At Söntés, we’ve been serving the silky camembert-style cheese from Alemar for just about three years now, and its been a favorite of our guests because of its beautiful texture and rich flavor. After all that, it’s about time that we give Alemar Cheese of Mankato a proper introduction!
The Road to Cheesemaking
Keith Adams has done many different things, including selling children’s books and running a bagel and artisan bread shop. In 2008, inspired by friends working in the winemaking business in California, he turned his hand toward making cheese. The result is Alemar Cheese—named after his two daughters, Alexandra and Mariel. The path of inspiration from wine to cheese is not as convoluted as you might think; Adams was interested in the creation of something tangible.
“Wine was up-and-coming in Minnesota at the time,” Adams says, “but I wanted a product with a faster turnaround. Really, one guy could get a cheesemaking business off the ground right away. Also, I’d read a book on cheesemaking some time before, and I let [the knowledge from] it sit for awhile. It started as a pebble in my mind then grew into a boulder, and I knew it would be a mistake not to pursue it.”
Pushed along by either “courage or desperation” (as he puts it), Adams found cheesemaking mentors and began to read up on the subject even more. Another thing pushing him was his desire to create a happy, healthy home for his daughters. He knew that if he didn’t pursue his dream, his sadness would affect his relationship with them. And so instead of returning to the book publishing industry, he started making amazing Minnesota cheese.
Making Remarkable Cheese
The secret behind his success (aside from his love for the business)? “It begins with the milk,” he says. “Just like with wine and grapes, you can’t have good cheese without good milk.” Adams gets his milk from Cedar Summit Farm in New Prague, Minnesota. It’s a fourth-generation family business started in 1926, and the operation has been running organic for over a decade. The Cedar Summit cows are pastured on grass only, and only grass from the family’s own farm. The result is splendidly rich milk that is, in Adams’ mind, perfect for cheesemaking.
And indeed, given the excellent quality of Alemar Cheese, Adams seems to have the right idea in mind! “When I set out, I wanted to be not just acceptable, I wanted to be remarkable or exceptional,” he says. First, he had to decide what kind of cheesemaker he wanted to be, so he turned to his love of soft-ripened, French style cheeses. And then he just had to give it a shot—try and try again, and learn as he went. Adams is honest: “The cheese got better as I got better. Now, I’ve gotten the mix of cultures to the point where it lets the milk shine, but also gives the cheese its complexity and the flavors I love.”
In addition to the Söntés menu, you can find Alemar Cheese at a number of different locations around Minnesota, including the Minneapolis and Saint Paul farmer’s markets. Each week during the market season, Keith makes the trip from Mankato to the Twin Cities. “It’s an early day on Saturday in particular, but it’s always worth it,” he says. “When you really love doing something, it just doesn’t feel hard.”
Images courtesy of Alemar Cheese.