Monday, October 01, 2012

Greater Appleton, 2012

Sept 4, 2012

Back in June 2008, I was invited to go on an August press trip to see some for-sale residential properties in Sandpoint, Idaho, which would have been a fine little excursion. But it was cancelled, because by that summer all the air was already rushing out of the housing market like the popped bubble it was, even for resort-style properties in picturesque settings. I'm surprised the invitations got out at all.

Then came the Panic of 2008, after which I was pretty sure that press trips were things of the past, at least for me. Fast forward to this summer, and to my surprise I was invited on one that took place August 23-26. Also to my surprise, it was to a place I'd never spent much time in before, despite all the many places I've been in Wisconsin: Appleton, a town of 72,000 or so on the northern shores of Lake Winnebago.

Actually not just Appleton, but the cluster of small cities and towns in that area collectively known as the Fox Cities, since they're also near the Fox River, which runs from Lake Winnebago to Lake Michigan. Other Fox Cities include the Wisconsin-sounding Kaukauna, Menasha and Neenah, and the charmingly named Little Chute and the curiously named Combined Locks. Nineteen communities in all, population about 220,000.

We packed a lot in: a museum devoted to glass objects, another devoted to industrial paper making, long a local industry, and yet another with an entire floor devoted to Houdini. If that's not a cool museum subject, I don't know what is. Pictured: a bust of Houdini that the museum tells us is "said to be haunted." By whom, it didn't say. You'd think the ghost of Houdini wouldn't inhabit anything as confining as a piece of stone.

We visited shops that sold antiques, cheese, books and more -- and I saw a shop on Appleton's lively main street that seemed to sell Egyptian-theme New Age merch, but it was closed for the day, or maybe for the birthday of Ra-Horakhty. We toured a Victorian mansion electrified in 1882 using equipment bought from Edison. We went to a building that had been a brewery in the 19th century, was something else for part of the 20th, and is now a brewpub with a restaurant in the cellar, where we drank beer and ate cheese. And a Scotch egg.

Somehow or other I'd never had a Scotch egg before. While looking into it, I found this charming bit of unsourced information that makes Wiki the unpredictable thing that it is: "Scotch Eggs have recently grown greatly in popularity in the Marshall Islands [citation needed]." In any case, the Stone Cellar Brew Pub serves tasty Scotch eggs, and a variety of satisfying brews from their own stainless steel vessels.

The tour featured plenty of other food, as these tours do, showcasing a variety of excellent fare. Except for the fired haddock I had on Friday night, which is just about as Wisconsin as you can get, I also ate at a Mexican, Italian and Japanese restaurants. Some of my dinner companions were food bloggers (restaurant critics, really), so many dishes were photographed before they vanished. On the whole, the other members of the tour were well-traveled, well-read people, so our conversations wandered far afield.

Probably in all of our travels, however, none of us had ever met a professional cheese sculptor. I know I hadn't. Early in the tour, we were introduced to Troy Landwehr, professional cheese sculptor. He's also the proprietor of Kerrigan Brothers Winery. He told us that he thought that maybe a total of three people carve cheese for money -- he does weddings and other events -- and that he likes young cheddar as a medium.



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