Meet the Alemar artisans.
Tracy oversees all the office operations at Alemar with a world-class touch informed by culinary school, a love of cooking and years of experience in California’s wine country. Before moving to Minnesota three years ago, Tracy and her husband Mike worked for more than a decade in the Napa area, ultimately owning and operating their own brand of wine, Tallulah (named after their daughter).
While Mike’s specialty was winemaking, Tracy’s was in management and customer experiences. Her final role before moving to Minnesota was managing the Visitor Center for the legendary Robert Mondavi Winery, known not only for great products but a celebrated annual concert series that has brought in performers such as Aretha Franklin, Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck and many others.
Tracy and Mike’s move to Minnesota allows more time with Wisconsin relatives (Tracy’s a badger state native) and, most importantly, more time with Tallulah, now 10. In 2014, Mike became the winemaker at Chankaska Valley, where he continues today.
At Alemar, Tracy finds herself in an ideal setting working to enhance products that align beautifully with her interest in small-batch, locally sourced, artisan food. Her job as general manager is to take care of business so the others can take care of the cheese. Pressed for a favorite Alemar product, Bent River is her pick.
“Especially when it is a little more aged,” she said. “The earthy, mushroom quality is perfect with a Pinot Noir.”
From work as a chef in Chicago and Berkely, Craig brings to his role as Alemar’s cheesemaker an expertise in the science — and art — of flavor. Over the course of working in some amazing kitchens including Berkely’s two great sister restaurants, Rivoli and Corso, Craig developed a strong interest in fermented foods, particularly cheese.
Despite the rewarding kitchen experience, Berkely grew to be too fast and expensive for a couple eager to start a family.
“I loved the restaurants and people I worked for, but the restaurant lifestyle was getting to be too much for me,” Craig says. On the day he and his wife married, Craig was introduced by a Mankato uncle to Alemar founder Keith Adams. A year later, Craig and his wife moved to Mankato to begin making cheese.
A typical day for Craig begins by turning cheese in the ripening room and coolers, an important aspect of cheesemaking to ensure ripening and even development of the rind. Meetings with general manager Tracy Drash often involve discussions of orders for the week, shipping needs and new cheese development. Craig can often be seen promoting Alemar at special events, interacting with customers.
Craig, his wife and two children find themselves at home in Mankato, where Craig someday hopes to own and operate Alemar.
“It is amazing to be a part of such an incredible team and to be able to make a product every day that we can truly be proud of,” he says. “Alemar is very small company and I love being a part of every step in the process from the farm to finished product to working with our customers.”
To no one’s surprise, Josh’s role as assistant cheesemaker has him doing just about everything at the Alemar operation. From salting, turning, wrapping and washing the cheese to helping out with public demonstrations and, on occasion, actual cheesemaking.
Josh started working in the craft under Jodi Ohlsen Read at Shepherd’s Way Farms, producer of small-batch sheep’s milk cheese in Carver County, Minnesota. Originally from New York and educated at The University of Wisconsin-Madison, Josh has been with Alemar since July of 2016.
In his off time, he and his husband Matt enjoy their Minnesota days hitting movies, watching TV and sharing quality time with their cat.
Josh, who aims at someday being a full-fledged cheesemaker, recommends the washed-rind Good Thunder cheese at Alemar.
“When it hits those meaty, funky heights it’s pretty amazing.”
Washing and turning the cheese is essential during ripening. That’s part of what Sasa’s been doing at Alemar for the past three years. He also does the packing, box loading and order prep.
Sasa joined the team after 15 years working in a number of spots – including several coffeehouses – in Chicago, Seattle and Oakland. He’s been a bike mechanic, barista and coffeehouse manager in various towns for 15 years.
As a fan of local fare, Sasa is always seeking out the finest local coffee, cheese and bourbon in the areas where he’s living. Naturally, in Mankato, he found himself quite fond of Alemar’s products.
And working at Alemar fits in nicely with his passion for authentic, artisan foods and beverages.
“I enjoy being involved in the production of a quality product,” he says. The longer he works at Alemar, Sasa says, the more difficult it is to pick a favorite among the cheeses.
“Before I worked here the Good Thunder was my favorite, but these days I’m leaning more toward the Blue Earth. And I’m really excited about the Sakatah.”
Eli is the one who hits the road and meets with the dairy farmers, loads the milk and brings it to the Alemar operation.
This milk hauler has degrees in philosophy and anthropology, as well as a Master’s Degree in adult education. His 30 years in education includes 10 years as a high school social studies teacher and 10 years in post-secondary education including assistant professor of computer networking.
On the artistic side, Eli is also an accomplished musician and composer, his instrument of choice the banjo. He finds the products at Alemar artful as well – his favorite brand being the Blue Earth brie.