When he named his signature Camembert-style cheese Bent River, Alemar Cheese Company founder Keith Adams drew his inspiration from the Minnesota River, which takes a sharp turn just outside his Mankato-based cheesemaking operation. And geography has played a similar role in choosing the moniker for Adams’ second cheese, a beer-washed, strongly named beauty called Good Thunder.
“There’s no great mystery to it — it’s a little town about 10 miles outside Mankato. I’ve always loved the name,” Adams laughs. “Good Thunder, Bent River — it all kind of works together. When I was trying to think of something interesting to name the cheese, that one won out.”
Bathed in Surly Brewing‘s Bender, an oatmeal brown ale, Good Thunder stems from Adams’ years-long desire to create a washed-rind cheese, as well as a connection with Linda Haug, the former owner of Linden Hills’ Cafe Twenty Eight and the wife of Surly brewer Todd Haug.
“I’ve been thinking about a washed-rind cheese for a long time. Because I’m basically a one-man band, I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of making another cheese until I made enough Bent River to meet demand. And once I decided to do a beer-washed cheese, I thought of Surly first,” says Adams, noting that Surly is planning to open a restaurant at its new brewery complex in Minneapolis. “I thought that if they’re going to have their own restaurant, wouldn’t it be special to have their own washed-rind cheese? They said sure and gave me beers to test, and I started experimenting.”
Over the course of six months, Adams developed the Good Thunder recipe, which starts out similar to Bent River but uses a different blend of cultures. Rather than adding Penicillium candidum, which gives cheese a snowy white, bloomy rind, Adams uses Brevibacterium linens, which gives Good Thunder its orange rind and distinctive “stinky feet” aroma. Adams washes the hand-molded and -salted cheeses with a solution combining Surly Bender, B. linens, and brine once a week for three weeks, and after the cheese sits in the ripening room for a few more days and is wrapped in traditional French cheese paper, it is refrigerated for a couple more weeks before it’s ready for market.
The result is a dense, fudgy cheese that may be a bit odiferous, yes, but offers a rich, umami-filled bite. Good Thunder doesn’t mimic the buttery flavor profile of its sister cheese, Bent River. Rather, it assertively stands on its own merits with a meaty, smoky sturdiness you won’t find in any other Minnesota cheese.
“Texturally, it doesn’t break down as a traditional Camembert or Brie — it doesn’t get very gooey — but it ripens from the outside in and you can see when it turns into all paste,” Adams says.
While Adams’ regular customers may be accustomed to Bent River’s sweet decadence, he hopes that Good Thunder will find a following as well. Distribution will be sporadic at first while Adams tests the demand, but Surdyk’s is due to get a delivery today, and Adams plans to bring the cheese to his stand at the Minneapolis Farmers Market and the upcoming North Coast Nosh VIII.
“My hope is that there will be a growing market for washed-rind cheeses and the more people who taste it, the more enthusiastic they’ll be. I made the cheese because I wanted to taste it — I didn’t do any market research or anything — and hopefully there will be some people who will come along with me and we’ll build up an audience as we go along,” Adams says. “Washed-rind [cheeses] are very interesting to me because you get this alchemy — you’ll taste the flavors of whatever it is you’re introducing the cheese, but you get something deeper and different, too. That’s the fun part of working with different beers.”
The obvious pairing for Good Thunder is Bender, of course, but Adams is looking for customer feedback to learn the best matches for his robustly flavored cheese. My advice to Adams: We’ll work on the pairings. You just focus on making more Good Thunder.
Good Thunder is scheduled to be delivered to Surdyk’s, 303 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis, today and will appear at other area cheese shops and farmers markets as available.