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Hats off to the foam Cheesehead at 30

The Cheesehead, an icon of NFL fandom, celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

That’s three decades of Green Bay Packers devotees proudly wearing a wedge of orange foam on their heads. But just how did this dairy-fun trend get started? Turns out it gained popularity at a baseball—not football—game. Ralph Bruno, inventor of the Cheesehead and co-owner of Foamation Inc. with his wife Sue, sat down with Dairy Good to give us the 411.

 

Congrats on the 30th anniversary of the Cheesehead! How – and why – did you first come up with the idea of making a “hat” out of foam cheese? Was it just a lark?

Well, being in Wisconsin, the lovely neighbors to the south in Illinois had been calling us Cheeseheads for many years prior. It was a little knock on us here in Wisconsin. Me, personally, I love cheese and I thought it would be cool to turn it into a three-dimensional shape.

It was kind of a perfect storm. I was reupholstering my mom’s couch, and I was going to go to a Brewers versus White Sox game with my buddies. So I decided to make a Cheesehead from the foam.

What did your friends say when they found out you were planning to wear your prototype to a game?

We tailgated in the parking lot before the game, and I had the Cheesehead in a brown paper bag. I put it on my head when it was time to go in, and my buddies scattered. They kept their distance until a girl ran up to me and asked if she could try the hat on. Then my friends were interested.

Were you trying to make it look like a certain kind of cheese, like Swiss or Cheddar?

I wasn’t thinking about it too deeply at the time, but I ended up making a cheese that doesn’t exist.

What is it like to look back and realize you made an iconic piece of sports memorabilia?

The success of the hat goes beyond what the hat is. It’s the people who wear it who make it what it is. There’s an energy people associate with it — it’s become kind of a symbol that people relate to as a positive thing.

Tell us about Foamation’s latest chapter.

This fall we started offering factory tours, so if people come to Wisconsin and they want to experience how Cheeseheads are made, they should come out and see our production room — there’s a big “wow” factor there. Everyone can see the original prototype. It’s behind a glass case and everything.

 

Visiting Milwaukee? Contact Foamation to arrange a tour of their Original Cheesehead Factory.