Cheese Festival Celebrates Community’s Swiss Roots

1 / 4
Gary and Corie Grossen, 2008 King and Queen of Green County Cheese Days, wave to the crowd. Gary is a Wisconsin Master Cheesemaker, and Corie works for Foreign Type Cheese, a testing and quality lab in Monroe.
2 / 4
A popular attraction, the Cow Milking Contest draws a cheering crowd.
3 / 4
Veteran cheesemaker John Bussman provides a demonstration of old-fashioned cheesemaking.
4 / 4
Decorated Brown Swiss cattle lead off the parade for Green County Cheese Days.

As the sun filters through heat waves on a warm September afternoon, Green County, Wisconsin, waits impatiently for the curdy festivities to begin.

Held the third weekend in September of even-numbered years, Cheese Days is a fun-filled weekend of authentic Swiss flavor; from colorful costumes and cheese sandwiches to the Swiss entertainment found around the historic Green County Courthouse in downtown Monroe. The fall festival, the oldest and largest food fest in the Midwest, swells the population of Monroe, a city of 10,000 people located between Chicago and Minneapolis, to more than 150,000. It’s not unusual to hear the original Swiss/German dialect spoken on the street during Cheese Days. It all translates into “Gemütlichkeit,” Swiss for geniality, hospitality, kindness and a good time for all.

Back in 1914, the first parade was a lone roadster decorated with flowers and a sign proclaiming the day a Cheese Day. It now takes 400 to 600 volunteers who donate more than 30,000 hours to make Cheese Days a reality.

Celebrating cheesemaking and dairy farming traditions in the region, Cheese Days also serves as a reminder of area’s heritage. The festivities include the Swiss Colony Cheese Days Parade, a procession of Swiss descendants, dressed in traditional Swiss canton (state) costumes, escorting a small herd of Brown Swiss milk cows adorned with clanging cowbells and followed by Swiss flag throwers, Swiss singers and Swiss dancers, all ushering the king, queen and ambassadors.

Another parade is led by volunteers carrying the Children’s Parade Banner. Goats, sheep and a group of St. Bernard rescue dogs lead the city’s children dressed in colorful Swiss dirndls (white blouses, red or blue jumpers and white aprons) for the girls and lederhosen (leather shorts) with suspenders and milking jackets for the boys. The youngsters escort the prince and princess to join the other royalty.

Cheese Days also hosts a 5K and 10K run – known as the Cheese Days Chase – as well as a 2-mile fun run, and a golf tournament, the Cheese Days Classic.

Downtown, visitors enjoy the day-long musical entertainment and exhibits such as the cheese-making demonstration, the antique car and tractor display, the street rod display, an arts and crafts fair and the myriad cheese tents. A milking contest features four-member teams attempting to hand milk Swiss cows, and an arts and crafts show offers a wide range of goods.

Visitors have the opportunity to tour area dairy farms, go on a Family Farm Adventure, dance the polka, and learn to yodel.

Next year’s festival falls on the weekend of September 17-19. For more on Cheese Days, visit the Cheese Days website.