End of Summer Road Trip

| September 22, 2011 | Comments (0)

For the final weekend of summer vacation, my husband and I decided to take the kids on one last getaway. As much as I love the larger quantity of free time I get when the boys are in school, I miss them terribly while they are gone. So we wanted to do something where we would all be together as much as possible. Nothing like locking yourself and your family in a car for hours on end to accomplish that goal!

For this last summer expedition, we decided to do our first road trip with the kids. Only three days and two nights so as not to take on too much for our first trip. Of course we have driven for extended periods of time to visit friends and family, but this was the first time where the car was as much a part of the trip as where we decided to stop. As dedicated foodies, we opted to frame our travels around artisanal cheese tasting throughout Wisconsin. More and more of our favorite restaurants are including Midwestern dairies in their cheese courses and we had loved what we had tried thus far.

Our vision was to travel through picturesque Wisconsin, singing songs, playing the alphabet game and doing what amounts to a kid friendly version of wine tasting. Was the reality of the trip in line with our beatific vision? Certainly not. Did we have an incredible last weekend of slacking before school started? Absolutely!

I will start out by saying that cheese tasting can be a lot of fun. However, our beloved Wisconsin creameries maybe have not caught onto the potential aesthetics (okay, actually marketing) in the same way as the wine folks out in Napa and Sonoma. We did learn a lot about the cheese making process and we did find some amazing new favorites (see listing at the bottom of this post). But, most of our stops ended up simply being local cheese shops that just happened to have amazing cheese capabilities in the back.

For my husband and me, less so the children, getting out into the Wisconsin farmland was a beautiful break from the city and suburbs. We spent a fair bit of the trip in southwest and northwest Wisconsin and the area is filled with rolling hills and inconceivable rock formations. The sense of space is remarkable. And, even though we often had a chorus of “how much longer” coming from the backseats, the kids loved seeing all of the farm equipment, animals and such a different landscape.

There were a few learnings on the trip…

First, do not trust the restaurant recommendations from the desk manager at your roadside hotel. We had one of the most terrifying dinners out ever and not just because the place had no liquor license (you need a drink after 8+ hours in the car with the kids!). It was “Mexican” food but seemed to be primarily comprised of microwaved cheese dip from the chip section of the grocery store and previously frozen iceberg lettuce.

Second, remember that the kids may not be as interested as the grownups in small talk and long periods in the car without a break. Our kids are great travelers, but definitely maxed out if we drove steadily for more than two hours. We broke down the last day of driving and threw on a movie for them.

Third, the hotels are key. Our first night we stayed at the House on the Rock Inn. They have a huge indoor pool/play area that provided a much needed activity for the little folks. It was also a good break for the kids to take the House on the Rock tour the next morning, though it gave all of us grownups the creeps. Our second night we stayed at the Blue Harbor Resort in Sheboygan which has an indoor water park that the kids loved. Really cute theme rooms for families there as well.

Overall it was a wonderful weekend. I got to squeeze in as much time with the boys as possible before school began and they got really sick of mommy so they were ready to sprint out the door on their first day back.

Favorite Places/Cheeses:
* Our first stop on the trip was for sandwiches at Baumgartner’s in Monroe. Great character, great murals and the best liverwurst sandwich I have had in a long time. Monroe is a beautiful town and I wish that we had had more time to visit and look around.
* Montchevre is the only U.S. producer allowed to use the Boucheron name for their French style goat cheese. It is a lovely cheese that is great by itself on bread or paired with a fruit spread. Big thanks to the folks there for staying open late so that we could visit!
* Carr Valley Cheese is known for its aged cheddars. We opted for the 10 year and loved it.
* Roelli Cheese Haus’ Dunbarton Blue is absolutely incredible. It is a dryer blue than you usually see with an amazing sharp flavor.
* Il Ritrovo in Sheboygan was a welcome respite from the road. We were able to get kid friendly food for the kids and still have an incredible grown-up dinner. The gourmet market next door was a nice plus.

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Category: Chicago, Cooking, New Posts, Travel

About Jena K: Jena, a native of Evanston, is now rearing (wrangling!) her two young sons in Winnetka. Jena loves cooking, entertaining, fashion, theater, literature and good old fashioned rock and roll. Combining these passions with the joy of raising a family makes every day a wonderful adventure. Her background in market research at IRI and ever-supportive husband help keep it all together. Check out more musings from Jena, and her partner in crime Rowena, at www.shesheshoppers.com. View author profile.

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