When you hear the phrase “Wisconsin road food,” certain words spring immediately to mind: butter. Sausage. Cheese. Heck, “fatty” may just about cover it. “Fresh” is not a word that necessarily suggests itself, and when you think about an establishment calling itself the Foster Cheese House, the chance of “fresh” being applicable goes from improbable to damn near impossible.
And yet: There’s a freshness of approach as well as of flavor to the food at this roadside cheese shop / restaurant / liquor store. (Another point about Wisconsin: mentioning that any given location doubles as a liquor store is basically redundant.)
The cheese house (or haus, sure) has been perched on Interstate 94 at exit 81 near Osseo, WI for a good 20 years. But after changing hands at the beginning of 2009, its design and menu underwent a complete overhaul. The Cheese Haus is now co-owned by Wayne Kostka of Castle Rock Organic Dairy, and his products — milk, cheese, ice cream — take their place alongside the in-house baked goods, specialty liquors, wines, and other Wisconsin food bric-a-brac that fill the spacious shop.
Tables are available for in-haus dining, and a simple menu revolves primarily around daily specials (like the beef commercial we spotted during our visit), and staples such as pizza and sandwiches. We sampled an Artisan pizza ($15 for a 12″ pie), which boasted mozzarella, proscuitto, roasted garlic, fresh basil, and oregano. A thin, soggy crust failed to do its job, but the rest of the pizza was smashingly delicious, with a bright, bold herby flavor that complemented the pie’s high quality cheese.
A Foster Grilled Cheese sandwich ($6) was light on its feet and complicated, a real surprise. When you hear “grilled cheese,” you tend to think “toast and a bunch of melted American.” The Foster version puts pickled beets, spinach, and a blue cheese aioli front and center; the crunchy bread and melted white cheddar and Colby are team players here, not the sole attractions.
The fact that there’s good, casual, civilized tableside dining at the Foster Cheese Haus makes it a great option to consider for anyone doing the Minneapolis/St. Paul-Madison haul. But the fact that there’s cheese from more than 10 certified Wisconsin master makers (plus standouts from non-masters such as Crave Bros. mascarpone), a nice alcohol selection, baked desserts and friendly service should make it a mandatory destination for any food lover coming within a 50-mile-radius.
BEST BET: This is going to sound ridiculous, but go with something that showcases cheese. The pizza is a great way to go, but don’t be afraid to pick up a block of aged cheddar or an exotic mixed milk cheese from the likes of Carr Valley.
Foster Cheese Haus
Cheese shop and pizza in Osseo, WI
E10934 County Hwy HH
Osseo, WI 54758
OWNER / CHEF & MANAGER: Wayne Kostka / Dean Parent
BAR: Beer and wine
ENTREE RANGE: $6-15