One of the pleasures of attending the American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento this summer is that it afforded me the opportunity to finally meet, in person, some of the cheese-world people whose cheeses I had tasted and enjoyed over the years — but knew only from social media or their names on the little signs in the cheesemonger’s counter.
One such cheeseworld luminary was Keith Adams, the founder of Alemar Cheese Co. — as they describe themselves, “small batch makers of French-inspired soft-ripened and fresh cheeses” — located in Mankato, Minnesota, about 80 miles south of Minneapolis. Long-time readers of the blog might remember my quest a couple years ago to find their Bent River, a Camembert-style cheese that had been getting rave reviews almost as soon as it hit the market, but was difficult to find outside of its home territory of the Midwest (I finally located some at Lucy’s Whey! These days it’s easier to get your hands on, thankfully).
Adams is an inspiration to anyone aspiring to make a career change to cheesemaking; A native of Northern California originally, before finding success in the world of curds he worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco and even ran a chain of bagel shops in Minnesota. The bagel business ran into financial hard times, and it was then, after the poppy seed-coated wheels had gone bust, that Adams decided to pursue his passion — and a different kind of wheel — through cheesemaking.
With some consulting help from the folks at Cowgirl Creamery and some family-and-friends investors, he built a small cheese plant, and found an organic dairy to supply him with milk from a mixed herd of Holstein, Normandy, Jersey, and Guernsey cows. Production began in the spring of 2009, and after many months of experiments, he had his flagship cheese, the Bent River, a Camembert-style wheel, named for the bend that the Minnesota River takes near their production facility.
Bent River was for a long time Alemar’s only cheese (other than a fresh fromage blanc that was sold locally), but after a couple of years of success and positive reception from customers, mongers (and even multiple ribbons over the years at the American Cheese Society competitions), Adams added a washed rind cheese to the lineup, the Good Thunder.
More recently, the Blue Earth has been added to the lineup as well; it’s not — despite the name — a blue cheese, but is a larger-format, soft-ripened bloomy-rind wheel inspired by traditional brie recipes, named for a river that runs through Minnesota.
It was only a few days after I got back from ACS that I found a large box on my front stoop; seeing the Alemar name in the TO field, I quickly hustled it inside to get it out of the searing early-August heat. The cheese was quite soft and the ice packs surrounding it well past room temperature, but the wheels had survived the trip relatively unscathed.
I tasted the Blue Earth first; It originally started as a larger format, but otherwise identical, version of the Bent River recipe, but over time evolved to use a different culture blend, and much longer ripening time due to the larger format, eventually becoming a deliberate effort to produce a Brie-style cheese. The Blue Earth has a milky and fungal aroma, a buttery paste, oozing and runny at the creamline, with a denser, fudgy core. Flavors are mild, earthy and buttermilky, with grassy and mushroomy notes.
The Bent River paste is similar in texture, a little more velvety and luxuriant, also with a core that hadn’t quite ripened as much, but, as with a traditional Camembert vs a traditional Brie, the flavor profile is distinctly different and more complex, milky and buttery, more meaty and less earthy, with a damp hay pungency and floral and fungal notes.
The Good Thunder is another creature altogether; named for a small town ten miles down the road from the creamery — located between the Blue Earth and Maple Rivers — the pudgy squares are washed in Bender, an oatmeal brown ale from Surly Brewing Co. in Minneapolis. The orange taffy-colored rind is lightly geotrichum-wrinkled and tacky to the touch, with a white frosting of mold scattered across it. the paste is custardy and more lip-smacking, similar to a Taleggio, and the aroma is pungent and subtly fruity. Flavors are robust and brothy, with smoked meat and yeasty notes. I first tasted Good Thunder at a Food Matters Again event in Brooklyn in the summer of 2013; on this tasting I found that this cheese has evolved quite a bit in the interim; the squares I tasted back then were on the firmer side, but this newest batch was much transformed in both texture and flavor profile and definitely even better than the first tasting.
Alemar, and Adams, are now entering a new phase; Adams, originally from Northern California, has decided to return to his home state, and will be starting a new cheesemaking business, focused on British-style cheddars. Adams will be headed to England shortly, to spend time working with celebrated cheesemaking operations such as Montgomery’s Cheddar, and will be attending the "Science of Artisan Cheese" symposium hosted by Neal’s Yard Dairy affineurs.
After that, it’s “Westward Ho”; Alemar’s original facilities will be left in the capable hands of head cheesemaker Craig Hageman, and Adams will retain ownership of Alemar and make periodic trips back to Minnesota, while he works on the new creamery. He hopes to have production up and running at the new facility by some time in 2015, so keep an eye out at the 2016 American Cheese Society conference for the latest ribbon contenders from this talented, and now multi-state, cheesemaker!
HeavyTable.com reports on a new cheese from Minnesota’s Alemar Cheese Company, makers of the monger favorite Bent River (reviewed here). The new cheese is named Blue Earth, and comes out just as Alemar founder Keith Adams gets ready to move to Northern California to pursue new ventures. Via Heavy Table:
Fans of Alemar Cheese Company’s Bent River and Good Thunder have a new reason to stalk the cheese case. Founder and cheesemaker Keith Adams (below) isn’t leaving Minnesota without introducing Blue Earth, a Brie-style cheese that’s just starting to appear in Minnesota cheese shops, co-ops, and grocery stores. Named for Blue Earth County, where Alemar Cheese is located, this new cheese offers a new format and flavors to fans of Adams’ Camembert-style Bent River.
“We always made some larger-format pieces of Bent River when we had extra curd. The thing that was cool about it was that it tasted different because it was bigger and took longer to ripen. As time went on, I thought I would tinker with the cultures and do a larger piece and call it a Brie, or an ‘American brie,’” Adams says. “Sometimes I’m at the market or I’m demo-ing, and people are hell-bent on a piece of Brie. I try to steer them to Bent River and they’re like, “No, I want a Brie.” Part of making [Blue Earth] was to solve that problem, but it was also going to be its own cheese.”
“There are five cultures or starters that go into both of the cheeses, but we’ve pulled back on one and bumped up the other. A lot of people get vegetal notes in Bent River, but we wanted to dial that back on the Brie to make it a little more accessible to the average palate as a starting point,” Adams says.
Despite his new venture into a Brie-like cheese, Adams still is moving ahead with his plans to relocate to northern California after spending several weeks in England next month. Leaving Alemar Cheese in the capable hands of Craig Hageman, the new head cheesemaker, Adams will travel to several well-known British dairies, such as Westcombe Dairy and Montgomery’s Cheddar, and attend an artisan cheesemaking seminar by affineur and distributor Neal’s Yard Dairy. He’s even leaving a few days free at the end of his trip to hop across the English Channel to the Camembert region of France “to pay [his] respects.”
Read the full post.
(Photo ©2014 HeavyTable.com)
From the archives: Originally posted April 19th, 2012:
Bent River Camembert, from the Alemar Cheese Company in Minnesota, is a cheese I’ve been on the prowl after for a while. I was curious to try this cheese after reading Janet Fletcher’s review in the San Francisco Chronicle, but the last time I went looking for it, Lucy’s Whey had already sold out and I couldn’t find it at any of the other cheese mongers in town. Lucy’s Whey recently tweeted that they had some, so I finally got my hands on a half wheel.
Keith Adams, the maker behind Bent River, came to cheese making after years in the bagel business and prior to that as a stockbroker in San Francisco. Although a relative newcomer, he’s obviously a quick study (you can read more about him here, from Minnesota Public Radio). This soft-ripened bloomy rind, inspired by the traditional Camembert de Normandie, is made from the milk of a local farm and a mix of Holstein, Normandy, Jersey, and Guernsey cows.
With a luxuriant, velvety paste, buttery and smooth, in flavor it is milky and barnyardy but in a very subtle way, reminiscent of damp hay after a rain, with herbacous and floral hints and a full, mushroomy body.
It took a while to get my hands on, but it was well worth the wait. Definitely a cheese to seek out.
Purchased at Lucy’s Whey.