When my family moved to this great state fifteen years ago, I knew there was a certain embracing of Wisconsin culture that was going to need to take place. We would no longer be able to root for the Cubbies, for instance, but would instead have to switch our baseball allegiances Bernie the Brewer's way. I'd have to accept that my kids would grow up sporting tri-cornered, foam yellow hats riddled with holes whenever the Green Bay Packers appeared in the playoffs.
I have since come to understand that fish boils are a culinary delight, as opposed to a skin condition. And I acknowledge that being a convert to all things Dairy State requires I fully embrace the squeak of a cheese curd.
But perhaps most importantly, my family now readily worships the unofficial (perhaps it's official?) sausage of Wisconsin. And we have found there is no better way to pay homage to the mighty bratwurst than to make pilgrimage to at least one of Madison's many festivals dedicated to its existence over Memorial Day weekend.
This year we'll plan to kick off our quest for the perfect (and politically correct) sausage with a visit to the third annual People's Bratfest on May 25 on Library Mall. Presented by the Autonomous Solidarity Organization, the People's Bratfest is proud to offer "Brats for people, not for profit.". The family-friendly event (alcohol-free) supports local businesses and family farms and claims to be the only Bratfest in Madison where 100% of the proceeds go to local charities. And with both organic meat brats from Stoddard's in Cottage Grove (as well as vegan options for the meat -free), pretzel rolls, the Forward Marching Band and the Truly Remarkable Loon, there is something for everyone at the experience.
And while you must be 18 or older (or come with a legal guardian), moms and dads can take in the Wurst Times Festival on May 26 at the High Noon Saloon and The Brass Ring. Starting at 11 a.m., this celebration of Madison music (and brats, of course) boasts over thirty bands on three different stages. The bratwurst ($3 or 2 for $5) should be delicious and is locally sourced from New Glarus' Hoesly Meats. And you can also feel good about the fact that the suggested donation of $10 (or non-perishable food items) will be given to the Second Harvest Foodbank or used to buy musical instruments for Madison Metropolitan School District kids. It wouldn't be "wurst weekend" though without a swing by the World's Largest Bratfest, taking place all weekend long at Willow Island at the Alliant Energy Center. With over 3 million brats sold (often by celebrity cashiers) since its inception, the granddaddy of all Bratfests has also helped to raise over a million dollars for local charities since 1983. That's a lot of ketchup, mustard and outreach to the community.
The event also takes the "Fest" part of its name quite seriously, as there is a lot more to do than scarf down sausages. Families can scale the rock-climbing wall, enjoy carnival rides at Mr. Ed's Magical Midway and ogle that motorized shrine to meat in a bun, the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile. There is also a Sunday evening fireworks display and the chance to participate in either 5k or 10k run/walks (a pretty good idea after all those brats).
So let the battle of the Bratfests begin. Because there is nothing like sampling quite a few wursts to make you feel like you're getting the very best Wisco culture has to offer.