Big Wheels

Part two of our guide to the best cheeses of the Twin Cities—ever

920 E. Lake St. (in the Midtown Global Market at Lake and Chicago)

303 E. Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

My frenzy about the great state of local cheeses, which eventually led me down all kinds of paths, was kicked off by one thing: a brand-new, all-local cheese counter at Farm in the Market. This farmer-owned store of locally produced products, in Minneapolis's Midtown Global Market, rolled out new deli cases in September stocked exclusively with Minnesota and near-Wisconsin cheeses. They have about two dozen on hand at all times now.

A few of Farm in the Market's all-star local cheeses
Bill Kelley
A few of Farm in the Market's all-star local cheeses

Location Info



303 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: University


  1. Raclette - Cow Milk
    Northern Lights
    St. Paul, MN
  2. Northern Lights Blue - Cow Milk
    Northern Lights
    St. Paul, MN
  3. Gouda - Cow Milk
    Pasture Land Dairy
    Dodge enter, MN
  4. Chèvre - Goat Milk
    Donnay Dairy
    Kimball, MN
  5. Shepherd's Hope - Sheep Milk
    Shepherd's Way
    Nerstrand, MN
  6. Friesago
    Shepherd's Way Farm
    Nerstrand, MN

The sheer quantity of local cheeses has been eye-opening. For instance, did you know there's a Minnesota Gorgonzola? I had no idea, but I've since learned that one has existed since January 2003, when the Faribault Dairy Company debuted it ($12.30 a pound at Farm in the Market). It may not be as subtle as some Italian Gorgonzolas I've had, but it's bold, sharp, and sweet at the same time, just like Gorgonzola should be. The blue pockets are delicate and well formed, offering the cheese a brief moment of brusque minerality before it unfolds into a creamy, charming finish.

At about two-thirds the price of the imported stuff, this Faribault Gorgonzola grabbed my attention. When you want cheese for salads or cooking, for crowds or catering, why would you get anything else? And this charming stuff wasn't even the best blue in Farm in the Market's case, which, according to me, is the Northern Lights Blue (more on that below). Or is it the Buttermilk Blue? This fresh, tangy, pear-and-apple stunner from Wisconsin's Roth Kase is a whole different sort of blue cheese: It's light, sweet, and energetic in a way that reminds me of an apple's snap. It's not as sweet as Gorgonzola dolce, but it makes most Iowa Maytag blue cheeses—the ones that most people consider the nation's best—taste like something made with mothballs.

I brought a couple of these local blue cheeses to a dinner party, and fistfights almost broke out between partisans of the Buttermilk Blue ($12.60 a pound) and fans of the Northern Lights. So why haven't you heard of them? They were just really hard to find—until now.

THE MISSING PIECE between the great products of our local farmlands and the urban connoisseur is always one thing: distribution. Farm in the Market is finally providing that distribution. Not to knock our wonderful local co-ops, which have often been the first step for local cheesemakers to find an audience and make some of their substantial investment back, but cheese doesn't do well shrink-wrapped and deserted on shelves. It's a living product, not a can of tomatoes, and it never shines when abandoned. At Farm in the Market the cheeses are cut to order by someone who can give you samples before you settle on which to buy, and it makes all the difference. If you want to experience the wealth of new local cheeses, ask Farm in the Market to put together an all-local cheese tray for you. If you haven't tasted our regional cheeses in the last three or four years, you'll be as amazed as I was at the remarkable heights they are, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly capable of achieving.

"I've actually been shocked at the positive response to the cheeses," Farm in the Market co-owner Lori Callister told me. "I guess that sounds dumb. We expected people to be interested, but it's way more than that. It's really proving to people that you don't have to go worldwide to get the best. We've got fantastic things here, too. I think cheeseheads, if you want to call them that, maybe suspected that, but weren't able to find the best local cheeses all in one place. Now we have customers who are working their way through the case, trying one after the other."

I'm guessing they'll end up as wowed as I was. Of course, I wasn't content to stick to Farm in the Market. I checked lots of other places, but found only Surdyk's to have an equivalent depth of well-cared-for, brilliantly chosen artisan offerings. And so, here's my list of the very best cheeses our little world of prairie, pine, bluff, lake, and farm has ever produced.

Northern Lights Blue

People sometimes ask me why Surdyk's, or any other cheese shop, has more cheeses or better cheeses than this or that competing shop, as though there's some deep conspiracy or secret behind it. No, they just take the time to do it. I called other cheese shops to ask if they carried Northern Lights Blue and had clerks assure me: "Oh, no, they don't sell that. You can't get it." Well, both Farm in the Market and Surdyk's can.

"When we need some, we just call up [Northern Lights owner] Joe Sherman, and he drops off a couple wheels," Elise Olson, Surdyk's cheese buyer, explained. Surdyk's simply moves volumes of cheese, and it can devote resources to finding and selling it that no one else can.

So why all the great cheeses all of a sudden? "I'd characterize what we're seeing now as a second generation of Minnesota cheese," Olson told me. "Ten years ago the big names were Stickney, St. Pete's, and Eichten's, but now there's this second generation that trained with the first, and it's becoming obvious that these new cheeses are much better quality, at a much better price. I also think we're going to see more of this, with all kinds of new brands launching in the next two or three years."

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