Dreams, curds & spirits: Award-winning redhead creamery has big plans

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Editor’s note: We first encountered Alise Sjostrom and Redhead Creamery in a story about cheesemakers in Minnesota. Today we learn even more about this award-winning creamery and their exciting vision for the future.

Alise Sjostrom copyright Katie Knapp courtesy of Redhead Creamery

Alise Sjostrom grew up on her parents’ dairy farm in Brooten, Minnesota, which is now also home to her own business: Redhead Creamery. “When I was a kid, I knew I wanted to be part of our farm, but I didn’t really know in what way—I didn’t necessarily want to milk cows,” she says.

Inspiration struck on a 4-H trip to Wisconsin’s Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese during her senior year of high school. “I came home and kind of declared I was going to make cheese. My parents were like, well, you figure it out, we know cows, but we know nothing about cheese.”

Sjostrom studied food marketing and dairy food quality at the University of Minnesota and after graduation, she and her husband, Lucas Sjostrom, spent several years living in Vermont and Wisconsin, working in the cheese and dairy industries. “During that time, we were touring cheese plants and breweries and other artisan places, just to steal ideas and pick people’s brains to figure out how we could do this ourselves,” she explains. The couple returned to Minnesota in 2012, when Alise was pregnant with their first child, to make her teenage cheesemaking dream a reality.

Alise in Cheese Cave photo credit Redhead Creamery

“We kind of hit the ground running—we started applying for grants and started a Kickstarter campaign [to help fund the farmstead cheese facility],” she says. “We broke ground in 2013 and we were making cheese by the summer of 2014.”

Although agritourism wasn’t part of Sjostrom’s original business plan, it has become an important part of Redhead Creamery. Dairy farm tours are held on Friday and Saturday year round. Guests get to visit the dairy herd, stop by the milking parlor, and view the entire cheesemaking process through the cheese plant’s windows. Redhead Creamery also operates an on-site tasting room and cheese shop stocked with locally-made jams, crackers, and honey. Customers can enjoy a menu of pan-fried curds and cheese paninis paired with Minnesota-made wine, beer, and cider.

Redhead Creamery Cheeses

Lucky Linda cheese photo credit Redhead Creamery

Redhead Creamery produces a wide range of cheeses ranging from cheddar curds to whiskey-washed Munster. “We’re in the Midwest so you need to have fresh cheese curds!” says Sjostrom.

Lucky Linda is the creamery’s clothbound cheddar, aged for a minimum of 6 months and typically 8-14 months. The name is an homage to Sjostrom’s mother, who was one of the creamery’s initial cheesemakers. “With Lucky Linda, I wanted to make a more traditional-style cheddar. Since I don’t have ancestors in cheesemaking, I wanted to do something that was somewhat traditional that we could continue to pass on in the future.”

Fresh curds and Little Lucy Brie photo credit Redhead Creamery

Little Lucy Brie, a 6-ounce bloomy-rind cheese named after Sjostrom’s daughter, is the creamery’s best-selling cheese. “It’s what keeps our business afloat,” Sjostrom says. “It’s kind of amazing how that one moves.”

Her personal favorite is the North Fork Munster, a French-style Munster washed with locally-distilled whiskey. “It’s a soft, stinky, funky cheese—I love that kind of cheese.” The creamery also uses whiskey to wash St. Anthony, an original creation based on a batch of Lucky Linda that didn’t turn out according to plan. “We take good notes so we can replicate what we do. Two months later we were tasting it and it was a really good cheese, so we have been making it now for at least 6 years!”

Redhead Creamery’s other cheeses include Tipsy Tilsiter, which is washed with local cider; a garlic clothbound cheddar; and Red Temper Honey Chipotle Cheddar. Sjostrom’s two sons Henry and Conan are the namesakes for Henry’s Havarti and The Barbarian, a savory, robust cheese made to fit a girolle—“It’s very fitting, Conan is 3 years old and kind of a crazy kid.”

Cheese & Booze

Sjostrom Family in the Cheese Plant photo credit Redhead Creamery

Sjostrom enjoys collaborating with other craft producers, both by using their whiskey or cider to wash her cheeses and by hosting events with local wineries, breweries, and distilleries. She’s honed her pairing recommendations over the years, with a focus on Minnesota-made wines and beers. “Our Lucky Linda, or really any of our cheddars, goes really nicely with a Marquette [a University of Minnesota-developed cold-hardy grape variety] or a darker dry red wine.”

“On the beer side, our Little Lucy Brie is good with stouts, or a chardonnay on the wine side. We like to contrast our flavors, to make it a fun experience. Pairing peanut butter stout with the Little Lucy Brie, and putting some cherry jam with it to make it like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, is super good.”

The next phase for Redhead Creamery also involves alcohol: the addition of an on-site distillery. “We will be making spirits out of whey—araga is the technical term for [the spirit]. There’s lactose left in the whey, which allows us to ferment it,” Sjostrom explains. “Then we can distill the end product, and we end up with a clear spirit with some flavor. It’s similar to vodka, but the goal of vodka is to be flavorless, and that’s not our goal. We want something that has a creamy flavor to it and will be a good drink mixer.”

Pending approval by the state of Minnesota, Sjostrom hopes to open the distillery by Christmas. She’s also looking forward to expanding Redhead Creamery’s tour options.

“I want to be able to show people [the process] from baby calf to milking cow to fluid milk to cheese to spirits and explain the science and art behind everything we do—I’m really excited to be able to welcome people here to experience that.”

This article originally appeared on CheeseProfessor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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