Here visitors can watch various stages of cheesemaking from a viewing room above the factory floor (the plant doesn’t make Limburger, so it’s easy on the nose). If they are lucky, they might also be treated to a tour— and perhaps some yodeling — from Zgraggen, who is as passionate about his native Switzerland as he is about cheese.
“Cheese is a living thing,” he cries, caressing a foil-wrapped block of Limburger. “It doesn’t have a soul, but other than that, it’s alive.”
A bit too alive for many folks outside Monroe.
In 1935 a mail carrier in Independence, Iowa, became so overcome by the odor emanating from a package of Limburger (prescribed by a doctor for a patient with dyspepsia) that the local postmaster banned it from being delivered. That so infuriated the postmaster from Monroe that he challenged his counterpart to a “sniffing duel” in Dubuque — one vigilantly covered by the newspapers of the day. “Limburger: Fragrant in Monroe; Putrid in Iowa” ran a headline in the March 6, 1935, issue of the Milwaukee Journal. A week later a column in the Independence Conservative poked fun at the good people of Monroe “who think that the world is just a glib, flat Limburger cheese surrounded by an ocean of lager beer... Bankers line their pockets with it, strong men swear by it and babies smell like it.”
The “Duel of Dubuque” was settled amicably when the Independence postmaster admitted that he didn’t possess a sense of smell.
Still, Limburger continued to be maligned in movie, comic strip and song. It has featured in comedy sketches by the Three Stooges, Daffy Duck and Abbott and Costello — all involving characters collapsing whenever they came into contact with the Limburger fumes.
At Baumgartner’s Tavern, where Limburger sandwiches are served with a mint on top (for others at the table, staff say), some newcomers still nearly collapse when they get their first whiff. On a recent Saturday, Eric Englund, a 30-year-old traffic maintenance worker from Dixon, Ill., ordered the house specialty, boasting that his stomach could handle anything. Tactfully, the waiter brought a tiny sample on a toothpick with lots of mustard and a batch of mints. And still Englund grimaced, clutching his stomach and pretending to throw up as he howled, “It tastes like catfish bait.”