I feel lucky to be back in Wisconsin for a visit during dairy month.
Where I grew up, dairy month meant free milk and ice cream cones at local banks every Friday, a weekend cheese curd festival in the town down the road, and volunteering with my 4-H club at an event that became my favorite dairy month tradition of all: the dairy breakfast.
It’s hard to argue with pancakes for breakfast, but it gets even harder to argue when those pancakes are joined by cheese curds, real Wisconsin maple syrup, fresh sausages, and community members from around your county, all in the setting of a different local farm every year.
Growing up, I worked with other members of Lincoln 4-H club at the annual dairy breakfast in Washburn County. This year, I happened to be visiting family in central Wisconsin and was able to attend what I was told is one of Wisconsin’s largest dairy breakfasts—that of Marathon County, where over 5,000 people were expected between 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. yesterday.
- To reach the dairy breakfast, drive north out of Wausau on Marathon County Highway K, past Fleet Farm and ginseng fields.
- Prepare to turn right at the rise in the road where you see a stack-up of ten cars waiting to turn onto the ag campus of Northern Technical College, this year’s host for the event.
- Follow student volunteers’ directions a quarter mile through a low-mowed field to find a parking spot.
- Walk up the hill to the table where you’ll pay $6 (for adults) or $3 (kids) for your breakfast.
- Joke with the guy serving pancakes. Ask where the syrup is (on the dining tables in the big barn). Don’t forget to pick up your serving of cheddar cheese curds, fresh from Mauel’s dairy in the town of Owen, about 60 miles away.
- Sit down next to another person who attended alone, an older gentleman in a Harley Davidson hat.
- Answer, “A few, but none with me,” when that man asks you, “So, do you have any friends?”
- Take note of the most common logos on clothes of people around you: Milwaukee Brewers, Marathon County 4-H (I pledge my head to clearer thinking…), Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers.
- Be a good steward of the communal maple syrup shared at each table. As the lady next to you says, “When you give the maple syrup up, you never know when you’ll get it back.”
- But don’t worry—when the maple syrup gets low, a kid from a 4-H club will be coming around with a replenished bottle.
- After eating, stroll the exhibits and tents for a while. Try a sample of world grand champion Wisconsin mozzarella cheese. Get some coupons for $1 off Organic Valley products. Pick up a few 4-H temporary tattoos, insisting to the questioning volunteers that they’re not for you—they’re for your niece. She’s seven.
- After about an hour, by 9:45 a.m., convince yourself that no, it’s not too early, and no, you’re not too full, for a bowl of local ice cream. Ask the lady taking your $1 payment where she got her fantastic Wisconsin dairy sweatshirt (“Where did I get it? I got it thirty years ago.”). Request a little of both the chocolate and the raspberry ice cream. Thank the sash-adorned dairy princess who served you.
- People-watch. Sign up to win a grill the local radio station will be giving away at a polka fest in August. Take in the sun. Notice the steady backed-up stream of cars entering the parking fields (the post-church rush). Be glad you got there early.
- Be glad for the tasty dairy products of your home state. Be glad for the people and traditions of your home state. Be glad to be back in your home state—at least for a while.