Fans of Alemar Cheese Company’s Bent River and Good Thunder have a new reason to stalk the cheese case. Founder and cheesemaker Keith Adams (below) isn’t leaving Minnesota without introducing Blue Earth, a Brie-style cheese that’s just starting to appear in Minnesota cheese shops, co-ops, and grocery stores. Named for Blue Earth County, where Alemar Cheese is located, this new cheese offers a new format and flavors to fans of Adams’ Camembert-style Bent River.
“We always made some larger-format pieces of Bent River when we had extra curd. The thing that was cool about it was that it tasted different because it was bigger and took longer to ripen. As time went on, I thought I would tinker with the cultures and do a larger piece and call it a Brie, or an ‘American brie,'” Adams says. “Sometimes I’m at the market or I’m demo-ing, and people are hell-bent on a piece of Brie. I try to steer them to Bent River and they’re like, “No, I want a Brie.” Part of making [Blue Earth] was to solve that problem, but it was also going to be its own cheese.”
In fact, the 2½-lb. wheels take twice as long to ripen as the petite Bent River, and by altering the levels of the cultures, Blue Earth takes on more buttery, grassy tones. But while imported Bries can veer into off-putting “morning breath” notes if they haven’t been handled properly or sold at the right stage of ripeness, Blue Earth retains a lightness and pureness that makes it extremely easy to enjoy. While cheese lovers won’t find any blue veining in Blue Earth, they will encounter a rich, luxuriously smooth paste tucked into a snowy-white rind that can open a meal with a green salad and slices of baguette or end an evening alongside berries and dark chocolate.
“There are five cultures or starters that go into both of the cheeses, but we’ve pulled back on one and bumped up the other. A lot of people get vegetal notes in Bent River, but we wanted to dial that back on the Brie to make it a little more accessible to the average palate as a starting point,” Adams says.
Despite his new venture into a Brie-like cheese, Adams still is moving ahead with his plans to relocate to northern California after spending several weeks in England next month. Leaving Alemar Cheese in the capable hands of Craig Hageman, the new head cheesemaker, Adams will travel to several well-known British dairies, such as Westcombe Dairy and Montgomery’s Cheddar, and attend an artisan cheesemaking seminar by affineur and distributor Neal’s Yard Dairy. He’s even leaving a few days free at the end of his trip to hop across the English Channel to the Camembert region of France “to pay [his] respects.”
Though Bent River has been a runaway favorite among Minnesota cheese lovers for several years, Adams isn’t worried that Blue Earth will steal its (or the beer-washed Good Thunder’s) thunder.
“Any cheesemaker who’s making a cheese similar to a cheese they already make has some fear of cannibalization, but I think they’re different enough and will please enough different palates that they can be in the case together and both do well.”
Blue Earth is being distributed by Classic Provisions throughout Minnesota and soon should be in the same stores where Bent River is sold, such as area co-ops, Surdyk’s, and other cheese shops and grocery stores.