Tucked in the basement of the Andrew Boss Lab of Meat Science on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota is the worst-kept gastronomic secret in St. Paul: the U of M Dairy Salesroom. The Dairy Salesroom sells cheese and ice cream produced by students, faculty, and staff during classes and research projects or during breaks as a way to fund research and maintenance of the facility. Open to the public, but only on Wednesday afternoons from 3 to 5pm, the Dairy Salesroom attracts a crowd of regulars who begin queuing outside room 166 at 2:45pm.
When asked why they bother to line up, the student at the front of the line says, “They’ll sell out of cheese curds.” They don’t have cheese curds ($4.50) every week, but, when they do, they are squeaky fresh and in great demand.
By the time the Dairy Salesroom opens at 3pm, the line is two dozen people long. Tension mounts once the door opens, with people craning their necks to see if their favorite flavors are available. Yet, everyone waits in the line that loops around the small, windowless room for a turn to grab some cheese curds, to make a choice from the cheese counter, and, finally, to snag some ice cream from the refrigerated case.
One slender young woman, toting a reusable cloth bag, tells the woman in line behind her that she puts her toddler down for a nap and hires a babysitter every week. She likes the ice cream, $4 for a quart, $2.50 for a pint.
Flavors of ice cream vary weekly and are limited to about a dozen at any given time, but the student who mans the cash register, one of two, tells me the most popular flavors are Gopher Gold (French vanilla base with raspberry chocolate ripple) and Green Tea. A gray-haired woman in the elevator, who says she’s been coming for years, says, “If they have yogurt, get that! It’s amazing.”
We found the green tea ice cream smooth and earthy. The peach yogurt was tangy with bits of diced peach dotted throughout. The Gopher Gold was maroon and gold enough to evoke the Gopher team spirit, rah! The streaks of raspberry chocolate keep the rich French vanilla from overpowering. Minnesota Sundae, a honey base with sunflower seeds, is the Dairy Lab’s tribute to the beloved honey sunflower seed ice cream sold at the Horticulture Building during the Minnesota State Fair.
Cheeses are aged on site and, like the ice cream, come in a wide array of varieties. The student behind the cheese counter recommends the Havarti to me, saying, “We win prizes at the State Fair for that.” It’s not artisanal cheese, but it’s local. And, the price is right. For 3.5 ounces of creamy Havarti and Parmesan, we paid $1.62 and $1.55, respectively. Nuworld Cheese, a semi-soft, white “blue” cheese, was invented by the U of M (jointly with the University of Wisconsin) and is made from a white strain of mold.
So if you want in on the secret, next time you have a free Wednesday afternoon, hire a babysitter and head over to the Dairy Salesroom. On your way, you can stop by the second worst-kept gastronomic secret in St. Paul, the U of M Meat Lab (which we will report on in an upcoming story — stay tuned.)
University of Minnesota Dairy Salesroom
Department of Food Science and Nutrition
1354 Eckles Ave
St. Paul, MN 55108