Local Artisan Cheese Class at Sunfish Cellars
I’m a pretty big fan of local artisan cheeses and I search them out at farmers markets and shops around the Twin Cities. Recently I visited Sunfish Cellars, a St. Paul wine and beer shop that has a new wine bar and cheese shop attached. This past week I attended their “Regional Cheeses” class, knowing Mike (the wine guy) would work with Ken (the cheese guy) to come up with some creative pairings. I wasn’t disappointed!
Ken, our instructor, had a full career in the Navy and then decided to go to culinary school! Ken truly loves local cheeses and it shows. He described each cheese with enthusiasm, telling us about the cheese’s history and cheesemaker. He had met most of the cheesemakers, similar to how I like to learn the stories of winemakers.
Let’s get right to the cheeses, several that were new to me. A well designed cheese plate includes multiple milk types and moves from lighter to heavier/fuller. Usually, you would start from the 6 o’clock position and move clockwise around the plate. Due to the angle on the photo here (below), start at 4 o’clock:
- Soft cheese: Fromage Blanc (in the dish) from Alemar Cheese in Mankato, MN. This is a wonderful fresh, young cow’s milk cheese. It’s soft, spreadable, and has a wholesome slightly sweet flavor. The Cava was super dry, so I thought the Riesling was a slightly better match.
- Surface ripened cheese: Hidden Falls from Shepherd’s Way Farms in Nerstrand, MN. It looks like a brie cheese, but it’s made of a combination of sheep’s milk and cow’s milk. I’ve had this cheese before and really enjoyed it. Both the Cava and the Riesling were very good with this cheese.
- Firm cheese: Timber Coulee from Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby, WI. This is a firm, smooth sheep’s milk cheese. This one was a new one for me. At home, we have fewer sheep’s milk cheeses because Julie can spot them a mile away and doesn’t care for them. I love ’em. This cheese was wonderful with the Occipinti red wine.
- Cheddar: Prairie Breeze from Milton Creamery in Milton, IA. This is a nice block style of cheddar. It’s relatively young at about 12 months of aging. It is pretty smooth for a cheddar and is just a touch sweeter than many. I thought it was very nice and with the beer: WOW. It shows you that the traditional Ploughman’s lunch (ale and a block of cheddar) is a natural match.
Mike poured us a new wine and a local beer for the second half of the class.
Cheeses for the 2nd half, starting at the noon position:
- Washed Rind: Les Freres from Crave Brothers in Waterloo, WI. I love stinky washed rind cheeses, even though I have to double wrap them in the ‘frig! They are so rich, buttery and smooth. This one is very nice, it definitely has that funky earthy aroma, but the ratio of rind to paste is such that the aroma doesn’t overpower the cheese plate. This cheese was very nice with the Riesling, and I also liked it with the Occipinti red wine.
- Blue Cheddar: Red Rock from Roelli Cheese Haus in Shullsburg, WI. Not a standard cheese category, this is a cheddar, colored orange, which is inoculated with the blue cheese culture Penicilium Roqueforti. This one is creamy, smooth and is even sliceable. Ken suggested it on a sandwich, or as the cheese for a grilled cheese. To me, the blue was very mild, but it was a nice cheese.
- Blue Cheese: St. Pete’s Oktoberfest Blau from Faribault Dairy in Fairibault, MN. This is a double Minnesota cheese. First, it’s a local blue cheese, plus they wash it during aging with Summit Brewing’s Oktoberfest beer. The beer wash adds depth of flavor to the cheese, but you don’t get a direct impression of the beer when you taste the cheese. However, it does go smashingly with the Oktoberfest beer we had in front of us. The cheese was pretty much the perfect blue cheese to my taste. I love a smooth, creamy blue that has good, strong blue cheese flavor. St. Pete’s had this in abundance! I thought it also went nicely with the Occipinti red wine.
One fun side note: I stumbled on the farm that supplies the cow’s milk for the Hidden Falls cheese last summer on a bike ride south of the Twin Cities. They had Hidden Falls and a couple of other cheeses I had not had before at their farm store. Even though it was hot and I had no backpack, I bought a couple cheeses at their shop, stuck them in my cycling jersey pocket and finished my ride. They survived just fine, and we had our first opportunity to taste Hidden Falls that day. Here’s a photo from my ride.
I’m always interested in finding new local cheeses, so if you have any good sources, send me a reply!