In a state where people proudly don cheese-shaped hats, it’s not surprising there’s a castle built in honor of its most prized product. The Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wis., is a family-run operation that’s been treating curds like royalty since 1947. For decades, this can’t-miss landmark along I-94 has been beckoning hungry, curious travelers to marvel at its selection of local wedges and wheels, mountains of sausages, hundreds of beers, and cheese accessories you never knew you needed.
Mars Cheese Castle—which we featured in our Best Cheeses 2016-17 issue—had humble beginnings. Founded by Mario and Martha Ventura, the business started out as a deli in a schoolhouse before moving and evolving into a 21,000-square-foot medieval structure, complete with a drawbridge-like entrance and a watchtower stocked with wine. Bigger changes are on the way for 2017. The Castle is currently undergoing an expansion that will practically double the size of the space. Also, as OnMilwaukee.com reports, the megastore will soon place more emphasis on its family history through interactive exhibits, and additional regal touches will be scattered throughout. The redesign is expected to be completed this June. (If you plan on visiting, be sure to call or check the Castle’s Facebook page beforehand, since store hours can vary due to construction.)
Although a cheese castle might seem a bit niche to those from less dairy-centric states, tourists come from all over to admire the epic façade and sample the delicious offerings inside. Prominent visitors include John F. Kennedy, Johnny Cash, Joe Biden, and rock band Weezer (and my mom!). Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has a storied history with cheese and has described it as his favorite food. No wonder, then, that he made this shrine to rinds a prominent stop on his 2016 presidential campaign trail.
General manager Tyson Wehrmeister, grandson of Mario and Martha Ventura, believes the store’s “Wisconsin-centric mentality” plays a key role in its success 70 years on. He describes his family members as “ambassadors for tourism in Wisconsin” who promote the shop’s local products and help make the iconic Castle a memorable place.