Two icons of Iowa

As I mentioned yesterday, Maytag Blue  is something special for me, and I have my dear departed friend James to thank for introducing us to this wonderful American cheese, made from the homogenized milk of Iowa cows.

So when we realized we could be in Newton, Iowa, – home of Maytag – we were excited. There was just one small problem. The factory tour and retail shop were closed on Sunday, so that meant we would miss it, but in James’s honor, we at least wanted a picture of the building.

As we were walking outside of the offices, a lady came out and said that if we would just wait till she drove something down to the factory, she would come back and let us in.

Wow. We gladly waited ten minutes and then she returned and graciously showed us the offices and the shop and we started talking about the company and the cheese. We were shortly joined by a man she introduced as their head cheesemaker, Bob Wadzinski. We had the most wonderful half-hour with these two, learning – among other things – that they were both exhausted from yesterday’s Maytag cheese festival where 1700 people convened on every part of the place, including their new cornfield, where we were invited to harvest some ears for what they find to be fabulous popcorn.

The lovely lady gave us her card, and imagine our amazement to find we were talking to Myrna Ver Ploeg, the president of Maytag Dairy Farms. It’s hard to describe how special this event was. They were so gracious and so interested in talking about the cheese and their small company that we were very grateful we hadn’t been there yesterday with 1700 people, and that James had arranged this for us instead.

In return, I admonish each of you to order some Maytag Blue to keep this special place going. This is one worthy company – and they make fabulous cheese. (Hint: buy the wheel in wedges and you can freeze them!)

We then drove on and passed through the town of Grinnell, where Grinnell College is located. Tasty, but small – 1,400 students.

Now we are in Cedar Rapids, where we immediately headed for the studio of Grant Wood, hometown boy. He was never a big financial success, but look at him now.  American Gothic is the most parodied artwork in the world – miles ahead of the Mona Lisa, whom we saw the other day in the Spam Museum.

His studio/home for many years was the second floor of a former stable of a benefactor, where his sister and mother also lived. It would make a fabulous New York apartment, and seemed to work well for the Woods. It was here he painted many of his most famous works, and it was just amazing to wander around it.

Our guide was most knowledgeable and entertaining. After we told him of our exploits of yesterday, he told us that when he was 19, he was in a band that played often at the Surf Ballroom, including three days before Buddy Holly’s last concert.  Shivers up my spine!

We then had to see some original Woods, so we rushed over to the Cedar Rapids Art Museum and took in the local wonders. Loved his “Adoration of the Home.”

The museum itself is one of those edifices that competes for your attention, and it gets it.

Another good day in Iowa – a state that’s more than just corn….

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