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GIGANTIC BLOCK OF CHEESE RETURNS TO ITS HOMETOWN

The big cheese is back. The "Belle of Wisconsin," a mammoth, 20-ton block of cheddar cheese, has returned to Milwaukee after a yearlong tour of the United States. The cheese _ measuring 20 feet long, 6 feet wide and 6 feet tall and weighing 40,060 pounds _ arrived in Milwaukee this weekend after touring 350 cities in 36 states. "In the metropolitan areas, they didn't care much for it. There was so much else going on," said Pat Patterson, 59, who drove the Belle's custom-made semi-trailer truck some 55,000 miles in the last year. "But in the outlying areas and in the suburbs there was a real good reaction, especially among the children," he said. "Some of them asked questions like `How much milk did it take?' or `How many cows did it take?' " The Belle will begin a second tour of Wisconsin later this week that will end at the State Fair in August. The block will then be sliced into one-pound chunks and sold around the country. Wisconsin is the No. 1 cheese producer in the country, with an annual output of more than 1.9 billion pounds.