Cheese Supreme

Local cheese is better than it's ever been. Here's the first of a two-part guide to the rarest, best, and most glorious examples.

SURDYK'S CHEESE SHOP
303 E. Hennepin Avenue, Minneapolis
612.379.3232
www.surdyks.com

ST. PAUL FARMERS' MARKET
290 East 5th St., St. Paul
651.227.8101
www.stpaulfarmersmarket.com

Elise Olson, assistant manager at Surdyk's Cheese Shop, can show you two of the best things to ever come from a goat
Elise Olson, assistant manager at Surdyk's Cheese Shop, can show you two of the best things to ever come from a goat

LOVETREE FARMSTEAD CHEESE
Grantsburg, Wisconsin

715.488.2966
www.lovetreefarmstead.com

Anyone looking to pen a screenplay based on intrigue in the local artisanal cheese movement? If so, I hand you this one free of charge. I picture it like this: It's a bright and sunny day in the innocent, rolling green hills of western Wisconsin. Hale and hearty young Amish farmers wrap up a long day milking their goats—goats that are, literally, tended by their flaxen-haired children in pretty homemade clothes. Suddenly—what's that on the horizon? The villain appears. He motors his evil car over the hills, as the innocent goats scatter. He worms his way into the hearts of the Amish goatherds, promising them that he is an expert cheesemaker, and, for only the most reasonable fee, he can transform their goats' milk into veritable gold: artisanal cheese. Of course, he is not an expert cheesemaker. He does manage to make some cheese and place it in a real cheesemaker's cave, but mostly the cheese becomes a vehicle to extract constant cash payments from the Amish goatherds. Soon the innocent farmers are all but bankrupt; they are forced to close their dairy and they are driven, at least for now, from the cheese business. You'll have to insert your own Die Hard-ish: Maa, Said the Goat helicopter revenge sequence here, because what really happened next doesn't have too much screen presence: The Amish, who are loath to use the court system, suffered in silence, and the real cheesemaker, the one with the cave filled with abandoned cheese, is trying to make them back some of their money by selling said cheese.

All of which I wouldn't give two chèvres about (ooh, is there a cameo for a callous, big-city reporter?) if this hard-luck cheese wasn't so darn great. I mean, really great. Rarest European great. Talk about it all night long great. Redefine your idea of what goat cheese could be great. And guess what? It's only available in the Twin Cities. It's probably going to run out by Christmas, and after that it will never be available on God's green earth ever, ever again.

I'll tell you more about this grand, chaos-born cheese in a moment, but I think it's important to know that this stuff was such a revelation to me that it kicked off a whirlwind month of sampling a whole range of Minnesota and near-Wisconsin cheeses, which made me reconsider just how far local cheese has come in just the last couple of years: Hey! We've come really, really far.

The Twin Cities now has a dozen cheeses I'd call truly world-class, and since most of them are distributed only in the Twin Cities—not in New York, not in Paris, not even in Madison, Wisconsin—we are the only people on earth who can appreciate them. So we should appreciate them! And what better time than the holidays? Sure, some among us wouldn't really like to get an aged hunk of stinky goat cheese in our Christmas stocking, but some of us really, really would.

Because this piece got super-long, and because I couldn't bear to leave anyone out, I have divided this guide to stellar local cheeses into two parts. I'll consider the gorgeous offerings from LoveTree this week, and next week unveil the rest of my best ever, ever list, in hopes of driving you all into the same cheese frenzy I'm currently living. And now, without further ado, let's rejoin Die Hard-ish: Maa, Said the Goat...

Funky Old Goat and Funky Black Goat

These two are the cheeses of all the intrigue mentioned above, and they are only available at Surdyk's Cheese Shop (for $17 a pound) and through the LoveTree Farmstead Cheese stand at the St. Paul Farmers' Market. The market will be open every Saturday for the rest of the winter, from 9:00 a.m. to noon, but starting in December, LoveTree cheeses will be inside Golden's Deli, across Wall Street from the farmers' market, as part of a farm and craft fair running in that deli every Saturday morning in December until Christmas. Plus, Golden's makes a mean all-local ham, cheese, and egg sandwich ($5.75) and a great latte, with Cedar Summit Farms milk. Now you know how to get the cheeses; here's why you'll want them: These things are just nuts.

The first time I had the Funky Black Goat I actually couldn't believe it. I kept shaking my head: No, this is not a local cheese. The core was crumbly and Parmesan-colored, but the periphery was all veined-blue, where the black wax was falling away. It was fiercely tangy, wildly savory, and finished forever, unfurling streams of rosemary, burnt grass, dulce de leche caramel, salt, pine needle, pepper, miso-ferment, and more. It's sister cheese, Funky Old Goat, was tawnier, sweeter, firmer, but still boasted a goaty fierceness on top of its apricot-almond core. Damn! I took the cheese to a party and left a room speechless with the stuff. One of my friends insisted all night that I was just using him as a guinea pig, that I'd unveil in print that the cheese was really some Italian imposter.

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