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What is the Cheddar Curtain?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 17, 2024
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The border separating Wisconsin and Illinois may just seem like a dark line on a map to some, but to many residents of both states it is a philosophical and cultural divide known as the Cheddar Curtain. Arguably not as divisive as the original Iron Curtain, it delineates a shift from the pastoral farmlands of Illinois to the dairy country of Wisconsin. Once visitors have crossed the Cheddar Curtain, their paths are bound to intersect with a cheese product eventually.

Wisconsin is world-famous for its cheeses, especially the Wisconsin cheddar and Swiss varieties. This reputation for quality cheese production, and subsequent promotion of its dairy industry, has been know to grate (pun intended) on the nerves of certain Illinois residents who are routinely asked for directions out of their own state and into Wisconsin. While other states which border Wisconsin also refer to the Cheddar Curtain, the state of Illinois appears to take a greater amount of pleasure in the description.

The Cheddar Curtain also refers to another passion of many Wisconsin residents; supporting the Green Bay Packers, a professional football team based in a deep freezer known as the city of Green Bay. Devoted fans of the Green Bay Packers are known as "Cheese heads," and many of them choose to wear foam headgear in the shape of a wedge of cheddar cheese.

Because temperatures in Green Bay can dip below 0°F (-18°C) during football season, devoted Packers fans are considered to be some of the most dedicated in the league. This devotion to a football team in the face of frostbite and hypothermia often remains a mystery to those living outside of the Cheddar Curtain.

Life behind the Cheddar Curtain is often centered around the production, promotion or grudging acceptance of cheese and other dairy products. There is every possibility that a small Wisconsin town's economy depends largely on the tourist trade, and many tourists who travel to Wisconsin expect to sample and purchase authentic Wisconsin cheese, much like visitors to California wine country would expect to sample fine domestic wines. While some may view such devotion to all things cheese as borderline obsessive, those Wisconsin residents whose livelihoods depend on the continued success of the dairy industry might tend to disagree.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Jul 05, 2011

I live in the Midwest and have made several trips past the Cheddar Curtain. You cannot visit the state of Wisconsin without being exposed to all kinds of cheese.

Being a cheese lover, I always look forward to my trips to this state. I sample as many kinds of cheese as I can while I am there, and my goal is to come home with a new kind of cheese each time.

There is a big difference in the types of cheese they sell. I don't like a real strong taste, and many of them are too strong for me. I look for those with a lighter taste and even find a big difference in the types of one cheese - such as Cheddar and Swiss.

By anon15715 — On Jul 19, 2008

Another curtain: The Bamboo Curtain referred to Red China in an earlier day. People would swim or come in leaky boats out of China to Hong Kong -- this before Hong Kong was taken over by China when the 100 year lease of "The New Territory" ended. Donald W. Bales

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to America Explained, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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