Festival season in Wisconsin is jam-packed with events every weekend.
Seriously, during the summer you can’t throw a rock in Wisconsin without hitting a festival.
One of the best things about festivals, fairs and other outdoor events is the food. But when the theme of those events is all about a particular type of food – things really get mouthwatering.
Here’s a list of 12 unique festivals that are focused on some of your favorite foods. It’s not comprehensive, and some may already be over for this year. But you can always mark your calendar for next time.
Also – we’re featuring mostly Northeast Wisconsin festivals and may mention a couple from outside the area. Feel free to add your favorite festival in the comments below.
1. Beer, Bacon & Cheese – New Glarus
Bacon is hotter than Justin Bieber right now. Combine those crispy strips of meat with Wisconsin cheese and some of the best craft beer in the entire world – and you’ve got yourself one amazing festival.
The Beer, Bacon and Cheese (BBC) event is part of the Polka Fest Weekend in New Glarus. As you might expect, the world-renowned New Glarus Brewery is closely involved with this part of the celebration.
A wristband gets you an all-access pass to samples of artisan cheeses, specialty meats and amazing craft brews. In other words – you get access to heaven on earth.
2. Chicken Fest – Darboy
If you mention family style chicken to people outside of the Upper Midwest – they might look at you strangely.
But here in Wisconsin, there’s a 9 out of 10 chance that the wedding you’re going to next weekend will be serving broasted chicken at your table (maybe some beef tips too).
Chicken Fest in Darboy celebrates our love of greasy chicken. It also serves as a fundraiser for the local Kiwanis club – but admission and most events are free. The Darboy Club plays a big role in this fest, providing buckets of chicken to festival-goers. There are plenty of other eats too – from corn on the cob and kettle corn to jambalaya and fresh donuts.
Entertainment in 2014 includes performances from a nice selection of local bands, a fireworks show on Friday night and a 5k Chicken Chase on Saturday.
3. Ice Cream Sundae Thursday – Two Rivers
One of the Lakeshore’s big claims to fame is the invention of the ice cream sundae.
Now of course, this claim is contested, and that’s a story for another day. But…folks in Two Rivers firmly believe that the first sundae was scooped in their town sometime during the late 1800s at Berners’ Soda Fountain. The Wisconsin Historical Society agrees.
Two Rivers celebrates its almost official title of “Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae” with a big ice cream social for the whole community in the city’s Central Park.
Eat that creamy vanilla ice cream topped off with hot fudge, strawberry syrup, a cherry – or whatever floats your boat. There is also live entertainment, and of course a sundae eating contest. I can almost feel the brain freeze.
This year’s Sundae Thursday in Two Rivers will be held June 26th. Find out more about the history on the Two Rivers Economic Development website.
4. Brat Days – Sheboygan
Bratwurst are a German thing. But Beer Brats? Those my friend are 100% Wisconsin.
And perhaps nobody knows brats better than the folks in Sheboygan. They prove it every summer when they hold the Brat Days Festival in Sheboygan’s Kiwanis Park.
Apparently this festival is rooted in history…and I mean deeply rooted. This is how the background for Brat Days begins on their website…
“The idea of Bratwurst Day goes back as far as six decades B.C., when the Romans held annual festivals where sausages spiced with various herbs were fried over open fires.”
Now every time I eat a brat, I’m going to think of the Roman empire.
Bratwurst Day was first held in 1953 to celebrate Sheboygan’s 100th anniversary. It’s evolved to include much more than sausages. In 2014, there will be performances from Pat McCurdy, the Charlie Bucket Band, Pink Floyd tribute band Project Pink and many more.
Plus, a Brat Days Parade, a four-mile Brat Trot, and lots of other family-friendly fun. And you can’t have a festival like this without a brat-eating contest! Brat Days also supports area charities with its proceeds.
If that’s not enough bratwurst action for you – there is also Madison’s Brat Fest, which claims to be the world’s largest (held over Memorial Day weekend).
5. Hamburger Festival – Seymour
Not only can Northeast Wisconsin lay claim to home of the ice cream sundae – we also want the title “Birthplace of the Burger.”
Most of us are familiar with the story of Hamburger Charlie. If you’re not – check out the WhooNEW article on Seymour’s burger history.
Long story short – it’s likely the first hamburger was served at the Outagamie County Fair in Seymour more than a century ago.
Seymour celebrates being the Home of the Hamburger with a fun-filled festival every summer. The annual Hamburger Fest includes a burger eating contest, a Bun Run, and even a Hot Air Balloon rally in which the balloons light up the sky at dusk.
You could also munch on a piece of the giant cheeseburger the folks in Seymour fry up. It weighs close to 200 pounds! Plus, you can’t miss the Slip-n-Slide covered in ketchup.
2014 features a special focus on history with the theme “Reflections of Hamburger Charlie.” The event takes place August 8th & 9th.
6. The Gold Ribbin’ BBQ Fest – Green Bay
Kansas City Barbecue obviously isn’t a Wisconsin tradition – but eating any sort of grilled meat certainly is! That’s why Green Bay is the perfect place for a BBQ contest.
The Gold Ribbin’ BBQ Fest is greater Green Bay’s biggest barbecue competition and is officially “a Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned event.”
Yes, this is serious stuff! The winning team of barbecuers could take home a $5,000 purse – and potentially more depending on the number of entries.
There will be a ton of other fun things going on in addition to the competition – like eating contests – including a pie-eating contest sponsored by Uncle Mike’s Bakery. You’ll find entertainment for the kids. And if you aren’t a cook, maybe you could put a team together for the Bean Bag Toss tournament.
The Gold Ribbin’ BBQ Fest will benefit The Golden House – a local charity that works with domestic abuse victims and mothers in need.
7. Cheese Curd Festival – Ellsworth
Cheese curds are a Wisconsin delicacy, and they are yet another food item that you won’t see nearly as much when you leave the Dairy State. We like ’em fresh and squeaky. We like ’em deep fried and gooey.
In Ellsworth – they like them so much they made a festival for cheese curds.
The Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce hosts an annual Cheese Curd Festival every summer. And if you think you know all about cheese curds – you need to visit this fest first.
How does a cheese curd bacon kabob sound to you? At this event they put cheese curds on burgers and brats, cheese curds on pizza, cheese curds in their baked potatoes – it’s downright cheese curd crazy.
Add a little live music, some rides and games for the kids, artistic chainsaw carving and tractor pulls – and now you’ve got yourself a party. Oh – and yes – there is a cheese curd eating contest.
The 2014 Cheese Curd Festival will be held June 20th – 22nd. Check out the Ellsworth Chamber of Commerce for details.
8. Cookie Daze – Ripon
If you’ve read our article featuring 5 Fun Facts About Wisconsin, you know that Ripon is known as the birthplace of the Republican party.
But perhaps more importantly – it’s home to the Rippin’ Good Cookie Factory and Outlet store. No matter how you vote – we all love cookies.
As a kid, I went with some friends for a summer trip to camp nearby and the factory tour we took is burned in my childhood memories. It was like my personal Willie Wonka experience.
Every summer, Ripon hosts a kid-friendly festival called Cookie Daze. It’s an exciting carnival atmosphere that includes plenty of cookies.
The festival got started when Ripon achieved the world record for largest cookie. It was 34 feet wide and contained 3.8 million chocolate chips. Unfortunately, that was in 1992 and they’ve since been beaten. The current record holders are from North Carolina. They baked a 101 foot chocolate chip cookie.
But Brett Favre didn’t care about records – so why should we?
2014 Cookie Daze takes place August 2nd. Find out more on the Cookie Daze Facebook page.
And Just Because…
9. Cranberry Festival – Warrens
People may think of brats, beer, fried cheese curds and frozen custard when they think of Wisconsin. But we are known for some nutritious food too – like cranberries. Your healthy urinary tracts have Wisconsin to thank.
Wisconsin harvests a ton of cranberries and the community of Warrens celebrates that with a big festival every September. It’s a little after summertime – but this event still deserved to make the list. The cranberry is our state fruit after all.
Warrens is home to the Cranberry Discovery Center, and it actually is a very interesting industry. According to Oddball Wisconsin author, Jerome Pohlen, when you take a tour you’ll get a free sample of cranberry ice cream, cranberry jelly beans or cranberry pie.
There are even more cranberry treats at the festival. Ever tried deep fried cranberries on a stick? You can have cranberry syrup on your pancakes or get some cranberries jubilee from the giant frying pan.
The Warrens Cranberry Festival also gets competitive. It is home to the Biggest Berry Contest, a cranberry chiffon pie-eating contest, awards are given out for the best cranberry recipes – and they even crown a Cranberry Queen and two princesses every year.
Learn more about this cranberry-crazed event when you visit CranFest.com, and like the Warrens Cranberry Festival on Facebook. This year it takes place September 26 – 28th – (always the last weekend of September).
10. Strawberry Festival – Cedarburg
Here’s another berry festival in Wisconsin – this time it’s strawberries – a fruit that is what you’d expect summer to taste like if seasons had a flavor.
The charming city of Cedarburg hosts a Strawberry Festival and I hear it’s berry fun – ha ha ha ha ha!
A highlight of the 2014 festival will be an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for largest scoop of ice cream – strawberry flavored of course. The plan is for a scoop that weighs more than a literal ton! But the yummy twist is festival-goers have to eat all that ice cream for the record to count.
Among the strangest strawberry eats available here is the “Original Strawberry Brat.” Original seems like an understatement. I can’t even imagine what that would taste like.
For the less adventurous, there will be everything from fresh strawberry slushies and chocolate covered strawberries to strawberry pancakes and strawberry wine.
Cedarburg’s Strawberry Festival also puts the spotlight on artists as more than 250 come to show off their work. There is also a popular plein air painting contest, which artist create pieces in the open air.
11. Taste on Broadway – Green Bay
My wife and I always look forward to Taste on Broadway in Downtown Green Bay.
What happens is a section of Broadway gets shut down to traffic. Then a whole bunch of the best Green Bay area restaurants set up in the street and serve up some of their signature dishes (in smaller portion sizes). That’s so you have a chance to try a bunch of different stuff.
Local breweries and wineries are there serving spirits, and there are street performers as well as live music on two stages. Chefs are also competing for awards like Best Plate, Best Taste and Best Booth. Taste on Braodway has become really popular. Organizers say 20,000 people pack the street.
There’s a whole lot of flavor going on at this event. It’s the perfect place for foodies to get their fill of scrumptious stuff – from sushi to bacon cheeseburger pizza.
12. Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival – Little Chute
Finally – we would be in big trouble if we didn’t mention a festival that’s all about the different kinds of cheese made in Wisconsin.
June is National Dairy Month, and the Village of Little Chute pays tribute with its annual Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival. They’ve been holding the three-day event in Doyle Park since 1988.
They have a parade, plenty of live music from your favorite local bands, as well as rides and a petting zoo for the little guys. You can sample all sorts of different cheese and even watch cheese artists carve masterpieces out of blocks of cheddar. Proceeds from the fest are donated back to the community of Little Chute.
The Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival is held during the first weekend of June each year. So we’ve missed the 2014 event. But remember it for next year. Find out more about the history on LittleChuteWI.org and like the LC Cheese Fest Facebook page for more info.
Bonus – Door County Cherry Fest – Jacksonport
We had to add one more after a reader told us we forgot about another important Wisconsin food tradition – those tart and sweet Door County cherries!
The festival celebrates harvest time for Door County’s cherry crop. Eat some cherry pie, cherry ice cream even brats and burger filled with cherries! Oh, and of course there will be plenty of fresh Door County cherries too.
Besides celebrating cherries, this event also puts the focus on artists with a juried art show and many unique handmade items available for purchase. Cherry Fest is sponsored by the Jacksonport Historical Society, which will have a display with memorabilia from the family of Andrew Jackson – a logger and business man that the community is named after.
2014 marks the first year for the Cherry Fest Car show. Plus, there’s live music from Modern Day Drifters in the afternoon, wagon rides and a penny hunt, and even more!
Jacksonport is just south of Bailey’s Harbor on the lake-side of the peninsula. The 2014 event takes place in Lakeside Park Saturday, August 2nd. Get more details from the Jacksonport Historical Society website.
What Else Did We Miss?
We tried our hardest to find the biggest and best food-centric festivals in the state. But if we happened to miss something – please let us know!
Leave a comment below and tell us all about it. Or let our readers know about your top Wisconsin summer festivals and why we should all check it out!
Summer will be over before you know it. So get out there and make the most of it!