Jeanne Carpenter Talks Cheesetopia Minneapolis

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

The writer Jeanne Carpenter is one of Wisconsin’s foremost cheese geeks, and that’s saying a lot. America’s Dairyland has a 150-year-old-plus tradition of cheesemaking that has crafted more than a few world championship cheeses. Recent years have seen the state branch out more aggressively into small batch, artisanal cheeses that are giving Europe (and Vermont) a run for their money, and Carpenter’s blog (Cheese Underground) has been one of the best places to get the scoop.

Carpenter’s also the creator of a cheese-tasting extravaganza called Cheesetopia, which will be making its debut in Minnesota on April 9 at Aria, the former Jeune Lune theater in the North Loop.

HEAVY TABLE: What’s the history of Cheesetopia?

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

JEANNE CARPENTER: Cheesetopia is an event I conjured up a couple of years ago. This will be its third year. I’ve always been seeking the perfect event that connects the average consumer to artisan cheesemakers. Cheesemakers tend not to get out and about very much because they’re so busy making cheese, and everybody seems to want to know who makes their food these days.

So I thought if I could make an event where the people who buy the cheese could meet the people who make the cheese, it might be successful.

It keeps selling out! So, apparently it has found a niche.

Last year was in Chicago. 2015 was in Milwaukee. I launched Cheesetopia as a three-year project to hit the three major cities in the Midwest, so Milwaukee, Chicago, and Minneapolis. I was committed to do it for three years, but it has been so wildly successful that obviously I’m going to have to find another home for 2018 and beyond.

HEAVY TABLE: What will the Minneapolis event feel like for guests?

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

CARPENTER: It’s in the historic warehouse called Aria. Whenever Cheesetopia visits a city, I’m on the lookout for really cool spaces. It’s always been in historic, restored warehouses because I think the ambiance of the building should match the artistry of the cheese that’s inside. So if you haven’t been inside Aria yet, you’ll just be amazed. It has a huge, almost cavernous feeling — all brick walls, beautiful lighting — just a beautiful space. The first thing you’ll do when you walk in is you’re going to smell cheese. There’ll be about 40 people there sampling and selling cheese, and that is probably going to overwhelm you because there’ll be about 150 different cheese aromas.

It’s a fun, festive atmosphere because I require the cheesemaker to be there. It’s not a marketing person — the cheesemaker has to be there. You get to sample 150 different cheeses, and you can also buy them. It’s kind of like a farmers market, but it’s all cheese.

HEAVY TABLE: Tickets to Cheesetopia are available earlier for Wisconsin Cheese Originals members. What’s that group all about?

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

Becca Dilley Photography / Courtesy of Cheesetopia

CARPENTER:  I launched Wisconsin Cheese Originals in 2009, and that was my first attempt to connect consumers with cheesemakers. So for the last seven years I have been dreaming of putting on events and leading classes and doing tours, all with the goal of connecting consumers to cheesemakers. So I have been blessed to have a steady core of 200 members, and I want to reward those folks by giving them first chance at tickets [to Cheesetopia]. Membership in Wisconsin Cheese Originals is just $35 a year. And all of that membership fee goes for beginning cheesemaker scholarships (we donate about $3,000 a year in scholarships). And also U.W.-Madison is building a brand new Center for Dairy Research, and we’ve been donating money to that. That is how future cheesemakers are going to learn and current cheesemakers are going to keep being innovative.

My husband keeps yelling at me because I never seem to make any money at this, but I sure have fun! Wisconsin Cheese Originals is important to me because these cheesemakers are making such amazing products, and they work so hard, and they never have time to go out and meet the people who enjoy [the cheese]. I really think the cheesemakers enjoy this event as much as the people who go out to meet them. They’re literally treated like rock stars. People will get their autographs; they’ll get their selfies taken with these guys and women. The four hours go really fast.

Cheesetopia Minneapolis runs from noon-4 p.m. at Aria (105 N 1st St, Minneapolis) on April 9, 2017. Tickets are $75 and go on sale to the general public on Mar. 1.



The Back Bar at Young Joni in Northeast

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

One of the most promising Minneapolis neighborhoods for beer drinking recently added cocktails to its list of reasons to visit. The Sheridan neighborhood of Northeast, while relatively quiet and residential, is gaining steam as a nightlife destination. Part of Young Joni, but with a separate entrance along the same alley as Dangerous Man Brewing Company, is an unnamed cocktail room, popularly dubbed “the back bar.”

Though the term “speakeasy” is avoided, it is hard to ignore the similarities to underground operations like Volstead’s Emporium in Lyn-Lake. In fact, both have alleyway entries and red lights demarcating the entrance during open hours.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

After passing through a dark vestibule, drinkers will find several low tables, plush seating, and an abbreviated bar. This backdoor cocktail bar has all the flair of Parlour within the dimensions of a shipping container, plus cozy vintage touches. Unfinished raw wood walls with light bleeding in give a treehouse feel.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

The cocktail menu doesn’t categorize drinks as classics or signatures in the fashion of many high-end bars. Instead, each drink stands very much alone, and the menu features a single one on each page. During a handful of visits over a few weeks, no changes were evident.

Adam Gorski, best known for his role at the helm of La Belle Vie’s cocktail program, is responsible for cocktails at both Young Joni and the back bar.

backbar-pouring

One signature drink drew mixed opinions. The Corduroy Angel, made with Calvados Coquerel, sorghum, and Amaro Sfumato Rabarbaro, was boozy and robust. The amaro, made from rhubarb, but with a smoky character, came off as oddly chemical in nature, like liquid smoke with an aromatic twist. On the other hand, the sorghum adds a restrained, molasseslike sweetness. The supporting characters effectively stopped the Calvados from shining, but this is a cocktail for amaro fans.

The Bruised Ego, while sweet, was well-constructed and intricate. Juniper, rye whiskey, and cardamom have overlapping flavor profiles, with each contributing a powerful mix of herbal and spice notes while playing off one another. On our first visit, the cardamom was overpowering, but the second version was much more balanced. The citrus and honey add significant sweetness and cut through the heavy herbal flavors.

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Sunshine Superman was a favorite. Hopped gin, grapefruit, and Punt e Mes were served with a straw in a highball glass over large ice cubes, which made the drink refreshing and sippable. The initial bitterness, from house-made infused gin, is pleasant. The Centennial hops — not only in the gin but also floating atop the ice as a garnish — add a beautiful grassy note, contrasting perfectly with a bright grapefruit punch.

The back bar rises above the everyday but doesn’t stretch into special occasion territory. Cocktails were all $12, which is in line with Marvel or Tullibee, and they can be delivered to the Young Joni dining room if your table there becomes available. Service was mediocre at tables, while at the bar it was more prompt and knowledgeable.

The back bar at Young Joni, 165 13th Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413; 612.345.5719

Nick Fay / Heavy Table

Nick Fay / Heavy Table



The El Pato Loco Pizza at San Pedro Cafe

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

Amy Rea / Heavy Table

It was on one of the many recent frigid days that we stopped by the cheerful, boisterous (and very warm) San Pedro Cafe in Hudson. There were many tempting Caribbean items on the menu — jerk chicken, Cuban meatloaf — but when we asked our server what she’d recommend, she pointed to the wood-fired pizza column of the menu. Pizza isn’t the first thing you’d think of ordering at a Caribbean restaurant, but she assured us we wouldn’t regret it.

She was right. The El Pato Loco ($13) came on a delicate, crackerlike crust topped with a heady mixture of sweet and spicy — a soft marinara sauce, sweet corn in chunks that looked like they’d just been sliced off a cob, and a slightly sweet smoked duck breast paired with a generous serving of jalapeños, zippy pepperoni, and an “it catches up to you” habanero aioli. Lots of pieces and parts, flavors and textures, that equaled a much better whole than might have been expected.

San Pedro Cafe, 426 2nd St, Hudson, WI, 54016; 715.386.4003; Mon-Thu 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sat 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sun 8 a.m.-10 p.m.



Introducing Houndstooth, a Pop-Up

This post is sponsored by Houndstooth.

While the fine dining scene has witnessed some notable closings of late, pop-ups, typically showcasing one chef and one menu for one night, are alive and well. Pop-up dinners offer chefs the latitude to present their creative vision, if only for a brief time.

And they provide a wonderful complement to the traditional restaurant model. Executive chefs and chef-owners host pop-ups for a number of reasons. Some want to create food that is not congruent with their current digs; others do it as a source of income and excitement between projects.

Cook St. Paul, a diner in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood, hosts pop-ups nearly every weekend. By day, Cook serves breakfast and lunch, but on weekend evenings the place is transformed.

Rick Didora

On January 29, Cook will host a promising pop-up called Houndstooth, featuring the premiere Canadian chef Rick Didora and a notable supporting cast. Didora, formerly of Tilia and St. Genevieve, has a background in fine dining, French technique, and hyper-seasonal ingredients. His experience at Montreal’s H4C, under the decorated chef Dany Bolduc, has shaped the concept for Houndstooth.

“Dany’s approach to food definitely helped shape my culinary identity,” says Didora. “He uses ingredients that are as fresh and as local as possible. He taught me to embrace new technique without being obnoxious.” After taking a brief break from the kitchen, Didora is returning to this approach in full force.

Though a pop-up may feel like a junior restaurant akin to the Restaurant Wars episode of any Top Chef season, it’s far from it. Didora and his team are responsible for all elements of service, including hospitality and beverage pairings.

The kitchen will be manned by Mitch Robbie, a longtime Tilia veteran, Kyual Cribben of 112 Eatery and Tilia, Jackie Von, the pastry chef at Esker Grove, and Teg Graham, former entremetier chef de partie (soup and vegetable lead chef) at H4C. Paige Didora will provide beer pairings for the five-course ticketed event, based on her experience at The Four Firkins and as a writer for The Heavy Table under the name Paige Latham.

“I like working with a positive attitude, and with people who share that same attitude,” says chef Didora of his eclectic crew. “Everyone is bringing several years of experience in various restaurants to the table. We are all excited to work together.”

Houndstooth Ingredients

For the menu, diners can expect a sophisticated mix of ingredients with Korean and Mexican influences. The two cuisine are complementary due in part to their countries’ similar climates. “People can expect refined technique, unique flavor combinations, and fun,” says Didora. “We are definitely going to be playing with textures.”

Each of the five courses promises to introduce new ingredients in new flavor combinations. The beer pairings may feel unexpected in an upscale setting, but the Houndstooth team is united behind high-quality beer, carefully chosen to complement each dish. Pairings will range from international to local in both classic and surprising combos.

“I chose beer because of its myriad abilities in pairing with food,” says Didora. “Wine is fine, but it’s been done to death. I think given the breadth of flavors we are going to be working with, beer is the clear choice for pairing.”

The one-night event promises to be memorable and inviting, with exciting collaborative efforts by some of the Twin Cities’ unsung culinary talent.

Houndstooth has two seatings available by ticket only. More information can be found here.



Heavy Table Hot Five: Jan. 13-19

hotfive-flames

Each Friday, this list will track five of the best things Heavy Table’s writers, editors, and photographers have recently bitten or sipped. Have a suggestion for the Hot Five? Email editor@heavytable.com.

shepherd-song-banner-ad-horiz-3The Hot Five is a weekly feature created by the Heavy Table and supported by Shepherd Song Farm.

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Ted Held / Heavy Table

Ted Held / Heavy Table

1-new - oneChili Cheese Dog at Revival St. Paul
Attention all lovers of Revival’s cheeseburger! The newly opened St. Paul Revival has a chili cheese dog that is easily in the same class as the cheeseburger. A hot link with red flecks of chili and a charred, snappy casing, is topped with smoky, beefy burnt end chili. The whole mess is covered with melted cheese and a couple of giant pork rinds. In the bottom of the bowl is a pool of cheese sauce that soaks into the bun. Like the game-changing cheeseburger, we hope to see imitations popping up on menus across town.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an upcoming review by Ted Held]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

2-new - twoReturn of the River Monster at Thai Garden
We always worry that our favorite tiny independent spots are going to up and change on us, so it’s a relief when they haven’t. Nearly a year ago, we went bonkers for the River Monster — a whole red snapper swimming in tom yum soup — at the then newly opened Thai Garden. We went back on one particularly cold day last week and found that things are still humming at this University Avenue gem; the food took a while, but it was worth the wait, and the chef checked up on us to make sure everything was excellent. And it was!
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by James Norton]

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

Becca Dilley / Heavy Table

3-new - threeQueso Fundido at Pajarito
Although the melted cheese in this classic Tex-Mex dish is plenty rich, it’s also surprisingly light on the palate. There’s nothing grossly greasy about it; it’s just pure dairy pleasure. But that’s only half the story of the Queso Fundido at the newly opened Pajarito in St. Paul: The warm, thick, fluffy, tender tortilla rounds that accompany this stuff are perfectly suited to the task. It’s a decisive one-two punch.
[Last Week on the Hot Five: #1 | Submitted from a review by James Norton]

Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table

Jane Rosemarin / Heavy Table

4-new four The Annual Panettone
In Northern Italy, at Christmastime, every good bakery turns out a light, buttery panettone that bears little resemblance to the ones available in boxes. To get a fresh, real-ingredient flavor, we make our own, and while we’ve tried three or four recipes, we always go back to Paul Bertolli’s from Chez Panisse Cooking (recipe at the bottom of this page). But we add a half teaspoon of fiori di sicilia, which makes it taste authentic, and we bake it in a paper panettone form, which makes it look authentic. We produce our own candied peel (but you can buy some), and we soak it and the raisins in Grand Marnier (that goes back to an old Craig Claiborne recipe). All in all, panettone is a delectable treat well worth baking at home. Try it spread with mascarpone, as Italians often do. It’s also supposed to make fabulous bread pudding, but we can’t imagine having leftovers.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted by Jane Rosemarin]

James Norton / Heavy Table

James Norton / Heavy Table

5-new -fiveCaldo Verde
We picked up this soup while living in a heavily Portuguese and Brazilian neighborhood in Cambridge, Mass., and it has become our go-to cold-weather buster. It’s a simple mix of chorizo, potatoes, kale, onions, and stock, but the flavor is deep and gets sublimely creamy and rich the day after you make it. We got our super-flavorful and funky chorizo at La Alborada, but you can make it work with standard-issue supermarket chorizo — it’s a hard soup to mess up. Check out the Instagram post for the recipe.
[Debuting on the Hot Five | Submitted from an instagram post by James Norton]