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.

“He’s sort of rendered me obsolete here already,” Adams laughs.

Come August, Adams will travel to England to immerse himself in traditional Cheddar cheesemaking. He’s planning on spending several days training with Tom Calver of Westcombe Dairy, which is known for its raw-milk, clothbound Cheddar, and will attend a Cheddar seminar hosted by renowned cheese retailer and affineur Neal’s Yard Dairy. (Lest he forget his cheesemaking roots, he’ll also make a jaunt across the English Channel to visit the Camembert region of France.)

“I lived in London when I was 9 and 17, and I have a strong tie with England. I didn’t want to go to Northern California and make soft-ripened cheese because there’s plenty already there and it’s great. We can do something special [with English-style Cheddar] there, and I’m really excited to have the opportunity,” says Adams, who is still looking for a site for his new creamery.

So what does Adams’ departure mean for the future of Minnesota cheesemaking? Adams maintains we have no reason to worry.

“[My decision is] completely personal. Minnesota cheesemaking is just starting to get going. We just had the first Minnesota Cheesemakers Guild meeting this Saturday,” he says. “Alemar Cheese needs to stay right here. I’m hoping to be back on a monthly basis to see the kids and check up on what’s going on here and still do things like the North Coast Nosh. Minnesota is on the upswing cheesemaking-wise. I just want to be able to spend a good deal of time where I’m originally from and come back on a regular basis — and maybe avoid the winter.”

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