Honoring My Favorite Food Group

June is Dairy Month! My favorite food group is being recognized for a whole 30 days, and I am looking forward to writing about all things Minnesota and dairy all month long. For my blog post this week, I wanted to summarize just a handful of my favorite local cheese nibbles from the past year. Whether creamy and blue or tangy and crumbly, this week, I’m giving a nod to Minnesota cheese. (And yes, some of these cheeses —marked by italics—may seem familiar, because I’ve written about them before! But they’re so good, I had to mention them again.)

I’ve been crazy about a couple cheeses from PastureLand in Southeast Minn., especially their Farmdog Raw Milk Blue and Meadowlark Clothbound Cheddar. Pastureland uses 100% grass-fed organic milk to craft their cheeses, and the complex, grass-fed flavors are truly something special from Minnesota.

Farmdog Raw Milk Blue
PastureLand’s Farmdog Raw Milk Blue Cheese is aged for 75 days in the caves in Faribault, Minn. It’s pungent, slightly yellow, creamy, and chock full of blue veining. I let the Farmdog warm to room temperature, and it became smooth and easy to spread on a piece of fresh baguette with a dollop of honey. Pair it with a glass of Riesling for an after-dinner treat.

Meadowlark Clothbound Cheddar
Pictured above, PastureLand’s Meadowlark Cheddar is pasteurized and also aged in the caves at Faribault. The fact that it’s clothbound means the cheese releases more moisture and develops a different concentration of flavor than other cheddars wrapped in wax or plastic. It’s slightly sweet, a bit tangy, and has an earthiness to it. It’s dense and fares well on a cheese board with crisp apple slices.

A couple of Faribault Dairy’s cheeses have graced my cheese plate regularly this year. Faribault Dairy in Faribault, Minn. is using raw cow’s milk from seven local dairies and producing tasty blue cheeses that are giving more expensive European blues a run for their money.

Oktoberfest Blau
Faribault Dairy took it upon themselves to bathe St. Pete’s Select blue cheese in Summit Brewing’s Company’s OktoberFest Beer. Beer bathing in caves might sound a bit strange, but it’s not much of a stretch, considering the sandstone caves at Faribault were used as beer cellars once upon a time. The washed rind does impart a stronger aroma than Faribault’s other blue cheeses, so it’s best to let it come to room temperature under glass, but even the wine-toting mamas in my monthly book club made short work of this creamy, pungent, beer-bathed blue.

Amablu Gorgonzola
Faribault Dairy‘s Amablu Gorgonzola recently won Best of Class at the World Championship Cheese Contest, proving that cheese-making isn’t a skill that the Old World has a lock on. I like Amablu Gorgonzola with a dollop of local honey. It provides a perfect foil for the sharp, pungent, slightly sweet, and salty cheese.

Of course, I can’t forget Alemar Cheese in Mankato, Minn. Their smooth, soft-ripened Bent River cheese is crafted using whole milk from Cedar Summit Farm to produce some of the most delicate Camembert-style cheese produced in the U.S.

Bent River
Bent River Camembert is a domestic, Camembert-style cheese called Bent River by Alemar Cheese. Alemar Cheese Company is located about 70 miles southwest of the Twin Cities in Mankato, Minn. There, Keith Adams is using organic whole milk from Cedar Summit Farm to produce some of the most soft, smooth, delicate Camembert-style cheese produced in the U.S.

Let’s not forget sheep’s and goat’s milk cheeses! Both Big Woods Blue and Donnay Dairy Chévre bring classic flavors to the table with their handcrafted cheeses.

Big Woods Blue
In 1994, Steven Read and Jodi Ohlsen Read established Shepherd’s Way Farms in rural Carver County with their flock of sheep. Currently located outside Northfield, Minn., Shepherd’s Way Farms is handcrafting cheese on their farm. The cheeses are made in small batches and many are national award-winners, including Big Woods Blue, a creamy sheep’s milk blue cheese.

Donnay Dairy Chévre
Donnay Dairy, located in Kimball, Minn., produces two certified-organic goat cheeses, fresh chévre, and cave-aged Granite Ridge. Light and tangy, Donnay Dairy Chévre is a great option served either chilled or cooked. It crumbles when chilled, spreads easily at room temperature, but also softens nicely when exposed to heat (as on a pizza).

With so many cheeses and so little time to celebrate Dairy Month, it’s time to hightail it to the nearest cheese shop and check all the tasty options that Minnesota cheesemakers have to offer. And by all means, if you discover something wonderful, be sure to share!

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