I prefer to buy something local to the area where I'm traveling and something that won't take up too much room in my luggage or already overstuffed house, so some local cheese and a stick of spicy summer sausage were the perfect souvenirs of our short trip to Frankenmuth.
While most Frankenmuth visitors know about the massive Bronner's Christmas store and mega all-you-can-eat chicken dinner restaurants, the Cheese Haus maus is another hard-to-miss sight right in the heart of Frankenmuth's downtown.
I always remember that huge mouse perched on the big wedge of cheese along Main Street, so it comes as no surprise to me that to learn that the business has deep roots in the town.
Frankenmuth's Hubinger family was the first to open businesses in the small town in the mid-1840s with holdings including a mill, a cheese factory, and a grocery store. The family sold their store to Tiny Zehnder in the 1950s, and he established the Cheese Haus during that decade according to a speaker recently hosted by the town's Lions Club.
The big mouse is enough of a landmark that it is a location at Waymarking.com (waymarking is similar to geocaching, except there is no physical cache involved).
But what about the cheese?
One of the store's claims to fame is its house-made chocolate cheeses. These taste a bit like a little-less-than-sweet fudge, and although I'm more interested in cheese that tastes like cheese, I imagine the chocolate cheeses might appeal to chocolate lovers looking for a little something different.
We opted instead for a few small bricks of Michigan-made cheeses like the Frankenmuth Sharp and a mild havarti cheese flecked with bits of peppadew. We also bought a tub of a cheese/cream cheese mix called Father Bolger's blend from St. John's, Michigan, named for a priest who originally developed the mix to make as Christmas gifts for family and friends.
If you absolutely need a boot-shaped beer glass, funny German hat, or postcards, you can find those sorts of souvenirs at the rear of the store.
But I like my cheesy souvenirs to be real, well, cheese!
There is a little patio area beside the store where you can enjoy your cheese snack on a warm day or gather the kids for the obligatory Cheese Haus Maus photo.
Kern's Sausages is just a little down the street from the Cheese Haus and is also a great place to shop for a little local flavor.
This family owned business recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, and a third generation of the Kern family continues to make and sell more than thirty house-made Bavarian-style sausages at the store.
Kern's has a small selection of grocery items and many imported German specialty items in addition to its extensive sausage selection.
Tim is a summer sausage fan, and we'd heard that Kern's house-made variety was quite tasty. We took some home with us and found it to be very good and nicely spicy.
It's also fun to browse around the Kern's website to see how they make their sausages and other German specialties like Springerle cookies or brat buns. Kern's also has a Facebook page, which is worth checking out for information about local events or for store coupons.
© Dominique King 2010 All rights reserved