MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Living so close to Wisconsin, Minnesotans have a pretty good idea of what a cheesemaking operation is supposed to look like: barns, cows and fields.

Down the street from Dusty’s Bar on Marshall Street Northeast is not that.

“The above-ground, man-made caves of Northeast Minneapolis,” Rueben Nilsson, partner and owner of The Lone Grazer cheese, said.

In a small space inside what’s now known as The Food Building, Nilsson is creating a truly Minnesotan cheese.

“There’s a unique, kind of microbial environment in the neighborhood. It’s different than what’s in Faribault, Nerstrand or Mankato or wherever. And this cheese would be different made anywhere else,” Nilsson said.

Not that anyone wants to taste the essence of the microbes of Northeast Minneapolis, at least not yet. The Lone Grazer’s cheese quickly won over fans, despite the quick-to-market approach they took.

“We have this great milk from our farms, and we wanted something we could start selling right away and would show off the quality of the milk,” Nilsson said.

The Lone Grazer needed to start making money too, and the solution was obvious: cheese curds. Curds can be made in a day, a long day, but there’s no aging required. The recipe is classic, but the result is a fresh cheddar cheese curd that set food lovers into a frenzy.

Made on Wednesdays, it’s on store shelves by Fridays.

“Most cheese curds need to come through a supply chain. They could be weeks old. They’re intended to last on the store shelf for a month, two months and have the same flavor,” Nilsson said. “We said we want one week where they’re going to be great. It’s a different kind of cheese.”

It’s also a different kind of company.

The Lone Grazer is part of Kieran Folliard’s Food Building dream. Folliard created 2 Ginger’s Whiskey. His building also hosts world-class cured meats maker Red Table Meats.

And now he has a cheesemaker.

If it sounds like Folliard should take the meat, and the cheese, and sell sandwiches – don’t worry. The Workhouse will be opening in November, and will sell just that.

Nilsson spent the past seven years making blue cheese in the caves of Fairbault, Minnesota. He loved it, but it was limiting.

“Fairbault makes so much great blue cheese. That’s what they’re doing,” he said.

The Lone Grazer isn’t limited by the success of their cheese curds and string cheese. They’ve moved onto washed-rind cheeses, semi-soft cheeses that get a twice weekly wash.

“The washing process helps keep it slightly damp, and [creates] a good environment for the bacteria to develop,” Nilsson said.

Hansom Cab cheese is washed with 2 Gingers and one of Nilsson’s favorite teas, Lapsang Souchong.

“I thought that smoke and pine resin quality to the tea would go well in a cheese,” he said.

Grazier’s Edge gets a twice-weekly wash of 11 Wells Rye Whiskey.

“We tried to create conditions where something good would happen and I think something amazing happened,” he said. “Cheese, it’s alive. It can be like a teenager. You create boundaries to try to get it to go the way you want it. Sometimes it doesn’t but sometimes it will surprise you in a good way.”

The Lone Grazer is located at 1401 Marshall Street in Northeast. For a list of where you can purchase the cheese products, click here.

Jason DeRusha