Photo: Kristen Prahl/Shutterstock

Discover ‘America’s Little Switzerland’ in Green County, Wisconsin

by Kenya Evans Jul 13, 2022

New Glarus and Monroe in Green County, Wisconsin, are in many ways two very different cities. New Glarus, with about 2,000 people, is a slower-moving village with accents of Alpine-styled architecture. Monroe is the big sister city with about 10,000 people and national fast-food restaurants, retail chains, and traffic, but still steeped in heritage and pride — it’s also known as the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the USA.” Both have deeply Wisconsin cultural staples, like cheese, beer, and a galore of summertime festivals. And as this is Green County, both also have strong Swiss roots.

Known to some in the area as Little Switzerland, 108 Swiss settlers from the Canton of Glarus made Wisconsin home in 1845. They were shipped to the Americas during an economic crisis to give Swiss men, women, and families a better chance at a quality life. When they arrived, many settled on the East Coast, but some migrated to what’s now known as Green County. Legend has it that the immigrants chose the area for the rolling green hills that reminded them of their home.

Today, Green County is a blend of new and old, a mix of generations of “Swissconsin” natives and Swiss natives who more recently relocated to Little Switzerland.

Both New Glarus and Monroe are famous for breweries and wineries. Monroe is home to several master cheesemakers, and in New Glarus, according to the folks at traditional Swiss restaurant Glarner Stube, has the best schnitzel this side of the Alps. From savory hot fondues to flavor-packed landjaegers (the original beef jerky), the area is proud of its love for cured meats and cheese.

Here’s how to best experience America’s Little Switzerland.

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What to do in New Glarus and Monroe, Wisconsin

Green County hosts a plethora of festivals throughout the year. New Glarus is home to some of the most popular festivals, like summertime favorites Polkafest or the Beer, Bacon, and Cheese fest. Then, of course, there’s Oktoberfest in the fall. So when planning your trip, check to see which are happening while you’re there.

If you’re an outdoorsy type, you can adventure onto trails in New Glarus and Monroe, which have the 24-mile Sugar River State Trail and the 47-mile Cheese Country Trail, respectively.

Wegmueller Dairy Farm in New Glarus: This family farm has cows, pigs, chicken, horses, and a couple of farm cats. The owner, Dan, hosts guests through Airbnb for farmstays with the option to ride horses and milk cows. The overall mission is to reconnect people with animals so they can see things from the animals perspective. Before anyone gets to ride a horse or milk a cow, for example, they get to know the animal’s personality through grooming them first.

Where: W4358 Montgomery Rd, Monroe, WI 53566

National Historic Cheesemaking Center Museum in Monroe: Spend some time with one of the cheese docents at the cheesemaking museum to learn about the hard labor that goes into traditional cheesemaking. The tour guides here have passion for cheese, and you can tell. In this small, but content dense museum of cheese, you’ll learn all about the history of cheesemaking in Monroe as well as how cheesemaking has evolved over the years.

Where: 2108 6th Ave, Monroe, WI 53566

Brenda’s Blumenladen in New Glarus: New Glarus and Monroe have a handful of adorable home and country boutiques that sell kitchen accessories, hand-sewn pillows, and house decor, as well as books, gifts, and essential oils. One to note is Brenda’s Blumenladen in New Glarus. In addition to its home shop, it has a garden shop with a gorgeous outdoor display of colorful hanging flowers and garden gnomes.

Where: 17 6th Ave, New Glarus, WI 53574

Swiss Historical Village and Museum in New Glarus: If you want to know how the first Swiss settlers lived, this is the place. This historical village lets you peek into the 19th century and see pieces collected from businesses and families throughout Green County. The grounds have 14 different buildings, including an original log cabin that dates back to 1857. There are also original pieces and replicas of way-back-when, including fire trucks, school chairs and desks, baby buggies, and a printing press. The museum gives a more in-depth history of how “Little Switzerland” came to be.

Where: 612 7th Ave, New Glarus, WI 53574

What to eat and drink in New Glarus, Wisconsin

Bayfield, Wisconsin - October 20, 2019: Sign reminds customers that New Glarus beer products, including Spotted Cow, are only sold in Wisconsin

Photo: melissamn/Shutterstock

Puempel’s Olde Tavern: Pronounced “pimple,” This tavern has stories of its beginning painted on the wall. The taps of the day are written on the chalkboard stand, and an impressive bar back with a huge mirror reflects customers. Have a pint on tap and bite to eat. Try the cheese and sausage trays or sandwiches with the soups of the day. The brie soup was eye-ball-rolling good.

Where: 18 6th Ave, New Glarus, WI 53574

Kristi’s Bistro: A quaint and classy bistro on top of the hill is a great way to spend an evening. Kristi’s is a restaurant nestled inside of a house, where diners are split between two rooms in an open concept space. Add a craft cocktail, ceviche for starters, and a crab cake dinner, and you have yourself the perfect dining experience.

Where: 119 5th Ave, New Glarus, WI 53574

Glarner Stube: A special treat of Swiss traditional food. The front bar is Alpine-inspired throughout and has walls lined with pine wood paneling, as well as a beautiful collection of traditional Swiss beer steins on the shelf. In the back is seating for lunch and dinner with dimmed lighting. Swiss staples like Wiener Schnitzel, Kalberwurst, Geschnetzelets “stube Style”, and Swiss Meatballs highlight the menu.

Where: 518 1st St, New Glarus, WI 53574

Bailey’s Run Vineyard: Known as the place to be among locals, Bailey’s Run Vineyard is a fun venue that has music and live bands. It’s a short drive down from the brewery, and is surrounded by acres of vineyards. Take your pick between the spacious indoor seating with wooden wine barrels for tables or the outdoor seating along the veranda overlooking the hypnotizing rows of grapevines.

Where: N8523 Klitzke Rd, New Glarus, WI 53574

What to eat and drink in Monroe, Wisconsin

New Glarus, WI/USA - 10-27-2019: Man enjoying a beer at an outdoor beer garden

Photo: Kristen Prahl/Shutterstock

With a culture and history of beer barons throughout Wisconsin, you can rest assured that you’ll find a beer you like on tap at any of the bars, pubs, and restaurants — and local breweries in particular.

Suisse Haus: This restaurant and pub has a great Friday fish fry, and it’s popular for its golden fried cheese curds, pizza, and burgers. It also has a huge back patio for diners to enjoy, as well as three different areas for dining.

Where: 1602 12th St, Monroe, WI 53566

Buggy Works: This restaurant gets its name from the building’s history, a once-upon-a-time buggy factory. Locals and visitors alike love the creamy Wisconsin macaroni and cheese made with three cheeses: Deppeler’s Baby Swiss, Roth Kase Grand Cru, and Maple Leaf Cheddar. The Grilled Teriyaki Salmon is another hit, and is accompanied by green beans and brown rice garnished with sriracha. But there’s plenty of mouthwatering dishes to choose from among the variety of American fare.

Where: 1015 18th Ave STE 112, Monroe, WI 53566

Hawks Mill Winery: Just a 10-to-15 minute drive from downtown Monroe is the sprawling green acres of Hawks Mill Winery. It’s a great place to relax with friends and take in the views. Inside the store is a wine shop, a bar for wine by the glass or bottle, and a kitchen serving light snack foods, such as flat bread pizzas. You can enjoy a drink on the patio or take a stroll through the vineyards where you may come across a family of alpacas.

Where: W8170 Pilz Rd, Browntown, WI 53522

Where to get cheese in Green County

Alp and Dell Cheese Store: This cheese store has just about every type of cheese you could ask for. Choose from a selection of dozens of cheeses like traditional cheddar, goats milk cheese, imported cheeses, havarti, string, or the infamously stinky limburger cheese (Wisconsin is the only state in the country that still makes it). Most cheeses and meats are locally sourced. Ask for a cheese-tasting, and maybe you’ll find a new favorite. Pair it with a landjaeger and your choice of beer or wine to enjoy on their patio.

Pro Tip: This cheese store is conveniently located down the street from the AmericInn Hotel.

Where: 657 2nd St, Monroe, WI 53566

Decatur Dairy: This cheese factory goes back to 1942. The factory’s attached storefront sells a variety of cheeses all made at Decatur Dairy. Here, you can get your choice of cheese by the pound or try the can’t-miss grilled cheese sandwiches made-to-order with three cheeses, a secret sauce, and the buttery goodness of the toasted bread. Take home a gift box of cheese or a bag of flavored cheese curds. While there, you might run into Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker Steve Stettler, who’s been operating the factory since 1982.

Where: W1668 County Hwy F, Brodhead, WI 53520

Where to tour breweries and taste beer in Green County, Wisconsin

New Glarus Brewing Company in New Glarus: Home of the beloved Spotted Cow beer, New Glarus Brewing Company’s brewery tour highlights four gorgeous copper fermentation vessels that were hand-hammered and weigh two-tons each. Though this tour is fairly short and self-guided, it suffices. The allure here is the complete experience itself. You can sample your choice of three types of beer in the tasting room, and whether you’re a beer fantic or enjoy beer that doesn’t taste like beer, there are options. In the Beer Depot, take home chosen New Glarus brews by the case. On the grounds, there’s a beer garden and a tiny wooded area with trail paths and benches for sipping a cold brew outdoors. Just make sure you stop by during the week, as the brewery is closed on weekends.

Where: 2400 WI-69, New Glarus, WI 53574

Minhas Craft Brewery in Monroe: By some measures the oldest brewery in the Midwest and the second oldest in the United States, Minhas offers tours that include guides and tastings before and after. Here, you can taste as much or as little as you like within the time given for tastings, and get to take home a six pack of six different bottled brews. Afterward, you can peruse the sizable gift shop or have a meal at the Minhas Kitchen and Winery across the street.

Where: 1208 14th Ave, Monroe, WI 53566

Where to Stay in New Glarus and Monroe, Wisconsin

Chalet Landhaus Inn & Restaurant in New Glarus: This traditionally styled Alpinehaus is a salute to Swiss roots. Built in 1980, it’s the go-to hotel for most visitors. Three flags — United States, Wisconsin, and Switzerland — wave above the entrance. Walking into the lobby, visitors are immediately enveloped into beautiful woodwork from top to bottom and along the reception desk, staircase, and banister. Hovering above is the prominent Alpine chandelier that’s large, round, ironclad, and lit by long flameless stick candles. The rooms range from standard to family suites. Amenities included are the indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, and steam room.

AmericInn by Wyndham in Monroe: While AmericInn has a modern hotel design, comfortable rooms, and an indoor pool and hot tub to enjoy, it’s the complimentary hot breakfast that takes the win. You can start your day off with eggs, bacon, and waffles along with fresh hot coffee and a cup of OJ before seizing your day of sightseeing and artisan cheese-shopping. The hotel is conveniently situated between routes 11 and 69 to quickly get you going to your next destination.

How to get to Green County, Wisconsin

Green County is a short and easy drive from Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport. Most of the hour-and-a-half road trip is a straight shot down I-94. And yes, you will need a car, as there’s not much public transportation in these parts and the reliability of share rides is questionable. Though New Glarus is a delightfully walkable village, getting from brewery to winery, or place to place in Monroe, will require wheels.

Chicago O’Hare is another option at about 120 miles from Green County. The closest domestic airports are Madison’s Dane County Regional Airport (50 miles) and Rockford’s Chicago Rockford International Airport (54 miles).

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