Minnesota Lovin: Because there's Milk to the Left of Wisconsin Too.
We all know that Wisconsin has some rockin cheese. And this is good. But sometimes I fear that its neighboring states could be in danger of having a Cooler Big Sister complex. What if Wisconsin is the Cool Older Sister- you know, the one with the glorious hair, great skin, who everyone that you like has crushes on, that gets straight A's and still finds time to be on the swim team and go out after school- and the other states with great dairies feel overwhelmed because of her awesomeness, and shuffle their feet when it's their time to shine, even though they too have beautiful cheese?
Well, it seems that my only-child imagination has again proved too active. Here, the awesome Jill from Cheese and Champagne tells us that Minnesota cheese does more than just hold its own. On occasion its so good, it steals the cutie pie from the big sis while she's busy practicing laps. Dare I say watch out Wisconsin?... I've already got some on mail order.
Cheese and Champagne lays it out, Minnesota style:
While its eastern neighbor tends to get the lion's share of attention when it comes to the dairy industry, Minnesota is quietly establishing a reputation for artisanal cheeses. However, if you don't live in the Midwest, chances are you haven't been exposed to these fine specimens yet. While I don't have the time (or budget) to send you all care packages full of Minnesota cheese, I can offer you an introduction to three cheeses that hopefully will become more available nationwide as word spreads about their quality and deliciousness. As much as we Minnesotans love our local cheese, we're willing to part with some so our fellow fromage-philes in the east and west can enjoy them, too.
St. Pete's Select (Faribault Dairy) - If there's one Minnesota cheese you may already find in your cheese case in California or New York, it would likely be St. Pete's, a fantastic raw-milk blue made about an hour south of my Minneapolis home. Faribault's claim to fame is its sandstone caves that overlook the Straight River and provide the perfect environment to age a blue cheese that dances across the tongue but doesn't leave you shell-shocked. St. Pete's deep blue veining ensures that every bite is sharp, but the luscious paste lends a creamy backdrop to the zing. It's appropriate for blue-cheese newbies but complex enough for connoisseurs, and Faribault Dairy will mail it to you if you can't find it locally.
Fresh Chevre (Donnay Dairy) - How fresh is Donnay Dairy's chevre? When I stopped at the cheese shop last week, the mongers hadn't even had time to scoop their newest shipment into individual tubs yet. I got to watch as my monger packed my 8-oz. container to the brim with thick, rich goat cheese. I first discovered Donnay Dairy chevre two years ago when we celebrated local goat cheese week on Cheese+Champagne, and now I have a radar for when it shows up at my cheese shop every spring. Made by fourth-generation farmers using organic milk from their own goats, the chevre tastes as clean and local as can be - the Donnay's farm is about an hour northwest of my house. Per my co-blogger Colleen's suggestion, I am now obsessed with spreading it on whole-wheat toast and topping it with a drizzle of honey. Heaven on bread.
Herb and Garlic Queso Fresco (Shepherd's Way) - There is no better example of the tenacity of Minnesota cheesemakers than Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read. They started making sheep's-milk cheese in 1994 and built up quite the operation over the years, but a 2005 fire destroyed most of their flock and forced Shepherd's Way Farm into foreclosure. Luckily for the Reads and Shepherd's Way fans, the cheesemaking carried on, and the future of the farm looks bright. While Shepherd's Way offers a range of cheeses, including a kickin' blue, I'm partial to its queso fresco, particularly the herb and garlic version I recently had. The garlic flavor is subtle enough that the cheese could be classified as first-date friendly, and the cool, creamy paste slides down the hatch quite easily. I've been told that aficionados like to pair the queso fresco with thick slices of tomato. Of course, this being Minnesota, I'll have to wait until late summer to sample that combination. For now, I'm satisfied to enjoy it solo.
So if you only associate Minnesota food with lutefisk, it's time to wipe that stereotype from your mind. Minnesota makes cheese that even Wisconsinites like myself can praise. You can't ask for a better endorsement than that.
Thank you Jill!
Readers, are there any Minnesota cheeses thought have caught your fancy? Teach us!
(all photos courtesy of Cheese and Champagne)