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The Food-Lover’s Guide to the Twin Cities

The best specialty shopping for meat, cheese, sweets, and more

The Food-Lover’s Guide to the Twin Cities
Photo by Terry Brennan

(page 1 of 5)

It’s a fabulous time to be a local-food geek. Here in the agricultural heartland, we have backyard access to some of the country’s best grass-fed beef, organic milk, and high-lysine corn tortilla chips, along with chocolate bars that my friends in San Francisco beg me to bring every time I visit. The list that follows includes a mix of longtime classics and new discoveries, the essentials I find myself buying week after week and recommending time and again. Most ingredients are Minnesota-grown or -made, but we leaned into neighboring states for items that couldn’t be sourced from within our borders (La Quercia prosciutto and Star Prairie rainbow trout among them)—and the thought of leaving out some of Wisconsin’s world-famous cheeses when they’re made practically right under our Juicy-Lucy-dripping chins, seemed a little bit cruel. Happy eating!


Every style imaginable: from blue cheeses so blue they're navy to the sweet, easy-to-love Midwestern original Montamoré

Local MN cheese

Donnay goat, Hook's 7-year cheddar, Cow Caviar, Shepherd's Way Friesago, Northern Lights Blue, Jeff's Select, Good Thunder, and Flory's Truckle. handmade  potter's crackers and barsy's almond hotties—the spiciest of their roasted, seasoned nuts—contribute extra crunch.


As the cheese-making capitol of the country, Wisconsin’s rather accustomed to national recognition for gems like its Alpine-style Pleasant Ridge Reserve by Upland Cheese Company and the cheddar-blue cross Dunbarton Blue by Roelli. Of course, the whole region is a bounty of fromage, from Donnay Dairy’s soft goat cheese to sheep’s-milk Friesago from Shepherd’s Way Farms. Our dairy boon has created a sharp Cheddar for every palate: Hook’s 7-Year has a smoky, almost meaty savoriness, the luxurious Cow Caviar is sweet with a funky tang, and Fini from the Cheese Caves of Faribault has the deepest flavor, musky with a slightly sour bite.  Flory’s Truckle from Milton Creamery in Iowa is hardly recognizable as Cheddar, with its rustic, crumbly texture and Parmesan-like umami. Speaking of Parmesan, Sartori’s SarVecchio is the most-lauded American-made variety—but its sweet, creamy Montamoré is also easy to love. There are just as many terrific blue cheeses: also from Faribault, St. Pete’s Select and Amablu Gorgonzola make good everyday eating, as does the affordably priced Glacier Blue from Carr Valley. Northern Lights Blue is among the most intense local wheels, a navy-blue cheese with a pungent, ripe funk. Among the most recent arrivals on the local scene, Alemar Cheese Company’s Good Thunder (a sister cheese to its Camembert-style Bent River) has the velvety texture of thickened cream (supplied by Cedar Summit Farm); its ripeness is tempered by a wash of Surly Bender beer, which lends a bright-grapefruit aroma of hops. BelGioioso’s buttery cow’s-milk burrata has become so popular it’s now sold at Wal-Mart. But Faribault’s Jeff’s Select is made in much smaller quantities, so we’d rather keep that one close to the vest. Wouldn’t want to trigger a run on this newfound favorite Gouda that’s aged to take on a complex flavor almost like savory caramel.

France 44 & St. Paul Cheese Shops    
4351 France Ave. S., Mpls., 612-278-4422
1573 Grand Ave., St. Paul, 651-698-3391, france44cheeseshop.com

Grass Roots Gourmet    
920 E. Lake St., Mpls., 612-871-6947, midtownglobalmarket.org

Lake Wine & Spirits    
404 W. Lake St., Mpls., 612-354-7194, lakewinespirits.com

303 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls., 612-379-3232, surdyks.com


Milk, Butter & Eggs

Milk, butter & eggs

After sampling several flights of local milk—seriously, that’s a thing, even restaurants are serving them now—Castle Rock Organic Farms floated, cream-like, to the top of the pack for its quintessentially rich texture and fresh flavor, equally suited for frothing for coffee as for drinking ice-cold from the fridge.

Kalona Organics may be best known for its yogurt—originally produced under the cheeky name Cultural Revolution—but the company produces all types of dairy, including cottage cheese, sour cream, and butter on par with the nostalgic waxed-paper-wrapped blocks from Hope Creamery. But the richest local spread is Organic Valley’s European-style cultured butter, beloved for its pleasant sour tang.

If you haven’t yet jumped on the backyard-chicken bandwagon, it’s easy to find local layers’ eggs on market shelves, with those from Larry Schultz’s Owatonna farm the most widely available organic, free-range option. For an even richer yolk, try LTD Farms duck eggs. And for an irresistibly cute option, Johnson’s tiny speckled quail eggs are perfect for accessorizing dishes—or serving to toddlers (though deviling is probably out of the question).

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

Feb 26, 2014 12:32 pm
 Posted by  mndairyfan

Have to question the writer when this is an article for MINNESOTA monthly and they speak about two dairies, on from Wisconsin, and another from Iowa, when they have one of the best creameries in the country in New Prague, MN. Cedar Summit Farm is far superior to both of those. Just ask Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl who the best dairy is in MN. I think she'll disagree...

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