2013 Minnesota Cheese Festival

by mncheese on September 17, 2013

in American-Midwest,Cheese!,Cheesemakers & People,cheese festivals

I know Colleen’s sights are already turned south, but up north, we had another cheese festival to enjoy this weekend. The second annual Minnesota Cheese Festival took place at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds over two days to prevent the long lines that plagued last year’s festival, and from all appearances, the event went smoothly. I only attended the second day since the first day fell on Yom Kippur, and it turned out that fasting the day before probably was a good strategy. Though the Minnesota Cheese Festival doesn’t rival the gut-busting Festival of Cheese at the American Cheese Society Annual Conference, you’d be hard-pressed to leave hungry.

Though most cheesemakers at the festival would be familiar to any aficionado, festival-goers got a few new tastes. Shepherd’s Way Farms brought Burr Oak (above), its new sheep’s-milk cheese aged 17 months. Dense and fragrant, the cheese tastes delightfully nutty and caramelly.

One new face at this year’s event was Alise Sjostrom (right), who is getting her Redhead Creamery off the ground through a Kickstarter campaign. (As of last night, Alise and her husband, Lucas, were less than $1,000 away from their goal – help them out if you haven’t already!) While Alise is waiting for the funds to build her creamery, she’s making cheese at the University of Minnesota and gave me an early taste of one of her cheddars in progress. Aged about seven months, the cheese is washed with a gouda culture, giving it a musky aroma and impressive depth of flavor. I’m eager to taste more of Alise’s aged cheeses when they are ready for market in the spring, but I also enjoyed nibbling on the young cheddar curds she brought to the festival.

I might have sampled more than one taste of the sheep’s-milk butter at the Wisconsin Sheep Dairy Cooperative table. Gloriously silky, the butter combines the creaminess of artisan cow’s-milk butter with the oiliness of sheep’s-milk cheese.

Though I’ve been a frequent Singing Hills Dairy customer at local farmers markets, that fact didn’t prevent me from hanging around the goat dairy’s table and grabbing bites of its marinated chevres and fetas. Take it from me – the garlic pepper chevre on toast with avocado is a hell of a breakfast.

Of course, I had my fair share of Good Thunder, too. Alemar Cheese Co. cheesemaker Keith Adams and I had fun reminiscing about CheeseCon while I snacked on the beer-washed cheese, as well as its sister, Bent River. I missed out on Keith’s seminar later in the day, but he was excited to tell me about the newly formed Minnesota Cheesemakers Guild and its plan for promoting Minnesota cheesemaking. Look for a bigger guild presence at next year’s festival.

Did you attend the Minnesota Cheese Festival? What were the highlights?

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