin was the top hops producer in the nation, with peak production topping out at over 6 million pounds in 1867. Today, production levels may not be as high, but hops growers are a unique aspect of Wisconsin agriculture closely tied to our dynamic duo of beer and cheese.

The addition of hops to beer adds both flavor and longevity. Different varieties of hops plants produce different flavor elements, such as citrus, earthy or bitterness. These flavors come from the female flower of the hops plant known as the strobilus. These cone-shaped flowers contain lupulin glands that house the compounds brewers seek.

A single hops plant takes three years to reach full maturity and can grow 15 to 25 feet tall each growing season. The strobilus is harvested in the late summer and early fall and then processed into pellets, which are used for brewing.

Who knows, maybe some of your favorite Wisconsin beers are made using Wisconsin-grown hops.

Wine and cheese
On the other side of the table, Wisconsin wine also serves as a wonderful pairing for Wisconsin cheese.  

Recently, Wisconsin has seen a boom in its wine industry, with many wineries and vineyards opening up around the state. To date, there are well over 100 Wisconsin wineries to purchase from, and many of them use Wisconsin-grown grapes.

Viticulture, the growing of grapes, has not always been as easy as growing hops in Wisconsin. Before the 1900s, vineyards had a hard time making it through the harsh Wisconsin winters. The breeding of cold-climate varietals by the University of Minnesota back in 1908 changed that, and today many varietals can withstand below-freezing temperatures. Commonly grown Wisconsin varietals include Marquette and St. Pepin.  

So whether you are a fan of beer and cheese or wine and cheese, know that Wisconsin is producing all three.  

The next time you are in the store, I encourage you to buy a locally produced Wisconsin product to help support our farmers, communities and economy. For inspiration on what type of beer or wine you should pair with your favorite cheese, visit cheesecupid.com.

O’Leary is the 69th Alice in Dairyland. She is the niece of Wisconsin Agriculturist editor Fran O’Leary.


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