ALEMAR CHEESE COMPANY • Mankato
“With me and my wife, cheese was one of our first dates,” Craig Hageman recalls. “I knew I wanted to marry her when I saw her gnawing on the cheese rinds.” He’s originally from Minneapolis and found in Alemar the perfect opportunity to come back from the West Coast and lay down roots for his young family.
“I’ve always been fascinated with fermented foods,” says Hageman, who’s worked as a chef for the past decade. “I’ve made salumi, but I wanted to get closer to the source. To be able to create an amazing product that’s local, organic, and sustainable, and to be able to share that with people is a great opportunity. I couldn’t say no to that. To go to the farmer’s markets, and to have people try it and see their reactions, it’s the best feeling.”
Hageman is taking the reins at Alemar from founder Keith Adams, who recently moved back home to Northern California. “It’s been a smooth transition, but we still talk every day,” says Hageman. “I’m running ideas past him, and he has insight into how to handle things, so we’re still working on it. He’s been a great help, he’s taught me everything I know about making cheese.”
One of his earliest hurdles was finding a replacement milk source after Cedar Summit Farm suspended their dairy production in mid-January, sending him and other creameries in the state reeling for local sources of organic, grass-fed milk. He’s found a couple family-run dairies, which is good because Alemar recently doubled production and added a distributor in Southern California. Word keeps spreading nationwide about Alemar’s magnificent Bent River—winner of a 2015 Good Food Award and a continual benchmark in domestic Camembert.
He plans to release a new seasonal cheese in the fall. Until then expect Alemar to keep pace with their usual lineup, and ramp up production on Good Thunder—their Reblochon clone washed with Surly Bender. “The Good Thunder is taking off, we can’t keep up with it,” Hageman says. “We make it and it’s already sold. It’s a great problem to have.”
Other MN Cheesemakers to watch in 2015
Metz’s Hart-Land Creamery of Rushford, MN debuted curds and cheddars late last year, with milk sourced from their 200-strong herd of mostly Holstein cattle … Star Thrower Farm near Glencoe is getting plaudits for a soft-ripened camembert from their flock of Icelandic sheep … Keep stalking the local farmers markets for goat’s milk products from Nerstrand’s Singing Hills Goat Dairy—we’re still dreaming of the chevre balls they made for the holidays … City Food Studio owner Journey Gosselin is making nano-batch feta, mozzarella, and camembert in his Underground Dairy … and Caves Of Faribault upholds its reputation with some of the best blue cheese this side of Roquefort.