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Spotted Cow (copy)

Bottles of Spotted Cow at New Glarus Brewing.

It should come as no surprise that national observers are curious about — and perhaps jealous of — Wisconsin's bounty of cheese and beer.

The natural extension of that, during campaign season, is for the national media to find out which varieties the state's politicians prefer.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke has been the primary target for these questions, as a growing number of national outlets view and present her as a credible threat to Gov. Scott Walker.

Of course, even the most innocuous query into a candidate's favorite beer or cheese can provide insight beyond taste in a state as politically split as Wisconsin.

Take beer, for starters. 

Burke was asked, in a Q&A with ABC News, to choose between New Glarus Brewing Co.'s Spotted Cow and Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy. Burke's choice was unsurprising. 

"Spotted Cow," Burke answered. "New Glarus is a great brewery and Spotted Cow, you can only get it in Wisconsin and (it's) one of my favorites."

The Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., based in Chippewa Falls and now owned by MillerCoors, is a Republican favorite. The company's former vice president, Dick Leinenkugel, launched a short-lived bid to unseat then-Sen. Russ Feingold in 2010. And members of the Leinenkugel family are almost exclusively Republican donors, with the exception of a few contributions to former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle — under whom Dick Leinenkugel served as state Secretary of Commerce.

New Glarus co-owners Deb and Dan Carey's political contributions tend to be more pragmatic than idealistic. They've donated to candidates on both sides of the aisle and Deb told the Cap Times last fall it's a necessary part of doing business. 

"All politicians say that's not the case, that you don't buy influence. But you do buy access," she said. "There's been a lot of pressure over the years to make contributions."

But the craft brewery is an advocate for the little guy, and Carey spoke out loudly against a piece of 2011 legislation drafted at the behest of MillerCoors that prevented brewers from buying beer distribution licenses, which Walker signed into law with the 2011-13 budget. The company has also been a strong supporter of universal health care.

As for Burke's statement that Spotted Cow is only available in Wisconsin — while anyone who's ever been asked to bring a case along when visiting out-of-state friends and family knows this to be true, Politifact evaluated the claim on Monday, and confirmed as much.

Walker doesn't appear to have been asked to make the same choice, but his fondness for Leinenkugel's and Miller Lite are well documented. 

When Dick Leinenkugel announced his Senate run, Walker made it clear that the only Leinenkugel he'd endorse would be "a cold Honey Weiss." And when summer rolls into fall, the governor is known to stock up on Summer Shandy for warmer-than-average fall days.

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"Honey Weiss is still my favorite. But in the summer I like lemonade, so Summer Shandy is pretty good," Walker told reporters in October 2013. "Although it’s hard now because it’s out of season. So, unless you have your stash..."

The governor has been less specific when asked about his favorite cheese. In an August 2012 interview with Patriot Update, which bills itself as "a free press for the conservative revolution," Walker gave a pretty safe answer.

"You know, Colby's our state cheese, but I love cheddar as well," Walker said. "Just about any cheese, as long as it's from Wisconsin, is pretty good. Wash it down, during the day with a little cranberry juice, or at night, a little Miller Lite — all from Wisconsin — would be great."

Burke was more precise during an interview for MSNBC's "'30 in 30': Women Candidates to Watch in 2014" feature on Monday.

Her answer: "I love all Wisconsin cheeses! But if I have to choose just one, I’d go with Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese, made right here in Wisconsin — the most-awarded cheese in American history."

Uplands' current owners haven't staked political claims with campaign donations, but the company's founders have a history of donating to Democratic candidates. And the company represents Wisconsin's artisanal cheese culture, a growing segment of the state's dairy production.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve also pairs nicely with Quince & Apple's Shallot Confit and Red Wine preserves, and the small Madison company has promoted the pairing in its catalog and at the American Cheese Society conference. Burke has been a mentor to Quince & Apple founders Matt and Clare Stoner Fehsenfeld, having offered her help when they started the company.

Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.