Confessions of a former cheese and chocolate hater
It took moving to Wisconsin for Taryn Pemberton Schmidt to become a "Dairyland convert."
I am just going to come right out and say it. I was not a fan of cheese or chocolate. Not at all — I did not want to see it, taste it, smell it, snack on it. No cheese on my sandwiches, no cheese for me, please. And chocolate? I disliked it so much, I used to scrape it off of candy bars — I kid you not. I think my mother was frightened of me.
And then I moved to Wisconsin — “America’s Dairyland.”
Before relocating to Madison in 2017, I honestly thought there could not possibly be that big of a difference in the dairy products made here versus anywhere else. I could not have been more wrong. The cheese is lightyears better, the ice cream is unbelievably rich and delicious, and the chocolate, well, you guys … I LOVE IT. That’s right — I said love. This former cheese and chocolate hater is now an enthusiast — a Dairyland convert, if you will. That said, if I can be converted to love something I used to detest, then maybe, just maybe, you can trust my opinions on some of the best cheese and chocolate southern Wisconsin has to offer.
With the holiday season in full swing, if you are still looking for stocking stuffers, preparing cheese and chocolate platters for family and friends, or simply looking to enjoy some of Wisconsin’s finest in the comforts of your own home, don’t overlook these gems right in our backyard.
Ehlenbach’s Cheese Chalet
I discovered this gem of a cheese house en route to Madison after a lovely hike back in the warmer months. We kept seeing billboards for this cheese chalet and thought “Why not?” so we pulled off the exit to discover a larger-than-life dairy cow statue out front and the cutest cheese chalet there ever was. Family-owned and operated for more than 50 years, Ehlenbach’s is home to many varieties of cheese (personal shout out to blueberry havarti and the chocolate cheese — both magical), sausages and gifts. In our home, Ehlenbach’s is our go-to for shipping cheese near and far. We have shared the delicious cheeses with friends in Texas, and some is on its way out to Idaho now! 4879 County Road V, DeForest, WI, 608-846-4791, ehlenbachscheese.com
Located on Capitol Square, this darling shop has showcased artisanal cheeses since 2007. Owner Ken Monteleone prides Fromagination on being a home for a strong selection of cheeses that are “representative of the ingenuity of Wisconsin’s cheesemakers.” In addition to featuring cheeses by some very well-known cheesemakers such as Marieke Penterman and Sid Cook (among many others), Fromagination also carries locally produced chocolates, beverages and foods. I have been known to swing in for lunch and grab a delicious sandwich, along with a sampling of wine, cheese and crackers — always delicious and unique flavors to accompany any lunchtime vibe. PRO TIP: Fast forward several months when we can enjoy Concerts on the Square once again (fingers crossed!), and Fromagination will make the perfect pit stop before lounging on your blanket to enjoy the masterful Madison Symphony Orchestra. 12 S. Carroll St., 608-255-2430, fromagination.com
For more cheese shops in the area, check out “13 cheese shops (almost) too gouda to brie true.”
Shifting gears to chocolate, there are so many good Madison chocolatiers (honestly), it is really hard to narrow it down. But if I am forced to pick my top two, I’m heading to these two female-owned shops first (who runs the world? GIRLS).
One of the things I love most about this chocolate shop is the story behind it. Owner and chocolatier Syovata Edari walked away from a 15-year career as a trial lawyer to pursue her then-passion project, making chocolates. Originally marketing her chocolates as a side business to generate referrals for her solo law practice, Syovata’s “refuge” from long days in court eventually became her full-time joy as CocoVaa Chocolatier took flight in 2016. Trained in France and Italy and a world traveler, Syovata’s award-winning artisan chocolates showcase flavors from around the globe and are as beautiful to the eye as they are to the palate. Shop online or stop into her newly renovated shop on East Washington. It is a Madison must. 1815 E. Washington Ave., 1-888-803-6122, cocovaa.com
Madison Chocolate Co.
This precious shop is the first experience I had with Madison chocolate, and the first place I took my parents on their inaugural visit to the city in the fall of 2017. This chocolate shop, co-owned by Megan Hile and Bridgette Dodge, features amazing ice cream, truffles, caramels and chocolates. The chocolates come in some of my favorite flavors, including hazelnut praline, passionfruit and my husband’s personal favorite, ghost pepper caramel. In addition to mouth-watering chocolates, Madison Chocolate Co. also runs a 100% gluten-free bakery, meaning if you are sensitive or intolerant to gluten, you can enjoy cakes, cookies, scones tarts and more worry-free. Shop online or stop in during operating hours to grab an espresso and something delicious to enjoy on the patio, or as you are out and about Monroe Street. 729 Glenway St., 608-286-1154, madisonchocolatecompany.com
For more chocolate shops and makers in the area, check out “11 Madison chocolates to melt for.”