(Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)
(Photo by Jessica VanEgeren)

Who needs chocolates or chalky candy hearts when Wisconsin has such great cheese?

[Editor’s Note: We asked the UpNorthNews team to send a valentine to Wisconsin, telling us something you really like about living here. Jessica VanEgeren shares with us a 40-pound block of admiration.]

I love Wisconsin because I love Wisconsin cheese. 

Some of my earliest memories involve cheese. One of my grandmas would bring me chunks of cheddar cheese and apples for a snack when I was little. My grandparents on my dad’s side owned a dairy farm on the bay of Green Bay. By the time I was born, there were only a few cows left, rows of corn and a big garden. There was never a shortage of cheese and sausage around.

I really never knew how cheese-centric my life was until I left my home and went down south for college. Once I was in a place with a less than stellar cheese collection, I became aware of how a lot of my food choices revolve around cheese.

Macaroni and cheese was my go-to meal of choice. My roommates said I made it the best. The amount of cheese, butter and milk I added? They couldn’t believe it. But they ate it up.

Next I introduced them to my mom’s favorite party snack – olives chopped up and mixed with cream cheese and eaten on a cracker. We all spent many a Thursday night drinking wine, eating the cheese-and-olive dip while watching “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “ER.” To this day, every time we get together, I make the olive dip.

My love of cheese has only grown since returning to Wisconsin 14 years ago. Now I have the privilege of knowing several cheesemakers and farmers outside of my own family. With age comes a greater appreciation of this craft has shaped our state and my own history. 

I proudly display a trophy my family members pass around to the person who has most recently bought a house. Before it became the symbol of new homeownership, it was given to my grandpa, John VanEgeren, in 1971 for producing the highest quality milk for the Lake to Lake Dairy Cooperative.

A few of my relatives have bought a house since my husband and I have.  But the golden cow is staying in my house. I like being reminded of my family’s connection to dairy, because without high quality milk you would not have that yummy Wisconsin cheese!