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Kenosha, Wisconsin

Mars Cheese Castle

Wisconsin's most celebrated export gets the royal treatment on I-94. 

Some people eat cheese. Others make it. Still others sell it. And some, like the Ventura family, honor it with a  magnificent roadside castle.

Since 1957 the Mars Cheese Castle has proudly dispensed a wide selection of cheese and related products to travelers looking to take home a memento of their journey through Wisconsin. Originally opened as a gas station in 1947 (which burned to the ground 10 years later), Mars Cheese Castle eventually grew to become the largest, oldest, showiest  purveyor at the junction of 1-94 and Wisconsin Highway 142, a spot once dubbed “Wisconsin’s most visible cheese interchange” by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The store was named not after the planet but after the original owner, Mario Ventura Sr., though this detail hasn’t stopped the venue from incorporating a small touch of outer space into its castle motif (see logo).

In 2011, plans to widen I-94 forced Mars Cheese Castle to abandon the storefront it had used for over 50 years. Rather than mourn the loss of their beloved fortress, the proprietors used the opportunity to update the store’s image. Whereas the turrets on the former building’s facade merely suggested a castle, the new, larger store, outfitted with a drawbridge and a watchtower, is an abode truly fit for a king (of cheese). In exchange for its willingness to relocate, the state agreed to allow Mars Cheese Castle to keep its iconic sign, which, at 80 feet tall, violates current height restrictions for signs along the interstate.

Though cheese is, of course, the main attraction, Mars Cheese Castle also sells a variety of meats, bakery items, and cheese-themed knick-knacks, including the state’s most essential souvenir, the famed Wisconsin cheese-head hat.