Cheese Curds from The Lone Grazer and Redhead Creamery

String Cheese from the Lone Grazer
John Garland / Heavy Table

Lots of good things are happening with Minnesota cheese. Veteran cheesemakers are expanding production and distribution, while a few budding operations are beginning to make their mark. You may have noticed the debut of some local curds at your cheese counter so far this year. Alise Sjostrom’s Readhead Creamery recently introduced curds to Kowalski’s (they’ve been in local co-ops for a while now). And in the last few weeks, Rueben Nilsson’s The Lone Grazer Creamery brought inaugural batches of cheese curds and string cheese to market.

Nilsson is a seven-year veteran of the Caves of Faribault. He spent the last year developing this new creamery venture with Kieran and Seamus Folliard and the rest of the 2 Gingers Whiskey team. The Lone Grazer (first announced as Skyway Creamery last year) operates near the Grain Belt Brewery on Marshall Avenue in Northeast, a part of the same local production enterprise as Mike Phillips’ Red Table Meat Company. The building is currently seeking a third artisanal food tenant, and should have a communal tasting room open in the fall.

Rueben Nilsson at The Lone Grazer
Daniel Murphy / Heavy Table

Nilsson sources grass-fed cow’s milk from two small Minnesota farms. His curds are exactly the squeaky, salty little gobs of perfection you’d hope for, and his string cheese  — a low-moisture mozzarella that wicks away into into needle-thin strands — is outstanding as well. You can find The Lone Grazer’s products for sale at Surdyk’s, France 44, Lake Wine & Spirits, and a host of local co-ops. Expect to start seeing them at neighborhood restaurants, such as The Anchor Fish & Chips, which recently used Nilsson’s curds in a curry poutine.

The Lone Grazer will focus on bringing fresh cheese — including a hand-dipped ricotta — to market, while experimenting with soft-rind French-style cheeses this summer. Nilsson hopes to debut a semi-aged product before the end of the year. Until then, stay tuned for upcoming creamery tours, where visitors can take a sneak peek at the meat and cheese stronghold taking shape in Northeast.

Alemar Cheese Company Founder to Move to California

Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table
Natalie Champa Jennings / Heavy Table

Minnesota is losing one of its top cheesemakers, though luckily his cheese will still be produced locally. Keith Adams, the founder and cheesemaker at Mankato’s Alemar Cheese Company, plans to move to California later this year to launch a new cheesemaking operation focusing on a very different kind of cheese — English-style Cheddar.

Citing a desire to move back to his home state now that his teenage daughters both will be in college this fall, Adams posted a statement on his blog early this morning confirming his plans:

For a long time, I’ve operated on the premise that once the girls were up and out, so was I. I’m from Northern California, and though Minnesota has been home for a very long time, I’ve had an unwavering notion that I ultimately should be back in the place I started.

To be clear: Alemar Cheese will remain in Mankato, hopefully for a very, very long time. I have a vision to start a new cheese venture out West, with the intention of being back in Minnesota often. The girls will both be in school in the Twin Cities, and I want to come back to Alemar regularly. If I’m able to pull this off, I’ll have my own small version of the best of both worlds.

Jill Lewis / Heavy TAble
Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Adams began making Bent River, a soft-ripened Camembert-style cheese, five years ago, and it quickly gained a national following and accolades from the American Cheese Society. To the delight of both cheese and beer fans, he added the Surly Bender-washed Good Thunder to his repertoire last spring. Both cheeses will continue to be produced in Mankato by Craig Hageman, a former chef who began working with Adams in October.

Flowchart: Let’s Eat Local Cheese!

Chart Layout by James Norton / Heavy Table

There are a number of great local cheeses that I wasn’t able to work into this chart, but I hope this whets the appetite. And not all of these cheeses will be easy to find, even in Minneapolis-St. Paul — when in doubt, call the company or ask your local cheesemonger.

Websites, organized alphabetically: Alemar Cheese Company, Bass Lake Cheese Factory, BelGioioso Cheese, Carr Valley Cheese Company, Chalet Cheese Co-op, Faribault Dairy, Henning’s Wisconsin Cheese, Hidden Springs Creamery, Hook’s Cheese Company, Montchevre-Betin, Roelli Cheese Company, Sartori Foods, Uplands Cheese Company, Widmer’s Cheese Cellars.

Becca Dilley is the co-author of The Master Cheesemakers of Wisconsin (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009).