If you grew up in Illinois anywhere near the Wisconsin, there’s a good chance you heard of Mars’ Cheese Castle. It meant you were on I-94, had just passed through Kenosha, and were en route to Milwaukee. However, tucked next to the huge CHEESE CASTLE sign (and newly constructed castle), is a true gem worthy of a visit: Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop

Pass the castle and come to Bobby Nelson’s

While I didn’t have a chance to learn more about Bobby Nelson’s history, it was still love at first sight. I felt like I was visiting the original Meyer Delicatessen in Lincoln Square (before it became Gene’s Sausage Shop) or a brighter Erickson’s Deli in Andersonville. There was a definite Scandinavian-meets-German feel to the place.

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisonsin CheeseInside was just heaven for me. While there’s a huge cheese selection at Woodman’s (and I’m sure Mars’ Cheese Castle), Bobby Nelson’s had more specialty cheeses, making it worth the trip for true Cheese foodies. With only $20 in my pocket, I had to ration my choices. I narrowed my cheese selection to a Roth Käse Horseradish-Chive Havarti that was out of this world! They had the staples of cheese curds and summer sausages, just not in touristy packaging. The hand-lettered signage on the wall announcing their 100% pure home made sausages made me cave in and buy a summer sausage. The woman working at the counter said the garlic sausage was the way to go; I eagerly nodded and asked for one. Those two items, along with a landjäger for the ride home put me back a little under $20. It was all worth every penny.

grocerygal-bobbynelson-cheeseIn addition to a nice variety of cheese, smoked sausages and brats, they offered a lot of local jellies, sauces and pickled products. While I don’t think I’d be picking up any turkey gizzards or pork hocks anytime soon, I wondered how a pickled egg would taste in a bloody mary. Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin Cheese PickledNext time you see the sign, be sure to get off the highway and stop in to select what you deem the perfect Wisconsin experience (minus the beer!).

Grocery Gal Bobby Nelson Wisconsin cheese

Wisconsin knows how to do Neon right

How good was it? Well, I had to try a bite of that delicious horseradish-chive havarti before I could even take the photo!  And the summer sausage? Probably the best and only summer sausage I’ll ever have again. I’m normally not a fan of summer sausage (not dry enough), but this was just perfect. It’s worth the road trip. Just let me know when you’re going, so I can tag along.

Bobby Nelson Grocery Gal Summer Sausage

Bobby Nelson’s Garlic Summer Sausage – yum

Bobby Nelson Cheese Shop. 2924 120th Ave. Kenosha, WI 53144. 262-859-2232


I share my Grocery Gal posts on social media sites like Facebook, Reddit and LinkedIn. After sharing my article on either Caputo’s Cheese Market or the Swiss Colony, I received comments telling me I needed to check out the cheese selection at Woodman’s Market in Wisconsin.

I knew of the place right when I read it. It was a huge store off of Route 50 in Kenosha, right off 94. It was on the opposite side of the highway from the legendary BratstopI’ll admit it, I never went in because I didn’t like their logo. Plain & simple. However, I had to make a stop for provisions on my way to camp at Plymouth Rock, so I thought Grocery Gal should put away her design-snobbery and check out what it had to offer.

I liked how Woodman’s is employee owned, and proud of it. When you walk in, they make it known that they don’t accept credit cards, similar to Aldi.  I liked that philosophy, and it probably keep their prices down. The place was huge – I usually don’t like shopping in such large places (though I love Costco), but I had to see what they had to offer.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Summer Sausage at Woodman’s

Walking in, there was a fairly large produce section with a good amount of organic produce and vegetarian food. I was on a mission for cheese and on a tight schedule, so I went past all the healthy stuff. There’s a large meat section and I saw something that seems to be only in Wisconsin: summer sausage. I’m not a fan of it; the consistency and flavors are too American (moist) for me. I favor the dry European style sausages from Montrose Deli and Amish Farmers. However, if you love summer sausages, Woodman’s offers a variety from what seem to be small, local sausage makers in a variety of flavors.

What I do like is beef jerky! I got suckered into both the locally made and gluten free tags on Wayne’s Jerky and bought it. Even though real beef jerky should always be gluten free, it made me wonder if how many wheat fillers were in that Jack Link’s brand next to it. I was also reminded that it had been a while since I made my own beef jerky, and I needed to put that on my to-do list.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market Wayne's Jerky

Some of the freshest packaged jerky I’ve had.

Meats were covered, now where was the cheese? I came across a small refrigerated case that had some locally made cheese in it. Really? That’s it? Wow, this is pathetic. I was really disappointed. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Until I turned the corner and came across probably 40 feet of refrigerated cheeses.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

People from Illinois love Wisconsin cheese curds

grocery gal wisconsin cheese woodman's market

The retro cheese section, including checkerboard flavor and cheese food with “process salami” in it.

The cheese section was overwhelming. Every brand I found, except one, was not a mass produced brand, and all from Wisconsin. The cheese staples were pretty basic. I was hoping to find something a little more exotic, but I had to wait for that later on at Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop.

Beef jerky, cheese curds, what else did I need while I was in Wisconsin? Oh yeah, beer. Their liquor department was in a separate area. Department is the wrong word to use. Emporium seems more appropriate. This place was larger than any liquor store I’ve been to in Chicago, minus the Binny’s location at Goose Island. And, wow, they gave you free stuff when you bought beer!

Grocery Gal Woodman Markets

Free stuff when you buy beer? Only in Wisconsin!

I could down a PBR as good as anyone before, and who wouldn’t love some sweet corn for free with a 30 pack of Pabst? Unfortunately, now I must restrict gluten from my diet. Honestly, this new chapter in my dietary life really sucks because I love me a hoppy IPA any day of the week! I wanted to see if Woodman’s carried Daura Damm gluten free beer, because it’s the only gluten free beer that tastes like real beer. I like a cider here and there, but it’s just too sweet after a while. What did Woodman’s have in their liquor emporium? More gluten free options than I ever even thought imaginable. My Daura that’s $9.99 in Chicago was a mere $5.29 at Woodman’s! What did I do? I bought four 4 packs.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

The Gluten Free Motherload!

I was happy. Really happy. I knew I needed to pick up some Moon Man for my husband. I’m sure Woodman’s would be carrying some New Glarus beer, right? Well, Woodman’s seemed to have more New Glarus beer than the brewery had! They also had a big stash of Lakefront Brewery’s IPA, so I picked up some for him, too.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Umm, want some Spotted Cow or Moon Man?

Smoked meats? Check. Cheese curds? Check. Beer? Check. What else is Wisconsin famous for? Bloody Mary’s! When you look at the stash of what Woodman’s has to offer, you understand why they make them so well in this state.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

With accoutrements like this, no wonder the best Bloody Mary’s in the world are from Wisconsin.

I had everything I needed to camp, but I was still thinking about my Grocery Gal readers.

One last thing I’d recommend adding to your Wisconsin gift basket is the famous Lehmann’s Danish Kringle out of Racine. Friends brought us a Kringle before, and while many might think it’s just another coffee cake, it’s not. Go buy one and enjoy it with coffee in the am. Let me know when the gluten-free version becomes available.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

The famous Racine Kringle

Once again, my logo prejudice kept me away from a real gem of a store. Woodman’s had all the fixins to make a great Wisconsin gift basket any Illinoisan would want to bring back home. They have been in Wisconsin since 1919 and have three locations in Illinois. Next time you see a Woodman’s while driving in on the interstate, stop off and stock up on a the Wisconsin experience.

Grocery Gal Woodman's Market

Ready to go camping!

Woodman’s Markets. 7145 120th Avenue, Kenosha, WI, 53142. 262-857-3801


Before the internet, there was mail order. Growing up in the late 70’s/early 80’s I’d love to get catalogs in the mail, addressed to me of course, from places like Current, Lillian Vernon and the chocolate motherload: Swiss Colony.

I didn’t know or care where the Swiss Colony was located. I would dream every year that maybe this was the year my mom would buy me a solid chocolate Chris Mouse, mint chocolate twelve layer log cake, or a box of petit fours for my birthday. What would I get? Some European style cake with real whipped cream  with a hazelnut or real fruit filling that everyone but me loved. In hindsight, her choices were much smarter and healthier, but as a kid all I wanted was buttercream.

Swiss Colony Chris Mouse Grocery Gal

Chris Mouse welcoming me to Swiss Colony’s signature gifts

Years passed with never a package arriving from the Swiss Colony. Packages from Austria came instead, filled with rich chocolates that I didn’t like, but I was still hopeful that one day a special red and white striped package would arrive addressed to me.

Fast forward years, no… decades, later and I’m heading off to New Glarus, Wisconsin. Better known as Little Switzerland, I drove a few hours from Chicago to camp with my husband and see the New Glarus Brewery. The town was great; structures built by Swiss settlers in the 19th century and, despite some expected touristy kitchiness, were the real deal. Driving through the region, we stopped in Monroe, Wisconsin to get some provisions for dinner. Along the way in a random strip mall, I read the words: “The Swiss Colony.” Those three words pulled at my heartstrings and brought childhood memories rushing in. I begged my husband to pull into the strip mall, and finally, I was going to make my childhood dreams a reality.

Swiss Colony Outlet Monroe Wisconsin petit four

The familiar logo from my childhood

Get this, it was an outlet store, to boot! I hoped they took credit cards, because I had big plans on stocking up. I walked into the cheese portion of the store and had a variety of soft pub style cheese to choose from. Port wine and cheddar was calling my name, so I grabbed one and put it in my basket.

Grocery Gal Swiss Colony cheese Chicago

Soft cheeses – including ones with Port Wine – from the Swiss Colony

What next? I didn’t want to waste much time; I was on a hunt for the evening’s dessert, but saw my favorite American-made cheese, Grand Cru by Roth, for 50% off. I first came across this amazing alpine-style cheese at the Whole Foods in Milwaukee (shhh, yes, I occasionally shop there), and it was the closest cheese I have found in the US to my beloved Bergkäse from Austria. That went into the basket next.

Roth cheese Grand cru swiss colony grocery gal

Roth Cheese at 50% off – the hidden gem inside the Swiss Colony outlet store

I then switched over to the next room which focused on Swiss Colony’s signature desserts. A bag of 25-30 random petit fours looked tempting, but I instead focused on the nicely packaged assortment of 9, 5 in vanilla and 4 in chocolate, for $1.99. They were also buy one get one free, so how could I resist? I exercised some discretion and passed on the layered mint cake. With it being May, there weren’t any Chris Mouse chocolates; I guess I’d have to come back closer to Christmas.

Grocery Gal Swiss colony mint chocolate toret

The mint chocolate layered torte I always dreamt of getting for a birthday cake

Happy with my bounty, I paid for my goods and excitedly waited for that night’s special dessert. A few hours later, I carefully opened up the package of petit fours and sat down to enjoy the dessert I had been waiting at least 30 years for. I took a bite, and was… disgusted.

Grocery Gal Swiss Colony Petit Four

I waited over 25 years to finally get these. I should’ve gotten them back in the 80’s

My childhood pastry dreams were shattered! It tasted super sweet, synthetic and somewhat stale. Ok, maybe that’s just the vanilla one. Maybe the chocolate one was better? Maybe it was because I bought these at the outlet store in May…?

How could this be? I took a look at the ingredients and found natural, but a lot of artificial ingredients. This couldn’t have been how they made them when I was a kid? Or did they, and that’s why my mom never bought them?

However, Swiss Colony fans, don’t fret; it is just my opinion. I brought the second unopened box of petit fours to work. The last Friday of the month is enthusiastically called “Food Friday,” where everyone brings in snacks to share. I was wondering if anyone would eat these discarded cakes of mine? Well, guess what, they were the hit of the day! My coworkers loved them so much that they quietly rationed them amongst the themselves and hid them from the other departments. When I offered to bring the other opened box on Monday, everyone eagerly said yes.

So, maybe I just have a selective palate and don’t like things super sweet? Then it’s just more petit fours for everyone else. While my childhood dreams of pastries from the Swiss Colony didn’t live up to my adult expectations, the price on the Grand Cru made it all worth while. See, there’s something for everyone. You might just have to drive up to the outlet mall and find out which is your preference.

Swiss Colony Monroe Outlet Store. 652 8th St, Monroe, WI 53566 www.swisscolony.com