The Food Lover's Guide to Minnesota

Best food in the country?

I’ve suspected for a while that Minnesota was busy forging a unique and uniquely excellent food culture. But after spending the last few months searching out the best locally produced edibles in the state, I’m completely convinced we’ve got close to the best food in America. We have some of the best cheeses in the world (like the Dunbarton Blue), some of the best beers in the world (like the Surly Smoke), and some of the best meats in the world (like the hickory-smoked slab bacon from Corner Table), all of which take advantage of our beautiful natural environment as well as our rich cultural heritage. The cornucopia presented on the ensuing pages is meant as evidence to prove my point: We live in the tastiest place in the country, if you only know where to shop. Take a look. But first, a note on my methodology: Most items come from Minnesota, but I couldn’t resist including a few from border states (everything came from within 300 miles of Minneapolis–St. Paul, however). Also, I omitted produce. If you have a methodology for figuring out the best sweet-corn farm within 300 miles, I’m all ears. What’s more, I figured if you can’t find sweet corn in July in Minnesota, well, no magazine article can help you. Now, caveats aside, turn the page—to eat local, and live gloriously.

Eat Local (Dairy, Eggs & Grains)

Milk is milk, right? Wrong.

Taste your way through the nearest dairy case and you’ll find as much difference as if you were sampling vintages of wines. Consider these milk products: For the apex of pure and plain dairy, try CEDAR SUMMIT WHOLE MILK. It’s meadow-scented, fresh as morning dew, and one of the top products in the state—buttercup ambrosia. But KALONA CHOCOLATE MILK is something completely different. Not gummy, not cocoa-ish, it’s like a chocolate milkshake, but more luminous—a chocolate milk for chocolate connoisseurs. Remember the cult yogurt Cultural Revolution? It hasn’t vanished. The Iowa dairy Kalona simply re-branded it to bring the product into harmony with other offerings. KALONA SUPER NATURAL YOGURT, with its thick cream top and pure tang, will get your morning started right, but the KALONA SUPER NATURAL SOUR CREAM will transport you to another realm of food reality. If it’s not the best sour cream in the country, I’ll eat my hat—with a dollop of sour cream, of course. Meanwhile, the local coffee elite are clamoring for AUTUMNWOOD MILK. Why? Because it’s homogenized and has natural biscuity and wheaty notes, which make it perfect for killer lattés. But the cream of the cream? It’s CEDAR SUMMIT CREAM, so complex it has umami meatiness. Use it to top blueberries, or add mustard and salt for an instant pork pan sauce.

Buy it: Cedar Summit Farm—many grocery stores, including Lunds and Byerly’s, Kowalski’s; Kalona—some co-ops and Whole Foods; Autumnwood Milk—some co-ops and Festival Foods. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Eggs and butter can be so much more than eggs and butter.

They can be as different as a dozen shades of white on an artist’s palette, hues that allow you to paint majestic snow or quiet dawn. Here, the best eggs and butter for your palate: JOHNSON QUAIL EGGS are adorable, produced in Mankato, and scrumptious served poached on toast points. AURACANA BLUE CHICKEN EGGS have naturally blue shells and deep orange yolks, and garner oohs and ahs simply served coddled. LTD DUCK EGGS from Osceola, Wisconsin, are much richer than chicken eggs, and make cakes and cookies better than you’d believe. HARMONY ORGANICS chicken eggs get their expansive flavor from the birds’ life in vast green pastures. Like our eggs, local butters reveal profound differences. HOPE UNSALTED makes cookies and bars so good they practically sing, but NORDIC CREAMERY BUTTER is so concentrated and savory it tastes not like a butter but like a stand-alone appetizer. ROCHDALE FARMS HAND-ROLLED BUTTER is a table butter fit for a five-star restaurant.

Buy it: Johnson quail eggs—Valley Natural Foods and other Co-ops; Auracana blue eggs—Heartland; LTD duck eggs—Seward Co-op and other co-ops; Harmony Organics—The Wedge and other co-ops; Hope Unsalted—Lunds and Byerly’s; Nordic Creamery Butter— East-Side Co-op; Rochdale Farms Butter—Linden Hills co-op. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Milling and baking should be out strong suit, but we lost our way for a few decades, settling for generic grain-based goodies.

No more! Check out these delectables: The PATISSERIE 46 MICHE, a long-fermented, part-whole-wheat bread made from locally milled flour, is so intense and meaty it can hold its own with any bread in the world. COUNTRY CHOICE ORGANICS DUPLEX SANDWICH CREMES hail from Eden Prairie, and they fit the recipe for new-wave food: no trans fats, no pesticides, lunch-box perfect. Nutty POTTER’S CRACKERS, from Madison, Wisconsin, are critical for enjoying local cheeses, while the NEW FRENCH BAKERY’S SESAME SEMOLINA LOAF may be the greatest luxury available in local big-box grocery stores. WHOLE GRAIN MILLING COMPANY’S CORN CHIPS made in the southwestern Minnesota town of Welcome are miraculous. Made from high-lysine non-GMO corn (choose yellow or blue), they’ve got complete proteins and are shatteringly crisp and crunchy. BITTERSWEET FARM RUBY RED POPCORN tastes better than regular popcorn, sweeter and rounder, while NATIVE HARVEST WILD RICE is probably the best wild rice on earth—nutty, smoky, slightly cedar fragranced. All proceeds benefit the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Callaway.

ST. PAUL BAGELRY EVERYTHING BAGELS strike the perfect balance of sweet and chewy. Almond-rich, RUSTICA’S BOSTOCK are made from the landmark bakery’s astonishingly good brioche. BIRCHWOOD GRANOLA is light as a feather and as tasty as one of the Minneapolis cafe’s pies. SALTY TART CROISSANTS are airy and scrumptious, while RUSTICA’S BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE and GINGER COOKIES are so vivid with chocolate (or ginger) that eating one is like taking a dip in a chocolate (or ginger) bath. SURDYK’S PRETZELS are chewy and perfect with one of the microbrews sold by the store, and SUN STREET’S BAGUETTE is the talk of the town, milky and airy inside, perfectly crisp outside.

Buy it: Patisserie 46—Patisserie 46; Country Choice—many local stores, including Lakewinds Co-op; Potter’s Crackers—many local stores, including Valley Natural Foods; New French Bakery—many local stores, including Rainbow Foods; Whole Grain Milling Chips—many local stores, including The Wedge Co-op; Bittersweet Farm Popcorn—Golden Fig; Native Harvest Wild Rice—many local stores, including Linden Hills Co-op; St. Paul Bagelry—many local stores, including Whole Foods; Rustica—Rustica; Birchwood Granola—many local stores, including The Wedge Co-op; Salty Tart—Salty Tart; Surdyk’s—Surdyk’s; Sun Street Baguettes—Sun Street Bakery. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Eat Local (Soft & Aged Cheese)

When people think soft cheese, they think France and Spain, not Minnesota and Wisconsin.

But people are woefully misinformed. The soft cheeses available locally have quietly gone from being unremarkable to truly world class. Don’t believe it? Taste for yourself with a bite of Star Thrower tomme or Crave Bros. Petit Freres—cheese that can stand up to anything  made on the other side of the Atlantic. If you don’t agree, you’re not eating with your taste buds. There are also some remarkably affordable local soft cheeses. Buy a stack of Montchevre cheeses and become an amateur affineur. You know, an affineur? A cheese-ager? In some parts of the world, it’s a job. Don’t laugh till you try it! And please do try these soft cheeses: Belmont, Wisconsin is the source of MONTCHEVRE CHEESE LA CHEVRIOTTE, available in both log and rounds. It’s made from  goat’s milk that’s tangy and lively. For Camembert-style cheese that’s  oh-so good, the ALEMAR CHEESE COMPANY’S BENT RIVER CAMEMBERT, made with Mankato’s cow’s milk, is mushroomy and deep, the pasture-raised milk adding a complexity that unspools beautifully over time. The orange rind of  CRAVE BROS. PETIT FRERES is funky and tart, contrasting beautifully with its wild-tasting silky center. Age it long enough and you’ve made something very much like a French Epoisses. STAR THROWER’s raw sheep’s milk Camembert-style cheese tastes Alpine fresh, though the grassy meadows that produce this milk are due west of Eden Prairie. As it matures, the cheese takes on beautiful sherry and pecan notes. BUCHERON, also from Montchevre Cheese, tastes like a tangy chevre within, and Brie-like and creamy toward the edges. It’s a fantastic centerpiece for a party cheese board, not least because your guests will never believe it’s not French.

Buy it: Montchevre cheeses—many local grocery store and cheese shops, including  Lake Wine and Spirits; Alemar Cheese—many co-ops, including Mississippi Market; Crave Bros. Petit Freres—Grassroots Gourmet; Star Thrower Cheese—some cheese shops, including France 44. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

What are the extremes of local cheese?

The strength of the local-cheese scene is defined by its outliers. Anyone can make commodity cheese, but it takes a cheese connoisseur to invest the time, energy, and money to make them very old or as fresh as milk. Our local extremes, from left, are these: American cheeses don’t get any more profound than  LOVE TREE FARMS cave-aged cheeses. The nutty and wizened GABRIELSON LAKE has notes of flint, caramel, and dulce de leche, and the ironically named SWEET YOUNG THANG is a fierce, goaty flight of wild and grassy flavors. On the opposite end of the spectrum is CRAVE BROS. MASCARPONE, so sweet, creamy, and light that it makes imported Italian mascarpone taste dim and dusty. CRAVE BROS. FRESH MOZZARELLA and KOWALSKI’S FRESH MOZZARELLA prove that domestic mozzarella can be as dewy and lively as any, while DONNAY CHEVRE is the local goat’s milk cheese to beat, meadow-sweet and firefly light.

Buy it: Love Tree Farms Cheese—St. Paul farmer’s market and  Heartland; Crave Bros. Mascarpone and Mozzarella—several local co-ops, including  Lake Winds; Kowalski’s Mozzarella—Kowalski’s; Donnay Chevre—at several local co-ops, including the Wedge. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.


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.


Eat Local (Syrup, Vinegar & Pickles)

Sweet and sour are two of the most important building blocks of cuisine.

But you don’t need to look to cane sugar or Old World vinegars to flesh out your local cooking. Instead, use something spectacular, like these: RED LAKE NATION CHOKECHERRY SYRUP, made from wild chokecherries, has a funky bacon-like taste. Pair it with venison for something they’ve never tasted in New York. WALETZKO FAMILY 2011 MAPLE SYRUP is vintage dated. Sure, winter 2011 was rough, but it created great flavors. STANLEY’S SUGAR BUSH GRADE B, a darker syrup, has fantastic spice-box and caramel notes; add it to spicy dishes for depth. ANDERSON’S APPLE SYRUP is a simple, but brilliant apple reduction. Pair it with pork or add it to sparkling water for a fun summer spritzer. LORENCE’S BERRY FARM RASPBERRY SYRUP is pure local berries and some sugar. Pour it over ice cream or use it in cocktails. LEATHERWOOD VINEGARS are a must-try: the GARLIC IN MIXED FRUIT is woodsy tasting, while the RHUBARB has a lively lightness, like a good white balsamic. GOLDEN FIG ROSE RASPBERRY VINEGAR is so fruity and rose-petal fragrant you can make an original lemonade-variant with it.

Buy it: Red Lake Nation Chokecherry Syrup—Birchberry; Waletzko Maple Syrup, Leatherwood Vinegar, and Golden Fig Vinegar—Golden Fig; Anderson’s Apple Syrup—Kitchen Window; Lorence’s Berry Farm Syrup—Just Food Co-op; Leatherwood Vinegars—Vinaigrette. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Nothing makes plain food fancy faster than a pantry full of good pickles.

Some of the best: TALMADGE FARMS SPICY GREEN TOMATOES are crunchy, lightly fiery, and perk up everything. Add to mayonnaise for a great sauce for fish, or tuck into a hot dog. HEARTLAND PICKLED BURDOCK will forever change your regard for the common garden weed. Did you know it’s traditional to pickle the roots in Asia? Brilliant. TANGLETOWN GARDENS BASIL BEAN PICKLES and CORN RELISH are made by Sandi Younkin, a cook known more for her baked goods (at her Bars Bakery) than her pickles. Add her exotically herb-scented green-beans to a locavore martini, and serve the corn relish over grilled salmon. PAPA PAT’S SWEET BREAD AND BUCKLE PICKLES are so sweet they’re practically Southern. Add them to salmon salad or serve with barbecued chicken and watermelon for a perfect backyard feast. Heartland pickled cherry tomatoes are traditional to serve with vodka as Russian appetizers, though they’re also lovely on winter salads. Heartland sauerkraut is just right—sour and crunchy, but not too sour—and carrots give it a sweet garden aspect.

Buy it: Talmadge Farms—Golden Fig; Heartland Pickles—Heartland; Tangletown—Tangletown; Papa Pat’s Pickles—Golden Fig. For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Eat Local (Beer & Meat)

Surly made big news by getting a bill through the legislature to allow breweries to sell glasses of beer.

Hooray! Now watch an already national-class local-brew scene kick into high-gear. The hippest in hops: SUMMIT UNCHAINED GOLD SOVEREIGN ALE is energetic and clear as a bell. LIFT BRIDGE FARM GIRL is the consumate food pair, spicy and robust. FURTHERMORE FATTY BOMBALATTY is a white beer so unfiltered it’s practically bread. SURLY BEERS may be the one thing you can pack into your packed luggage that would be gratefully received by both rock stars and British princes: DARKNESS STOUT is black and flavorful as chocolate; SMOKE LAGER is smoky like a fire pit. ABRASIVE ALE is nervy, scouring magic. DAVE’S BREWFARM MATACABRAS offers scents of tomatoes, apples, and coffee, a rebuke to any thought that beer is simple. RUSH RIVER IPA is brisk as a cold bubbling stream. 

Buy it: Summit Gold Sovereign—liquor stores, including Haskell’s; Furthermore and Lift Bridge—liquor  stores, including Lake Wine & Spirits; Surly—liquor stores, including MGM Liquor Warehouse;  Dave’s Brewfarm Matacabras—liquor stores, including the Four Firkins; Rush River—liquor stores, including Surdyk’s.  For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

Last June it was illegal to bring home a growler (a half-gallon) of beer from a Minneapolis brewery.

Now it’s not, and Minnesota’s beer-scene has gotten turbo-charged. Want to try the best? New Brighton brewpub BARLEY JOHN’S OLD EIGHT PORTER is chocolatey, weighty, and deep, but not at all sweet. HARRIET BREWING is a Belgian-style brewer making fragrant, eminently elegant beers like a snappy PILS and signature WEST SIDE BELGIAN IPA. TOWN HALL BREWERY serves beers so fresh they taste alive. Try their MASALA MAMA IPA for a crisp and peppy brew. BRAU BROTHERS BANCREAGIE is made with peat-smoked malt, giving it the uncanny scent of a fine Scotch whiskey; the SHEEP HEAD ALE is so hoppy it’s full-on spicy. 

Buy it: Barley John’s—Barley Johns; Harriet Brewing—Harriet Brewing; Town Hall Brewer— Town Hall Brewery; Brau Brothers—many metro liquor stores, including France 44.  For store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.

With an abundance of water and tall grass, Minnesota has always been a natural for raising top-quality animals.

But the last few years have seen sudden and wonderful growth in the ability of regular metro-home cooks to get world-class products from local farms. Here’s the best of the best: WHETSTONE GOOSE from just over the border in Sisseton, South Dakota, is gamey and delicious and just what we should be eating in this lake-covered state, especially when covered with LORENTZ PEPPER BACON, raised down in Hormel country, in southern Minnesota. CALLISTER FARMS CHICKEN is the greatest luxury: a free-ranging, never-frozen, utterly succulent bird. WILD ACRES DUCK is the pride of Twin Cities restaurants; the meat is ideally fatty and tastes as rosy as a distillation of Cru Beaujolais. PASTURES A PLENTY PORK from Kerkhoven is custardy, apple-y, and sweet. AU BON CANARD FOIE GRAS BUTTER is rich yet energetic, more complex than the offerings of many other regions. Many critics argue that Caledonia produces the best foie gras in the United States.

CORNER TABLE PATE and CHICKEN LIVER MOUSSE are what happens when a great chef like Scott Pampuch confronts great ingredients. They’re confidently rustic and not overseasoned—perfection next to a local beer on the deck. (Get them from Corner Table’s new to-go case.) CLANCEY’S PEPPER BACON PATE is made with splendid Hidden Stream pork. Is CLANCEY’S DUCK PROSCIUTTO Minnesota’s most perfect food? It showcases both our ducky landscape and our ever-improving local butchery skills, and it tastes like great Syrah made flesh. You could also argue that the best food in the state is  HEARTLAND’S MANGALITSA BACON, a rangy, wild-tasting, knee-weakening bacon from an ancient pork breed. HILL AND VALE LAMB CHOPS, from Wykoff, are berry-sweet, but have that hint of minerality that makes lamb taste regal, not flabby. HILL AND VALE RIB EYE is from cows raised on grass pastures who are also given access to corn, resulting in steak that has both the wild flavor of grass-fed beef but oh-so tender marbling, too.

Buy it: Whetstone Goose, Wild Acres Duck, Hill and Vale Lamb—many co-ops, including the Seward Co-op; Pastures a Plenty Pork—many co-ops, including Linden Hills Co-op; Lorentz Bacon—many grocery stores, including  Mississippi Market;  Callister Farms Chicken—Local D’Lish; Au Bon Canard Foie Gras Butter and Heartland Mangalitsa Bacon—Heartland; Corner Table Pate and Chicken Liver Mousse—Corner Table; Clancey’s Paté, Duck Prosciutto, Rib Eye—Clancey’s. for store and producer details, see our Food Resource Guide.