These brothers believe in tradition, and there’s plenty of it at this longtime staple in Monroe, Wis. Step inside and discover some delicious Wisconsin dishes.
“In a time when things keep changing every day, it sure is nice to have one place that stays the same.”
That’s long been the motto at Baumgartner’s Cheese Store & Tavern, 1023 16th Ave., Monroe, Wis., and it couldn’t ring more true for brothers Tyler and Chris Soukup, who purchased “Wisconsin’s Oldest Cheese Store” seven years ago.
“We grew up in Freeport, Ill., and our dad brought us here about once a month for chili, a cheese sandwich and root beer,” says Tyler. “We both started working here as bartenders when we turned 18, and when it came up for sale, we bought it, when we were ages 25 and 22.”
The brothers’ recipe for success: “Don’t mess with what works,” says Tyler. “This place has been going strong since 1931, and people like it just the way it is. All kinds of people, including grandparents, come in and share their memories of eating here back-in-the-day. We love that.”
One thing that has changed is the availability of Baumgartner’s cheese and sausage through the Internet.
“We think our cheese boxes are better than anyone else’s, because you get better cheese for the money, more of it, and each box is made-to-order, not made up ahead,” says Tyler. Check out the online store at Baumgartnercheese.com.
Baumgartner’s opened on Monroe’s charming square in 1931, during the Great Depression. “There were more than 300 cheesemakers in Green County then,” Tyler explains. “People didn’t always have money, but they made wonderful cheese and used it to barter for goods. This store sold the cheesemaking equipment they needed.”
Over time, the number of cheesemakers in the county dwindled, now down to only about 15. “But total cheese production increased because each operation is much larger,” says Tyler. Baumgartner’s stopped selling equipment and transitioned into its premium cheese-selling retail and tavern niche.
Looking around Baumgartner’s, it’s hard to imagine how the place could hold one more inch of history or local color. An old Green Country mural adorns one wall; signs, maps and old photos fill another; thousands of dollar bills are tacked to the high wooden ceiling.
“We take them down on even-numbered years, during the Cheese Days festival, and donate them to charity,” Tyler explains. “Last time there was more than $6,000.” To see how Tyler and Chris stick the money to the ceiling, you have to stop by and donate $1.
No-fuss Baumgartner’s menu signs hang above each worn wooden booth, making it clear that the star attraction here is the prized cheese sandwich, in brick, Swiss, cheddar or Limburger. And don’t even think of asking the staff to grill it.
“Cheese was meant to be eaten at room temperature,” scolds Tyler. “You don’t want it to be very hot or very cold.”
His other sage advice: “You should always have a beer with a cheese sandwich.” The store stocks plenty of Wisconsin brews, like those from nearby New Glarus.
If a cheese sandwich is not your thing, Baumgartner’s sells hot and cold meat sandwiches, like Braunschweiger, salami, pastrami, ham, turkey, western beef barbeque, Reubens and corned, roasted or Italian beef. There are also brats and hot dogs – preferably covered in Baumgartner’s Second-Best Chili, (“Mom’s is still best,” says the label). “Our chili is AMAZING,” Tyler says.
Cheese, sausage, beer and jars of Baumgartner’s mustard or chili are sold all day at the store. The most popular cheeses are cheddar – especially the kind aged five years – baby Swiss, brick and Limburger. Baumgartner’s also sells jack, Muenster, farmer, jacko, havarti, buterkase, gouda, raclette and blue cheeses. Most are made within 45 minutes of Monroe.
Pungent in flavor and scent, the Limburger is an endangered species of sorts. “The only place that makes it in America anymore is in Monroe,” says Tyler. “We also carry English Stilton cheese … just because it’s so good.”
On Wednesdays, starting at 4:30 p.m., Baumgartner’s sells ribs in half or full orders, with a two-out-of-three choice of beans, potato salad or coleslaw. And every day, there’s cheesecake and pie for dessert.
The store opens each day at 8 a.m. After 8 p.m., it serves only cheese sandwiches and chili.
“There’s a good feel to this place, and people appreciate it,” says Tyler. “This store is a legend within this community.”