Wisconsin Culinary Experience
Madison is known for its food scene, from being home to the nationally-known Dane County Farmers' Market to creating Made in Madison flavors that are synonymous with our capital city. If you’re not sure what it means to evaluate your cheese curds based on “squeak” or always thought “brat” referred to a naughty child, scroll down to learn more about a few of our favorite foods.
FARM-TO-TABLE … ALWAYS AVAILABLE
Our agricultural heritage means that buying from local producers and eating fresh has always been a way of life here. In our city, you can shop at a local market seven days a week in summer, take part in tastings at local farms and vineyards, and enjoy eateries that embrace farm-to-table philosophies. Find farm-to-table restaurants and retailers.
So what, exactly, is a cheese curd? Technically speaking, it’s an essential part of the cheese-making process: before cheeses like cheddar are formed into blocks or wheels, they are smaller, perfectly bite-sized curds. Flavor-wise, they are mild and salty. People enjoy them as-is, or deep-fried, and there’s great debate about which way is best. The only thing everyone agrees on is the importance of the squeak: the protein strands in the curds will squeak against the enamel on your teeth when you take a bite, a defining characteristic of freshness (which begins to fade after about 12 hours). Eat curds—and way more—on our Dairy Discovery itinerary.
You can’t visit Greater Madison without trying a fish fry! There are more than 300 restaurants in our area with a Friday night fish fry menu (though it’s a mainstay on many menus throughout the week). The kitschy style of your restaurant or supper club is just one part of evaluating the experience—you’ll also want to compare the sides that are served. Typical options include French fries or hash browns, relish trays, salad bar, cottage cheese or coleslaw. Whatever your preferences, be sure to come hungry; many places offer an all you can eat menu (AYCE to pros in the know)! Learn where you can try a fish fry.
There are tons of great places to sip swanky beverages made by a mixologist in Madison. But perhaps the best place to start is at the restaurant named for the drink made famous by Wisconsin: The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant. Though this classic cocktail can be made with either whiskey or brandy, the Old Fashioned version is hand-muddled and uses Korbel brandy, raw sugar, cherries, angostura bitters and an orange wedge. Sample more of our craft culture: breweries, wineries and spirits.
Madison hosts the World’s Largest Brat Fest each Memorial Day weekend, where upwards of 160,000 brats are consumed annually. But you’ll find brats (short for “bratwurst”) at every festival, tailgate and picnic year-round. The secret to grilling a great brat is to start by simmering them in onions, butter and beer. But don’t forget to try a variety of topping options, too: ketchup, brown mustard, diced onions (yes, more onions!), pickles and sauerkraut. Get great Game Day brat stats.
Delicious dairy is not hard to come by in our area, and Madison has an itinerary’s worth of ice cream shops to visit. Start with The Babcock Hall Dairy Plant and Store which was built in 1951 on the UW-Madison campus and sells cones, dishes, pints and tubs of classic and specialty flavors Monday through Saturday each week.
EXPERIENCE IT FOR YOURSELF
Now Madison offers an all-new way to enjoy its culinary culture – Essential Madison Experiences. Make your own bitters – the essential ingredient to the Old Fashioned – under the leadership of expert cocktail crafters. Elevate a Wisconsin staple – cheese – as you learn the art of the cheeseboard. Explore the surprising world of mustard as experts lead you through a nine-course tasting this classic condiment. Come, savor Madison.