The cheese industry in Minnesota is like a good cheese curd. It’s squeaky and new, bursting with a spring-like freshness. Our local cheesemakers don’t have anywhere near the collective cache of those in Wisconsin. But a few plucky creameries and entrepreneurs are quickly making Minnesota cheese another worthy component of our state’s agricultural bounty. We recently caught up with four such operations to find out what’s in store this year in local cheese.
THE LONE GRAZER • Minneapolis
“I love the physical labor—the blend of art and science,” says Lone Grazer cheesemaker and co-founder Rueben Nilsson. “At the end of the day, it’s about giving people something I’m proud of. I love the physical nature, how tangible it is. This work is very real.”
Nilsson learned his craft over a seven-year stint at Caves of Faribault. He established The Lone Grazer with the help of Kieran Folliard, the Irish pub maverick behind 2 Gingers Whiskey, at a 26,000 square foot production facility in Northeast. He’s just down the hall from Mike Phillips’ Red Table Meats Company. Their tandem tasting room, opening in the fall, should prove a premiere foodie destination.
The Lone Grazer debuted cheese curds in late February, and Nilsson’s initial focus on fresh cheese is meant to capitalize on his urban locale. “We can get cheeses to stores faster than anyone else,” he says. “The cheese curds we’re selling on Friday were made on Wednesday. We’ll also do a hand-pulled string cheese and a whole milk ricotta. Then we’ll start to work on a semi-soft French style washed rind that will be three- to four-months aged. That should be out over the summer.”
Nilsson sources grass-fed milk from two small farms—one in Cokato, the other near Sebeka. “That’s really important to me,” he says. “We did some grass-fed cheese down in Faribault and it lent such a distinct character. When you think of cheese, it’s just a concentration of milk. The subtle pasture, meadow-fresh flavors really come together inside the cheese.”
In the future, expect the Lone Grazer to branch out into harder, aged cheeses, and variations on the washed-rind and bloomy-rind styles. “We have some washes that will be different than anything I’ve ever seen out there,” he predicts. “That should create some really interesting cheeses.”