The Lone Grazer Creamery
by Susan Budig
From farm-to-city takes on new meaning at the 31,000-square-foot structure in northeast Minneapolis known locally as the Food Building.
A unique facility owned by Kieran Folliard, creator of the Irish pub scene in the Twin Cities, has opened its doors to farmborn artisanal food production. It’s now home to the Lone Grazer Creamery.
Rueben Nilsson, co-owner and head cheese-maker, started the business because he wanted consumers to understand the connection from farm to table. “The idea was to create a place where people could come and see where their food is made,” he says. It’s a place to blend the art and science of cheesemaking crafted from the milk of Minnesota grass-fed herds.
A Creamery in Urban Minneapolis
Cows are not common in the Twin Cities except during the State Fair at the end of summer. Nilsson was attracted to the idea of making cheese locally in Minneapolis. Instead of relocating to rural Minnesota, closer to a milk-source, he brings the milk to his creamery and transforms it into string cheese, cheese curds and ricotta cheese. “What really drew me in were the science, art, and craft of cheese-making,” Nilsson says.
Midway through college, Nilsson took a break, moved to California and found himself sitting behind an officedesk earning a paycheck. Wanting something that was more physical and tangible, he moved back to Minnesota, completed a degree in food science and worked at the Caves of Faribault, making cheese for seven years. With that foundation, he was ready to start his own operation.
Nilsson started working on the design for the plant in 2014, focusing on a single empty room. He figured out details including, how much cheese he could make in the available space, how large the vats would need to be and what size cure-rooms the space could accommodate. By February 2015, the first vats were in place and functional.
Dairy Cows in Central Minnesota
Right on the border between central Minnesota’s farm country and northern Minnesota’s lake country, sits Patricia Lee and Clark Anderson’s organic Stengaard Dairy near Sebeka. Their grass-fed herd produces milk that is like liquid white-gold. It travels 170 miles to The Lone Grazer Creamery
and mixes with milk from the Sunrise Meadow Dairy.
David and Mariana Nyquist own Sunrise Meadow Dairy in Cokato, where they raise an organic, grass-fed herd of Brown Swiss dairy cows. Their connection to The Lone Grazer Creamery arose with the help of an agricultural supply broker, Plovgh, who negotiated a relationship between the farm and creamery.
Grass-fed cows, on average, produce a lower volume of milk than grain-fed cows, but the quality of milk is what Nilsson seeks for his product. The cheese-maker says, “We’re very local, using grade-quality milk from farmers, making the best cheese that we know how.”
Pulling String Cheese
It’s a long day to make cheese. Nilsson starts at five in the morning. He begins with pasteurization, which takes four hours then moves to the cure-rooms. By afternoon, he’s rinsing the cheese that has formed. Nilsson says he easily puts in a 12 to 13 hour day. “The way we prepare the milk is a slower process,” he explains. They even pull the string cheese by hand.
Once the cheese is a curd, it’s warmed in hot water until softand malleable. The production assistants work and knead the curds into a ball similar to bread dough, and then pull it into a rope. Once the rope is the right thickness, they cut it into pieces. “A machine gives the cheese a different texture; it’s not as stringy. Ours is more al dente,” Nilsson says.
The Lone Grazer Creamery has been surprised with the positive response they’ve received from Twin Cities area coops and local cheese mongers. Relying on local milk is good business because the choice results in lower impact on their expenses and on the environment. Their practices also support Valley Natural Foods’ commitment to partner with green business and introduce shoppers to quality artisanal food products.
Susan Budig, also known as The Mindful Poet, writes as a
music journalist, feature writer and news journalist for local
newspapers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry appears
in “Writers Digest;” “Music & Vision;” “Classical Poets;”
Thirteen Blackbirds Poetry blog; Art & Earth arts blog, and
“Friends of the Arts” newsletter. Find her poetry on her blog