Big Wheels

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

Northern Lights Blue is a great example of this second-generation cheesemaking. Joe Sherman is one of the original people behind Amablu St. Pete's Select, the excellent blue cheese out of Faribault. Sherman's own cheese, though, is a step above. Northern Lights is lemony, creamy, sweet, peppery, laced with a pine-green blue-cheese mold, and beautifully fruity and lively. Surdyk's sells it for $12.99 a pound. It's also at Farm in the Market.

Donnay Dairy Granite Ridge and Donnay Dairy Chèvre

Donnay Dairy is the new company from Brad Donnay, one of the original people behind Stickney Hill, but his goat cheese is organic, very hard to find, and nothing short of spectacular. Where to start? The company's chèvre is the best I've ever had: It's fresh as rain, light and buoyant, tart and salty. It comes in little deli containers, a few fluffy scoops at a time, and costs $9.99 a pound, or about $3 for a baseball-size scoop. It's only available at Surdyk's, Farm in the Market, select co-ops including the Wedge, and on a few restaurant cheese trays, but if you ever see it, buy it—it will change what you think about domestic chèvre. It's so tart and gulpable it's hard not to devour it like ice cream. Don't believe me? You will.

Donnay makes another cheese that's even better, not a fresh chèvre, but one that captures its exquisite fresh goat cheese in a way that allows it to age. But! Tragically, tragically, it's pretty much sold out for the year. Want to hear about it anyway? Oh, you masochist. Okay, the Donnay Dairy Granite Ridge is a soft, mold-ripened cheese that looks like a fist-sized wheel of Camembert, all white, soft, and pillowy, and then—here's the magical part—like a Brie, the stuff can ripen.

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

Map

Surdyk's

303 E. Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55414

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: University

Details

CHEESE DIRECTORY
  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

When Donnay makes it, the cheese is firm and bright white, dry and grainy, but as it ripens it starts to liquefy from the outside in. After a few weeks it's creamy at the edges and still tart in the center, and right after that it's an oozy, stinky, goaty swoon of super-cheese. If you like Epoisses, if you like ripe Brie, if you have ever had a spoonable cheese that made you shiver, seek it out. I mean, next spring. Sorry.

If it's any consolation, the reason it's so good is the same reason it's gone: "I have zero employees," Brad Donnay told me when I reached him on his 100-goat farm in Kimball, Minnesota, near St. Cloud. "I milk the goats, I make the cheese, I take it from start to finish. I make it one week and deliver it the next." His room for mold-ripened cheeses gets too cold in the winter, so when the temperature drops, that's that. Brad Donnay is in the enviable position of having customers fight over his cheese. The Wedge and other co-op partners want all they can take; his restaurant clients, including Heartland, the Modern, Ciao Bella, Pazzaluna, and others, want what they can get; and he has even been courted by restaurant-supply giant U.S. Foods, which he says has bent over backward to accommodate him.

"I'm at the point now where I don't have enough product. I'm probably going to run out of absolutely everything this winter," he says, when his Swiss dairy goats go dry. Why do they go dry? So they can save up some energy while they are pregnant with kids. When the kids come, in February and March, the season will start anew, and there will be milk for all—all the goat kids in the country and all the hungry cheese lovers down in the city.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve

One of the best-known cheeses in the area, Uplands Cheese Company's Pleasant Ridge Reserve deserves every one of the many, many awards it has received. Made from milk produced by cows that graze on pasture in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, this French Gruyère-style cheese is nutty, winy, tangy, almost musky, and leaves a tingly prickle on your tongue that brings to mind leaf fires and fall winds. The stuff runs $29 a pound from Farm in the Market, but is, in the opinion of its cheese-shop manager, Vicki Potts, "the best in the case." It's also a great beer or whiskey cheese, and a must-have on any tray showcasing the best of the region.

Marieke Gouda

A funny tidbit I picked up talking to local cheese buyers: One of the main problems facing the local cheese industry is that everyone wants to make Gouda, but they can't actually pull it off—it comes out rubbery, both in taste and texture. Of course, the exception proves the rule, and the exception in this case is brand-new (at least in terms of the brand) Marieke Gouda from Holland's Family Farm in Thorpe, Wisconsin. It's only been made since the fall of 2006, by a family that emigrated from Holland. (Prepare to die from cuteness if you check out the website and see the picture of their twin three-year-old girls bottle-feeding Holsteins: www.hollandsfamilycheese.com.)

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