There’s a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story today by Karen Herzog about a trio of Wisconsin cheese stores in Kenosha County, and how they will be affected by the I-94 widening project about to begin: Gouda-bye: Freeway alters cheese interchange.

Update:

Contrary to the Journal Sentinel story linked above, Tim & Tom’s Cheese Shop is still in business after moving 1.5 miles south to the Rustic Dairyland Antiques building at Highway 158 on 1-94’s west frontage road.

Mars Cheese Castle — and its “iconic sign” — are both moving to a brand new castle to be constructed just behind the current location.

Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop

Happily, Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop is staying right where it has been for 60 years — in a little store a couple of doors south of Mars Cheese Castle on I-94’s west frontage road, at Exit #340 at WI-142 in Kenosha County (see my Google Map). Their telephone number is (262) 859-2232.

As a 2006 entry at Chicago Foodies shows, Bobby Nelson’s has its own iconic sign, and the place is legendary in its own right. (There is also a Yelp listing, but the map there is just slightly off.)

It’s weird, but although I spent 43 years in Kenosha and have driven past it countless times, I never actually visited Bobby Nelson’s until a couple of years ago. I guess that living in town and having a deli like Tenuta’s nearby, we never thought of driving all the way out to I-94 for cheese.

It was my former boss, radio legend Steve Dahl, who clued me in to the place. He would mention Bobby Nelson’s on his show from time to time and relish the thought of their bacon, declaring it the best bacon ever.

Inevitably, whenever the subject of this cheese shop came up, so too did the question of whether its founder, former pro wrestler Booby Nelson, gave his name to wrestling’s “half nelson” or “full nelson” holds. While today’s Journal Sentinel story supports this notion, Wikipedia does not. There, Admiral Horatio Nelson is mentioned as the possible reference of these terms. In any case, since the “nelson hold” dates back to the early 19th century, it was in use long before Bobby Nelson, who died February 20, 2002 at the age of 84.

From time to time, some of Steve’s friends and associates would gift him with Bobby Nelson’s bacon, and so Amy and I decided to do the same for one of his birthdays.

Walking through that door transports you into another little world. The shop is decorated with lots of photographs and other Bobby Nelson memorabilia, and Rich, who was working behind the counter that day, was a very interesting man to talk to. Pegging us immediately as newbies, he asked whether we had heard about the place on the radio, perhaps “from Steve?” Simply through word of mouth from Steve’s listeners, he knew about the latest goings-on — like Steve’s son Patrick Dahl getting married, and so on.

Rich talked with us for a good half hour or 45 minutes about Bobby Nelson’s hunting trips, swimming exploits, and drives to New York, about the about the autographed Foghat and Jesse Owens photos that someone had given away without asking, and on and on — very entertaining. He also guided us to the Landjäger Steve likes, which is not the hot variety.

Both the bacon and the Landjäger are indeed outstanding, and one of these days I hope to do a full review with photographs, but for now I just wanted to pass along this story during this transitional week.

Update, September 30, 2009:

JSOnline reports that Bobby Nelson’s Cheese Shop is also the place to find pickled eggs, pickled asparagus, pickled green beans and mushrooms, and other Wisconsin delicacies and Wisconsin-made products.

In a story today headlined “In a pleasant pickle,” Karen Herzog looks at Wisconsin’s tradition of serving pickled foods like mild or hot pickled Polish sausage, pickled pork hocks, pickled herring and pickled turkey gizzards — especially at bars and taverns.

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