When Wisconsin and Minnesota are not glowering at one another about the latest Packers/Vikings battle, the states join hands to sing kumbaya over the greatness of our local cheese scene. And it’s a profound greatness. Wisconsin, of course, has rain-irrigated pastureland to rival the best of Switzerland, and has earned the title of America’s Dairyland, but the state’s enormous commodity cheese production often dwarf’s the many artisan producers laboring meaningfully in those rolling green hills. Meanwhile, Minnesota has similar dairyland and similar great cheesemakers.
Now, the problem: Hyper-local cheeses can be very difficult to taste all together. Twin Cities cheese shops tend to reserve only a very small portion of their case to local cheese, and since production tends to be small to begin with, finding many local cheeses can be a project akin to looking for a cheese needle in the proverbial cheese haystack. Enter Grassroots Gourmet owner Vicki Potts, who has the best local cheese case in the state. Look for grass-pastured sheep’s milk cheese from Minnesota’s own Shepherd’s Way—their blues have taken best-in-the-country awards, repeatedly. Donnay Granite Ridge soft-ripened goat’s milk cheese is a bona-fide local cult cheese; it’s utterly subtle and flowerlike, like eating a white blossom. And Alemar cheese company makes a Camembert from grass-pastured cow’s milk that’s as good as anything French. Wisconsin cheeses include Carr Valley, Marieke, and Widmer, and the shop also stocks honey and jam from small local producers, in case you want to put together a cheese platter as stupendous as a good Pack/Vikes border battle.
Photo: Eric Hansen