Founded in 1974 by a group of Iowa State University students searching for whole, natural foods, Wheatsfield Cooperative has grown steadily over the years thanks to an increased interest in local ingredients. The original owners began by buying products in bulk from the Blooming Prairie distributor in Iowa City, and expansion after expansion has allowed Wheatsfield to establish its own storefront. Today the shop hosts a variety of events—cooking classes and homeopathy demonstrations included—to keep its 5,600 members happy. Former cheesemaker Connie Lawrence is now Wheatsfield’s resident monger, serving up everything from local Iowan wheels to international selections—even vegan cheese.
culture: Are imported or local wedges more popular at the store?
Connie Lawrence: People like the idea of supporting local, so we’re selling more regional cheese right now.
culture: What’s your desert-island cheese accompaniment?
CL: Definitely grapes! And you can’t beat a nice, organic summer sausage. For cheese, I’m focused on [Milton Creamery] Prairie Breeze right now. I also like [Deer Creek] The Stag (a robust cheddar), and [Fromagerie Guilloteau] Saint Angel is probably my favorite bloomy rind.
culture: What’s the strangest request you’ve ever received from a customer?
CL: Not so much strange as difficult: We have people who want fresh cheeses from [faraway] countries like Greece. We can’t source those easily. Here’s a strange one: Could we have a petting zoo and bring some animals in? Well, no.
culture: Who’s your favorite local cheesemaker?
CL: Milton Creamery. It’s located in Milton, Iowa, and makes one of the best cheeses ever: Prairie Breeze.
Open daily 7 a.m.-9 p.m.
Feature Photo Credit: Lisa Hovis