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The Food Lover's Guide to Minnesota

The Food Lover's Guide to Minnesota
Photo by Terry Brennan

(page 2 of 3)

Eat Local (Blue & Hard Cheese)

Blue cheese is what happens when special molds meet special milk.

Since time immemorial, Italian Gorgonzola and French Roquefort have been the world’s standard-bearing blues. But Minnesota and Wisconsin, with our pasture-raised milk and our natural caves, are giving Old World cheeses a serious run for their money. If you haven’t taste-tested local blues lately, you’re missing out on big news. From left, NORTHERN LIGHTS BLUE, made in Plato, Minnesota, has a brisk minerality and an echoing purity. Nerstrand’s SHEPHERD’S WAY BIG WOODS BLUE is a sheep’s milk blue, like true French Roquefort, and offers both mushroomy richness as well as the characteristic peppery tang of a great blue. ST. PETE’S SUMMIT WINTER BLUE is soaked in Summit Brewing’s seasonal winter ale, giving it caramel notes and added depth. The Wisconsin Farmer’s Union makes specialty cheeses in Montfort, Wisconsin, including this excellent MONTFORT GORGONZOLA, a sweet and crumbly wine-friendly cheese. DUNBARTON BLUE is a strange and unique beast, a pressed, cheddar-like, aged blue that tastes something like a cave-aged Gouda combined with notes of something new and wonderful. ROTH KASE BUTTERMILK BLUE  is the sweetest and freshest of all blues, combining a creamy, buttery quality with a fresh white-pepper aspect.

Buy it: Northern Lights Blue—local cheese shops and co-ops, including Mississippi Market; Shepherd’s Way Big Woods Blue—many local co-ops and grocery stores, including Kowalski’s; St. Pete’s Summit Winter Blue—Lunds and Byerly’s; Montfort Gorgonzola—several local grocery stores, including Lunds and Byerly’s; Dunbarton Blue—St. Paul Cheese Shop; RothKase Buttermilk Blue—Surdyk’s Cheese Shop. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Aged cheeses are a particular leap of faith for a cheesemaker, since in order to get them they have to put their production on a shelf, and wait.

And wait. And wait. But thank heavens some cheesemakers do make that leap of faith: Local hard and aged cheeses are better than they’ve ever been. The best of the aged are these: PASTURELAND MEADOWLARK CHEDDAR, a new, great American cheddar made in Goodhue and aged in Faribault caves, has toffee and mineral notes, plus a lovely weight and density. MARIEKE GOUDA BELEGEN, from Thorp, Wisconsin, has a toasted nuttiness and a lively springiness. CARR VALLEY MOBAY is half sheep’s milk cheese and half goat’s milk, separated by a layer of edible, decorative grapevine ash, and it’s both an easy-eating crowd pleaser and fascinating talking point for parties. BLEU MONT BANDAGE-WRAPPED CHEDDAR is woodsy and nearly vibrates with the good sweet flavors of sweet hay and dried wildflowers. HOOK’S 10 YEAR CHEDDAR is orange as a fruit, peppered with calcium crystals that separate out over the many, many years, and every centimeter of this truly intense cheese is a laser beam of pure cheddar joy, tangy, savory, fierce, fiercely skilled, and joyful.

Buy it: Pastureland Meadowlark—Surdyk’s; Marieke Gouda many co-ops, including Valley Natural Foods; Carr Valley—several grocery stores and cheese shops, including Lunds & Byerly’s; Bleu Mont—Surdyk’s; Hook’s—Kowalski’s. For store and producer details, see our FoodResource Guide.

Eat Local (Sauces, Ice Cream & Candy)

Ever since candy giant Mars got its start in Minneapolis a hundred years ago, chocolate and candy have been local strengths.

Is it because we were a manufacturing and transportation hub, the place where chocolate logically met cream and machines? Perhaps, but taste your way through the aisles of local stores today and you’ll find our legacy deliciously carried forward. Here’s a sampling of such sweets: GROVELAND CONFECTIONS HAZELNUT CHOCOLATE SPREAD makes Nutella taste so yesterday—this is so much more chocolatey, so much nuttier, so much better. GOLDEN FIG SALTY CARAMEL SAUCE combines fresh cream (it must stay refrigerated) and homemade caramel, spectacularly. MINNESTALGIA BLUEBERRY SAUCE is the perfect way to gild pancakes or ice cream, with deep, dark, good Minnesota fruit. Combine LAURA’S CANDIES MARSHMALLOWS and GRAHAM CRACKERS with local BT MCELRATH MILK CHOCOLATE to create the one thing no one thought they needed, but in fact, we all did: artisanal s’mores. Want something more adventurous? HAUTE HABAÑERO SAUCE from Kayak Kitchens gives lush chocolate a slight burn. Use it to frost chocolate cupcakes for chef-tasting treats in a flash. RIVER CHOCOLATE COMPANY’S KUMBE’ AFRICAN CHOCOLATE SAUCE has a haunting, spicy piquancy. Serve it in a fondue pot, accompanied by berries. 

Buy it: Groveland Confections Hazelnut Chocolate Spread—Lakewinds Co-Op; Golden Fig Caramel Sauce—Golden Fig; Minnestalgia Syrup—Minnesot-Ah ; Laura's Candies—Kowalski’s; BT McElrath Chocolates—Whole Foods; Haute HabaÑero Sauce—Anonna Gourmet; River Chocolate Chocolate Sauce—Coborns Delivers. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

What's so great about local ice cream? Everything.

Fresh local cream, fervent local producers, and curious consumers have come together to create a truly vibrant ice-cream scene that both showcases great Minnesota dairy and great Minnesota flavors and allows us to enjoy them even more. Here is a sampling: RING MOUNTAIN GELATO from Eagan is super-saturated, ultra-flavorful, all around knee-weakening.  HEARTLAND RED FRUIT SORBET and STRAWBERRY MINT are revelations. The red fruit is mostly rhubarb and it captures that just-from-the-garden tart brightness in a way that no other rhubarb dessert ever has, while the strawberry mint is the pure taste of spring innocence. On the other side of the flavor spectrum, behold the top ice cream of dudes and rock-and-roll, all dark cool and deep intensity:  IZZY’S PEACE COFFEE ICE CREAM and SUMMIT OATMEAL STOUT ICE CREAM. South Minneapolis Pumphouse Creamery is distributed in many co-ops now, which makes it harder to choose between the SALTY CARAMEL PUMPHOUSE and the VANILLA. The vanilla is perfect for adding sauces or fruit, but the other has rich nuggets of salty caramel. Get both? SONNY’S SPUMONI and BLOOD ORANGE SORBET are equally easy to make a case for as the best frozen treats in the state. The spumoni is four flavors of very Italian ice cream (pistachio, cinnamon chocolate, dark-cherry/dark-rum, and, of course, vanilla). The blood orange sorbet is a zingy arrow of pure resonant citrus. Which is your favorite? Grab a spoon!

Buy it: Ring Mountain Gelato—Ring Mountain and Buon Giorno Italia; Heartland Ice Cream—Heartland; Izzy's Ice Cream—many local stores, including  Kowalski's; Pumphouse—many local co-ops, including Mississippi Market; Sonny's Ice Cream and Sorbet—many local grocery stores, including  Lund's & Byerly's. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Meet the new kings of sweet, the top sweet-tooth pleasers in the state.

To start, PATISSERIE 46 LIME CORIANDER BARS. Pastry chef John Kraus doesn’t just make killer breads, he also has an ever-changing line of terrifically sophisticated chocolates, like these little batons, filled with a lime zest, coriander, and hazelnut praline. THOMASINA’S CASHEW BRITTLE, so buttery, so old-fashioned, so unadorned. Can something you’ve never tasted before swamp you with nostalgia? Try these, then answer.  VERY PRAIRIE DOUBLE VANILLA AND DOUBLE CHOCOLATE MARSHMALLOWS, how chocolatey, vanilla-y, tender, sticky, homemade, and wonderful can a marshmallow be? Very.  BT MCELRATH’S PRAIRIE DOG CHOCOLATE BAR and BLOOD ORANGE BLOSSOMS, the newest offerings by homegrown chocolate star Brian McElrath, play with a wide range of flavors, including buttery toffee and almond, or piercingly perfumed white-chocolate-and-blood-orange ganache.

SWEET JULES SEA-SALT CARAMELS are homemade, buttery caramels by a former Cordon Bleu instructor. BT MCELRATH STRAWBERRY BALSAMIC CARAMELS offer silky caramel, given depth by the vivid flavorings. The VERY PRAIRIE WILD MERINGUE MUSHROOMS are adorable puffs that can be used as cake decorations that would impress even Martha Stewart. MADEMOISELLE MIEL HONEY BONBONS pair very dark chocolate and Ames Farm honey to create a locavore bon-bon with a finish as long and complex as that of a fine whiskey. VERY PRAIRIE VANILLA AND CHOCOLATE MERINGUE STARS are plain, pure little gems—just egg whites, the best vanilla (or chocolate), sugar, and yum. SWEET GODDESS BUTTER ALMOND TOFFEE and SWEET GODDESS PEANUT-BUTTER CUP are made in Savage by the current toffee champion of the north: real butter gives the toffee a richness other toffee makers can’t touch; the peanut-butter cup is wholesome and deeply chocolatey. GROVELAND CONFECTIONS DARK CHOCOLATE, COFFEE, & SEA SALT BARK may be the purest, darkest, most wonderfully bitter adult confection in town.

Buy it: Patisserie 46 Bars—Patisserie 46; Thomasina Cashew Brittle—many local stores, including Kowalski's; Very Prairie—Sugar Sugar; BT McElrath—many local stores, including  Lunds; Sweet Jules—Local D’Lish;  Mademoiselle Miel—Golden Fig; Sweet Goddess—Local D’Lish; Groveland Confections—many local stores, including Linden Hills Co-op. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Eat Local (Honey, Jam & Hot Sauce)

Putting up summer’s bounty for the winter has always been a Minnesota passion, for obvious reasons. 

A new generation is taking up the call to preserve, doing things on a smaller scale, but majestically. AMES FARM HONEY is among the most interesting honeys in the world. It’s single-sourced to various Minnesota micro-climates, which allows you to taste the exact difference between a locust tree and a basswood tree, through the filter of bees. JOHNSTON HONEY is light and flowerful, while AMES FARM BUCKWHEAT HONEY is molasses dark. LUCIA’S PECAN-NUT HONEY pairs beautifully with cheese. BIRCHWOOD STRAWBERRY PRESERVES tastes wild, like something from a forest of ancient strawberries. RED LAKE NATION BLUEBERRY JAM is deep and dark with a Zinfandel edge. LUCILLE’S KITCHEN JAMS, STRAWBERRY RHUBARB BASIL, and MEAD are unique, cheese-friendly, wonderful offerings.

Buy it: Ames Honey—many locations, including Lunds and Byerly’s; Johnston Honey—many locations, including Kowalski’s; Lucia’s Honey—Lucia's; Birchwood Rreserves—Birchwood Café; Red Lake Nation Jam—Birchberry Native Arts and Foods, Mill City Farmers’ Market; Lucille's Kitchen Jams—Local D’Lish. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Minnesota’s hot sauce scene is on fire.

Are the scores of local bottlings meant to counteract our historical reputation for all-white foods? Mission accomplished. Here’s what’s hot: WEE WILLY’S is the best barbecue sauce in the state, mellow and pure. LUCKY’S HONEY MUSTARD from North Mankato is a kitchen workhorse, a glaze for pork chops, a base for salad dressings and more. LUCIA’S PLUM KETCHUP turns the simplest chicken breast into dinner for company. FANFRIKKIN’TASTIC BUFFALO WING SAUCE makes chicken wings worth driving across town for, though they’ll come out of your own oven. LUCKY’S JALAPENO AND GARLIC HOT SAUCE is purely spicy, but not overly vinegared. KAYAK KITCHENS HAUTE HABANERO PASTE is not just hot, it’s a vivacious seasoning with flowery heights. Try a touch in sour cream. SADIA’S GOURMET HOT SAUCE, MILD is a Somali sauce made with tamarind—to deep, lyrical effect. DADDY SAM’S SALMON GLAZE is the ideal barbecue sauce for salmon as well as vegetarian offerings, such as  big steaks of eggplant, or fat mushrooms.

Buy it: Wee Willy's—many locations, including Kowalski’s; Lucky's—many locations, including Bay Tree; Lucia's Plum Ketchup—Lucias; Fanfrikkin’tastic—Seward Co-op; Kayak Kitchens—Grass Roots Gourmet; Sadia's—several locations, including the East Side Co-op; Daddy Sam's—various locations, including Lunds and Byerly’s. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Comments may be edited for length, clarity, or appropriateness.

Old to new | New to old
Jun 21, 2011 11:01 am
 Posted by  onemorecup

Kalona cottage cheese is my favorite, bar none. Look at the ingredients and compare to the others... no gums, no fancy stuff. LTD duck eggs are a very special treat; The color is dazzling.

Jun 21, 2011 03:39 pm
 Posted by  Dara

Thanks! I have to say, frying up both LTD and the Buffalo Chicks' Auracana eggs was one of the highlights of my year, it's sort of like, you've only seen pencil drawings of eggs, now experience eggs in 3D!

Jan 23, 2012 08:47 pm
 Posted by  Saul S

Hi Dara, I am wondering if you have ever tried a Football Pizza from Crescent Moon on Central Ave. in Minneapolis? This pizza is a touchdown for your mouth waiting to happen. I am interested in your opinion. Thanks

Jan 24, 2012 09:15 am
 Posted by  Dara

Yup, love it! Great, great stuff...



Mar 11, 2013 11:15 am
 Posted by  jimmywetch

22 of the best burgers in Columbia Heights!!

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