First the good news: It doesn’t snow year-round in Minnesota. Really, it doesn’t. The better news: Contrary to what you might have gathered from “A Prairie Home Companion,” there’s a lot more to Minnesota’s food scene than lutefisk and hotdish. And the best news of all? There may not be ten thousand cheeses in the land of ten thousand lakes (and ten gazillion mosquitoes), but the hundreds of choices available in the thriving Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, as well as surrounding areas, make for a cheese lover’s paradise.
France 44 and Saint Paul Cheese Shop
It just makes sense that there would be twin cheese shops in the Twin Cities, founded by self-proclaimed cheese hunter Benjamin Roberts. Whether you’re famished from shopping the posh 50th and France side of Minneapolis—a retail area with its own URL, 50thandfrance.com—or prowling around Saint Paul’s Grand Avenue shops, or gaping at the gorgeous historic homes in the Summit Avenue area, you’re bound to work up an appetite that either of these shops can satisfy. Whatever you do, don’t miss their sandwiches (the shops share a menu). Order the Surprise!, made from whatever strikes the staff’s fancy (you’re allowed one stipulation . . . say, no blue cheese, or no ham). Or say the magic word and a duck pastrami sandwich drops down with whole-grain mustard and cornichons. Otherworldly sandwiches include Blue Cheese, Garlic Confit, and Fig Jam with Greens, as well as the popular Cheesemonger with sopressata, provolone, and pepper-onion relish.
France 44 4351 France Avenue South Minneapolis, MN 612.925.3252
Saint Paul Cheese Shop 1573 Grand Avenue Saint Paul, MN 651.698.3391
Tradition matters in this old—“Nordeast”—Minneapolis neighborhood. At 80 years old, the fourth-generation, family-owned Surdyk’s is a much-loved fixture in today’s vibrant Hennepin Avenue scene. One side of the shop is devoted to wine and spirits; the other to cheese, hot foods, gourmet items, and gifts. Pop in and peruse the 300 to 350 cheeses, including such hardto- find gems as Persille du Marais, Comte Doux Les Granges, Quadrello di Bufala, and Der Scharfe Maxx 365. Artisan cheeses from Minnesota and Wisconsin are also handpicked and perfectly handled. Given that it’s “Minn-e-sota,” there are a few Norwegian cheeses, too, including gjetost or grunderbrandalost. On your way home, stop by Kramarczuk’s, another area fixture since 1954, for European sausage and baked goods.
Surdyk’s 303 East Hennepin Avenue Minneapolis, MN 612.379.3232
Surdyk’s Flights Wine Market & Bar
Looking for an excuse to get outta town? Here it is. Surdyk’s Flights is an oasis for hungry travelers passing through Terminal 1 of the Minneapolis- Saint Paul International Airport. Once you’ve finally made it past security, you’ll probably need a drink. So settle in to this attractive space for a glass of wine or—better—a wineflight. Indulge in salumi, or a small-plate selection. Grab some cheese (the selection is actually modest compared to the main Surdyk’s, but offers international and regional favorites), gourmet goodies, grab-and-go items from the well-stocked deli (which includes Nueske’s marvelous smoked meats), and a bottle of wine (there are more than a hundred to choose from). You’ll make your host—or yourself—really happy when you land.
Surdyk’s Flights Wine Market & Bar MSP International Airport, Terminal 1—Lindbergh, Saint Paul, MN 612.727.2323
Granted, it’s a long hike from either downtown Minneapolis or Saint Paul, but your Twin Cities experience wouldn’t be complete without feeling as though you were in a market that time forgot. Dazzled as you’ll be by the outstanding selection of vintage Scandinavian silver jewelry and antique household goods, don’t overlook the collection of threshing memorabilia. Oh yes, and the cheese. All-natural, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, non-GMO cheeses from Eichtens Hidden Acres family farm in Center City, Minnesota. Choose from Tilsit, Gouda, Ski Queen Jarlsberg, Red Square gjetost, cheese curds, and dill Havarti. Organic yogurt and milk in glass bottles is on hand from Osceola, Wisconsin–based Crystal Ball Farms. Don’t leave this tiny town without a stop down the street at Rod’s Country Corner for house-made Swedish sausage.
Almelund Mercantile 15790 Maple Lane Almelund, MN 651.583.3696
This recently expanded Saint Paul restaurant-market has become a bona fide tourist attraction with a booming combo sit-down/takeout operation on the main floor. Head downstairs to a glorious Italian market—now triple its original size—for an excellent selection of imported Italian cheeses and other ingredients for preparing your own homemade feast.
Cossetta Alimentari 211 7th Street West Saint Paul, MN 651.222.3476
Kowalski’s stocks nearly 600 items in its specialty cheese category, including international, domestic, and regional artisan choices. Weekend demos, “meet the cheesemaker” and other quarterly events, as well as cheese classes, keep the cheese profile high here. “People ask if we have Wisconsin cheese, and they get a conversation,” says Joe Moore, Kowalski’s lead organizer in imported cheese. Also on hand: Farmhouse Kitchens’ Hand Rolled Butter, Velvet Bees Honey Butter, and Blue Seals, a local red-pepper or green-mint jam that pairs nicely with cheese. The very best Kowalski’s for cheese, Moore says, is the Grand Avenue location in Saint Paul.
Kowalski’s Nine locations throughout the Twin Cities
Lunds and Byerly’s
The Twin Cities’ duality is echoed in the merger of these two established markets. Hence, there are dual logos and in some cases, stores that bear both identities (though some are still Lunds and some are still Byerly’s). It’s only confusing to out-of-towners. But rest assured, any of these stores by any name offers a cheese selection of up to 400 choices. In-store, trained cheese specialists are on hand to guide you. The selection varies from store to store, with the St. Louis Park location (the largest of them) having the biggest and most diverse offering. Regional artisan cheeses, butter, and other local products are a priority for Lunds Byerly’s, which cuts and wraps smaller pieces to encourage sampling—and to prevent shoppers from blowing their entire budget in the dairy aisle.
Lunds and Byerly’s 22 locations throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area
Fulton Farmers Market
(May through October)
At this zero-waste market, everything is recyclable or disposable. Stop by for many artisan discoveries, including Star Thrower Farm’s Icelandic sheep’s milk, sheep’s milk cheese, lamb, soap, and yarn. France 44 is a sustaining partner supporting this market. Check the website for winter market information.
Fulton Farmers Market 4901 South Chowen Avenue Minneapolis, MN
Mill City Farmers Market
(May through October)
Located on the Chicago Mall near the Guthrie Theater, this destination market hosts many local and organic dairy farmers and food artisans. Look for Prairie Hollow’s farmstead cow’s milk and cheese, Shepherd’s Way sheep’s milk cheese, Singing Hills Goat Dairy’s goat’s milk cheese and yogurt, and Very Prairie’s chèvre.
Mill City Farmers Market 704 South 2nd Street Minneapolis, MN 612.341.7580
Kingfield Farmers’ Markets
(May through October)
A sister operation to the Fulton Market, this South Side Minneapolis neighborhood market also promotes sustainable farming and natural products. Check out Love Tree Farmstead cave-aged sheep’s milk cheese and organic, European-style lamb from Wisconsin, and goat’s milk cheese and yogurt from Singing Hills Goat Dairy.
Kingfield Farmers’ Markets 4310 South Nicollet Avenue Minneapolis, MN 612.207.7893
Start with the warm, house-made potato chips with crumbled gorgonzola, served with blue cheese dressing. Don’t miss the grilled cheese with two cheddars and tomato chutney on grilled Parmesan-crusted sourdough. Comfort yourself with the house mac and cheese—cavatappi pasta with Parmesan and asiago, plus Tillamook and Vermont cheddars. Get your ethnic fix with steak and pierogies updated with cheddar instead of farmer’s cheese and potato filling, served with crispy onions and horseradish sauce. Or have the baby calzones stuffed with smoked mozzarella and tomatoes, served with martini-olive relish and basil pesto. (Sure, there’s stuff on the menu without cheese, but why . . . ?)
Edina Grill 5028 France Ave South Edina, MN 952.927.7933
The tagline—“Damn Good Food”—at this hip, subterranean downtown Minneapolis restaurant doesn’t lie. The divine ricotta pancakes (available night and day) alone are worth the trip. Battered cheese curds, usually available only on the late-night or theater menu, are light, fluffy, and not a bit greasy—“exactly right,” declared a Wisconsin native on a recent visit. Lime cream cheese on the breakfast quesadilla is a real eye-opener. Also be sure to try the walleye hash, the toasted bison-sausage bread, and the ham-and-pear-crisp sandwich.
Hell’s Kitchen 80 South 9th Street Minneapolis, MN 612.332.4700
Izzy’s Ice Cream Café
Long lines at an ice cream shop in the summer are not unusual. But they can snake around the block at this humble neighborhood gem thatReader’s Digestonce called “the best ice-cream shop in America” (it was also featured on the Food Network’s “Throw-down with Bobby Flay”). Fifty gallons of custard-style ice cream are scooped up here daily—even on days colder than the ice cream itself. There are over 90 flavors in Izzy’s repertoire, so call ahead if your heart is set on some-thing special. Satisfy your cheese tooth with such flavors as Ricotta, Blueberry Cream Cheese, or Strawberry Cheesecake. Non-cheesy options can be daring: Norwegian Chai, Balsamic Vinegar, Zinfandel. For the indecisive, scoops are topped with a baby “izzy” scoop that affords a taste of another flavor.
Izzy’s Ice Cream Café 2034 Marshall Avenue Saint Paul, MN 651.603.1458
Vincent A Restaurant
Conveniently within walking distance of excellent downtown shopping and the spot where it’s said Mary Tyler Moore tossed her tam, this is a very inviting, light-filled space with mezzanine, dining room, and outdoor patio options (yes, there is a patio season in Minneapolis). Don’t delay gratification. Go straight to the Dessert and Cheese section of the menu. Whether you choose the single cheese, petit, or le grand fromage options (selections change daily), you’ll be happy. The cheese plates are reasonably priced and elegantly presented with mixed nuts, dried fruit, greens, and a bit of sunny orange marmalade. Pop in for the happy hour and the bar menu’s braised short-rib burger with smoked Gouda, a croque monsieur, or the butcher board with charcuterie, duck, and cheeses.
Vincent A Restaurant 1100 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, MN 612.630.1189
Okay—it’s not a cheese truck, but this mobile unit with a bacon- and pork-based menu has a loyal following and is not to be missed. Try the beer-braised Pork Belly Bahn Mi, the BLT pasta salad, and the bacon popcorn.
(April through October)
Hello, delicious! This truck’s sustainable Latin American cuisine is based on Venezuelan griddled corn cakes (arepas) loaded with savory fillings. Try the local, slow-roasted pork arepa with black beans and cotija cheese, or the black bean and queso fresco arepa with tomatoes and pickled cabbage.
Consider it Italian comfort food on wheels. Signature items include the Messy Giuseppe, an Italian sloppy joe made with fresh mozzarella on a toasted garlic roll; as well as the Ultimate Grilled Cheese, three cheeses (they won’t tell us which), fresh basil, organic honey, and tomato on grilled Vienna bread.
Located in Lilydale—one of those “dales” Garrison Keillor is always talking about—on the Mississippi River just south of the Twin Cities, this market’s cheese selection is considerably smaller than its wine offerings, but what it lacks in depth it makes up for in excellent international and domestic choices, including a fine representation of regional artisan cheeses. Put together a gift basket, sign up for wine or cheese classes, or stop in for a tasting. Have a drink, order a cheese- or other small-plates item, and enjoy the view over the treetops.
Sunfish Cellars 803 Sibley Memorial Highway (Hwy 13) Lilydale, MN 651.552.5955