Alemar Cheese is what happens when imagination, research, work and patience converge to create something incredible.
Since its founding in 2008, the Alemar Cheese company has become one of the most out-of-the-park success stories to emerge from Southern Minnesota – small-batch cheeses, quietly produced in a small Minnesota town, that made their way up through the artisan cheese circuit and into fine restaurants, cheese shops and stores worldwide.
The Alemar Cheese story begins with founder Keith Adams. A native of Davis, California, Keith came to cheesemaking the hard way: By losing a business. In the mid 1990s, Keith and a partner opened a small storefront bagel shop in Mankato, Minnesota. The store was successful right out of the gate, and within a few years Bagel Brothers had expanded into several locations in Southern Minnesota. Bagels were hot business until the low-carb craze caught on. Keith and company were hit hard by declining numbers and by 2005 the shops closed.
Inspired in part by a California friend who had made a name for himself as a winemaker, Keith began looking much closer at what had been a casual interest – artisan cheesemaking. As he researched, he sought out specific individuals to advise and mentor his entry into the craft. He credits Sue Conley of Cowgirl Creamery in California as most influential.
Using pasteurized milk from grass-fed cows at an organic dairy farm 40 miles away, Keith in 2008 launched Alemar (named for his daughters Alex and Mari) and its sole product, the Camembert-inspired Bent River. The luscious soft cheese impressed critics, writers and customers with its rich, full-figured flavor, and Keith soon found the product welcomed in specialty cheese shops and fine restaurants around the country.
Two years into production, he entered Bent River in the nation’s largest cheese competition, the American Cheese Society competition, and came in third place for cow’s milk Camembert-style cheese, prompting food critic Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl to write: “It’s like starting to throw javelins one day, and coming home with an Olympic bronze two years later; it’s unheard of.”
A few years following Bent River’s success, Keith began incrementally adding more products to the Alemar “family,” each one noted for a special punch and preparation.
They are: the Blue Earth brie; Good Thunder washed-rind (with Minnesota’s Surly Bender beer) soft-ripened cheese; Fromage Blanc (a fresh “supporting actor” cheese for mixing) and the most recent addition, the grape leaf-wrapped Sakatah.
“I wanted to focus on one cheese for a good long while and become really proficient at it,” Keith says. “Once I felt that core competency… then I felt like it was time to try something new.”
Keith’s adventures in cheesemaking have led him back to California, where he and winemaker Rob Hunter (the friend who inspired Keith’s creation of Alemar) have launched William Cofield Cheesemakers, specializing in unique varieties of British Inspired Cheese.
Meanwhile, welcome to Alemar where Keith’s inspired story begins, and where it continues to thrive. As he told an interviewer:
“I love my job. I’m happy going to work and I’m fortunate to be making a living. It absolutely suits me.”
So who’s making the cheese in Mankato? Meet the Alemar staff here.