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Appetites: Food Building provides home for local meat and cheesemakers

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Northern Waters charcuterie
Charcuterie at Northern Waters in Duluth.
Courtesy of Becca Dilley | Lake Superior Flavors

Local food and drink fans are buzzing about the Food Building. It's a new, 26,000-square-foot space in northeast Minneapolis. The enterprise is the brainchild of pub and spirits entrepreneur Kieran Folliard, who created 2 Gingers Irish whiskey. 

James Norton, editor of the online culinary journal The Heavy Table, joined MPR News' Tom Crann to chat about the space, its tenants as well as a surge in artisanal meats and cheeses. 

What's happening inside the Food Building and how is that activity going to have an impact on what — and how — we eat?

What Kieran and his son, Seamus, have done with the space physically is noteworthy. It's a really lovely crossover between an old-fashioned industrial space and a crisp, clean modern environment. There's a lot of natural light and a lot of exposed woodwork. 

But the building's tenants are the real story.

Right now, the Food Building is the headquarters for The Lone Grazer Creamery and Red Table Meat Company. Rueben Nilsson is the proprietor of The Lone Grazer. I've known him for years as the up-and-coming apprentice at the Caves of Faribault. It's exciting to see him strike out and launch his own venture. He's using locally-sourced, grass-fed milk to make curds and string cheese. Ricotta and washed-rind cheese are coming down the pike later.

And anyone who is passionate about local meat probably already knows Mike Phillips of Red Table. He earned a sterling reputation for his charcuterie plate when he was the chef at the Craftsman. Now, he's turned that into an operation that is butchering 15 or so pigs every three or four days to make their product. The stuff pops up at shops and restaurants throughout the area. I think it's going to become a ubiquitous local brand.

Alise Sjostrom
Alise Sjostrom, of Redhead Creamery, in Brooten, Minn.
Courtesy of Becca Dilley | Heavy Table

Let's expand our conversation a bit. Is the locally-made, artisanal cheese and meat at the Food Building an anomaly? Or, is this part of a bigger trend.

It's a thread in a much larger tapestry. As food and drink has boomed around here (and all over the United States), there's been a general surge in interest in locally-made craft meat and cheese. The best way to eat locally just about anywhere is the equivalent of a ploughman's plate — a selection of meats and cheeses and other small bites that reflect what's going on with the land and the culture. 

On the local cheese side of our plate, the modern incarnation of the Caves of Faribault have been putting out some stellar creamy blue cheeses for nearly 15 years at this point. They've got one of the most remarkable physical set-ups of any cheesemaker anywhere.

There's also Alemar, a Mankato-based company that's been breaking the Upper Midwestern mold and making European-inspired soft cheeses, such as their Camembert-style Bent River. I see it on cheese plates all the time. It's always a welcome sight.

And newer still, the just-opened Redhead Creamery, a farmstead operation in Brooten, Minn., that got its start via the crowdfunding magic of Kickstarter. It's founders Alise and Luke Sjostrom raised $41,000 to add a cheesemaking operation to Alise's family dairy farm. Now, they're making cheddar and curds.

On the meat side of the plate, what's really noteworthy?

One of my favorite places for cured meats is in Duluth. The sort of stuff that Eric Goerdt of Northern Waters Smokehaus does with bison pastrami, andouille, pancetta and salami is pretty wonderful. He's a genius with smoked fish as well. This is my number one North Shore stop for deli-style sandwiches. I'd feel absolutely comfortable taking a New Yorker there for lunch.

There's a new hot dog and sausage restaurant at Lyndale and Lake Street in Minneapolis called Prairie Dogs. It's absolutely worth a visit if locally-made meat products are your thing. All the dogs and sausages are made in-house by Craig Johnson. They've got a lovely snap to them and flavor that's bold and distinct without being overpowering. And the way the various dogs are topped is pretty great, too. There's a real sense of balance and precision to it.

Local meats and sausages don't always have to be a luxury. Are there some accessible places making them for use in the home kitchen?

For sure. You shouldn't miss what's going on at local co-ops. They start with carefully-sourced meat and then do some wonderful things to it as they craft and cure it into sausages and other meat products. I'm a big fan of the Wedge and Seward community co-ops.

I think we have a tendency in the Twin Cities to overlook meat shops in small towns. I'm regularly impressed with the work done by old-school butchers. Heavy Table did a book a couple years ago called "The Secret Atlas of North Coast Food," and one of our contributors Jason Walker did a chapter on small-town meat markets up and down the Mississippi. He included places like the Saint Joseph Meat Market, McDonald's Meats in Clear Lake, the Kickapoo Locker Service in Gays Mills, Wis., and a lot more. It's delicious reading.