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I is for Ice Cream
Get a lick of this: according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota ranked sixth among U.S. states in production of ice cream and related icy desserts in 2004—a year in which American producers churned out 1.6 billion gallons of the frosty stuff. That translates to an average national consumption of 21.5 quarts per person. If you haven’t kept pace with your quota, seek out some of the state’s best artisan ice cream producers, who trade in specialized flavors (green tea to lemon poppy seed) made in small batches with top–notch ingredients. » Find Minnesota–made ice cream at metro–area locations of Crema Café, 612-824-3868; Edina Creamery, 612-920-2169; Grand Ole Creamery, 651–293–1655; Home Town Creamery, 651–779–4400; Izzy’s Ice Cream Café, 651–603–1458; Pumphouse Creamery, 612–825—2021; and Sebastian Joe’s, 612–870–0065 (Lowry Hill); 612–926–7916 (Linden Hills). Pints of Sonny’s ice cream, sold at Crema Café, are also available at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, and many local co–ops. Pints of Izzy’s ice cream are available at Kowalski’s.
J is for Jerky
Jerky—smoked meat dried into twisted tangles—is prehistoric food: camping vittles for a time when life was, well, one big camping trip. And the way Eichten’s Hidden Acres makes it, it’s still worth a dozen grunts of approval. Eichten’s farm in Center City is marked by a 12–foot mouse eating a cheese wheel, and its gourmet Goudas and other cheeses have been the focus of stories in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. But Eichten’s also raises bison—the source of its all–natural jerky, which is available in such flavors as lemon pepper and teriyaki. Eat it in public and watch eyebrows rise as you tear into the primitive goodness. And, of course, pack it when you camp. » Available at numerous co–ops and farmers’ markets.
K is for Kefir
Not to be confused with kaffir limes, kefir (pronounced keh-FEER) is a sour brew of fermented milk that resembles liquid yogurt. Originally, kefir was made from camels’ milk by people living in the Caucasus Mountains (a range spread across Turkey, Iran, and the former Soviet Union); here in Minnesota, Helios Nutrition produces kefir at the Pride of Main Street Dairy in Sauk Centre, using organic milk from local cows. Since kefir undergoes a longer fermentation process than yogurt, it’s an even more desirable host for beneficial bacteria. Its microorganisms produce a small amount of carbon dioxide, causing the drink to leave a subtle effervescent buzz on the tongue. If plain is too tangy for your tastes, try strawberry, raspberry, peach, or vanilla. » Available at co–ops, Whole Foods Markets, Lunds, and Byerly’s.
L is for Licorice Snaps
Since 1940, the Fritz family of Newport (southeast of St. Paul) has been packaging candy and snacks, including those minuscule hearts you got in grade school on Valentine’s Day. (If you’re still wondering what Donna, the class tease, really meant by “Luv U”—the answer is likely not much.) Fritzie Fresh, as the brand is known, buys its candy from about a hundred different manufacturers, and new product lines reflect the times: Gummi Army Men and Gummi Fighter Jets are among recent introductions. But old-fashioned licorice snaps, those chewy little pastel tubes of, well, let’s face it, sugar, may never go out of style. Tearing at licorice whips is a good way to lose a tooth. Much better to pop in a piece bit by pre-packaged bit. So easy it’s…a snap. » Available at Kowalski’s, some Cub stores, Snyders Drug Stores, Bobby & Steve’s Auto World, and many other convenience stores.
M is for Maple Syrup
If you think the best maple syrup comes from Vermont, you haven’t tried the super–sweet serum from Wild Country. Twice, the Minnesota–made, blue ribbon–winning syrups have edged out East Coast saps at the North American Maple Syrup Council’s annual competition. Members of the Cordes and Waddell families who operate Wild Country extract sap from a maple stand, or “sugar bush,” near Lutsen (Lake Superior’s warmth enables the maples to thrive). They boil the sap right on site: it takes 30 to 40 gallons of raw material to make one gallon of the certified organic amber distillate. Pass the flapjacks! » Available at grocery stores and co–ops throughout the state, including Kowalski’s; also at France 44 in Minneapolis, 612-925-3252.
N is for Nut Goodie
Chew on this: Pearson’s Candy Company, based in St. Paul, has been cranking out Nut Goodie candies since 1912. The treat, a milk–chocolate splat stuffed with nuts and maple–flavored nougat, arrived on the sweet–tooth scene just a couple decades after Milton Hershey produced the first–ever candy bar. It was a time when Minneapolis, with its proximity to producers of beet sugar and milk, was a veritable Candyland, with local confectioners turning out such treats as the Cherry High Ball and the Seven Up bar. Unlike, say, Pearson’s Mint Patties, however, the Nut Goodie never caught on outside the Midwest. But it’s an institution in Minnesota. In fact, this year’s St. Paul Winter Carnival medallion was hidden inside a Nut Goodie wrapper, encircled by a lacy red-and-black garter, and tucked into a block of ice. Kinda nutty, kinda like us. » Widely available at convenience and grocery stores.
O is for Oyster Mushrooms
An idea for a friend’s business–school assignment turned into Kevin Doyle’s Forest Mushrooms, which has been cultivating oyster and shiitake mushrooms (and distributing other wild–picked and cultivated specialty mushrooms) in St. Joseph for more than 20 years. Doyle, a St. John’s University grad with a natural–sciences degree, could spend hours explaining mycology (the difference between mushroom spores and spawn, for example). His process for growing the fleshy fungi is equally complex, involving pasteurized straw and sawdust composites that mimic the natural mushroom habitat of rotting tree trunks. The thing to remember, though, is how to get your hands on the peppery, fan–shaped oysters and dark brown, woodsy shiitakes. » Available at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, the Wedge in Minneapolis, 612–871–3993; the St. Joseph Farmers’ Market, and, beginning in June, the Mill City Market in Minneapolis.
P is for Potato Chips
Couch potatoes aren’t the only lumpy vegetables lying around Minnesota—the state is one of the country’s top tuber producers, and has the chip makers to prove it. Old Dutch has been cranking out its thin, old-fashioned potato chips in St. Paul for 72 years (it recently added thicker, kettle–style chips to its product roster). And a decade ago, Bloomington entrepreneur Jim Garlie created Rachel’s, one of the first gourmet potato chip brands. Having acquired a struggling chip maker, he used sunflower oil instead of high–fat peanut oil, and added such then-unusual flavors as Parmesan and garlic. But perhaps his most inspired decision was sponsoring a car in the 1998 Indianapolis 500. The driver won and fans everywhere asked, “Who the devil is Rachel?” (Answer: the founder’s friend.) Garlie’s chips were off to the races, and are now produced by the Barrel O’ Fun snack company in Perham. » Old Dutch is available at Rainbow, Cub, and numerous snack shops. Rachel’s chips are sold at gourmet food stores, including France 44 in Minneapolis, 612-925-3252.
Q is for (Dairy) Queen
The first Dairy Queen stand opened in 1940 in Joliet, Illinois, and by 1955 there were 2,600 franchises across the country, mostly in small towns. In fact, DQ is the place to chill in towns that can be driven through in less time than it takes to devour a Dilly Bar (which, incidentally, was invented by a Moorhead DQ owner; “Now, isn’t that a dilly,” his friend supposedly said upon tasting the treat). In 1962, the chain incorporated in Edina as International Dairy Queen and in 1970 was bought by the Mooty family (of local legal fame) and an investment group that included auto magnate Rudy Luther. The company was sold in 1997 to billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who’s just quirky enough to appreciate a product line named after natural disasters (the Blizzard, the Brownie Earthquake, the Pecan Mudslide). » If you’ve read this far, you likely know where to find your nearest DQ. Otherwise, visit www.dairyqueen.com.