FARIBAULT, Minn. (WCCO) — Our neighbors in Wisconsin may have a reputation for cheese, but Minnesota has its own bragging rights.
Blue cheese was first produced in the United States in Faribault, and cheese production is still underway.
The Caves of Faribault produces blue cheese and other brands at the very same location.
At face value, the sandstone bluffs in Faribault are nothing more than a wall of rock towering over the city, yet those who work at its base know there’s more than meets the eye.
At the Caves of Faribault, Jill Ellingson oversees the production of the AmaBlu and AmaGorg cheese brands.
“We make blue and gorgonzola cheeses,” Ellingson said.
Inside the plant, employees work the milk into a curd form, separate it, and compact into a wheel.
Each wheel is then salted twice and pierced with 72 holes, to allow the blue veining within the cheese, for the final stage of the initial preparation.
“It’s very hands on, it’s very hard work,” Ellingson said. “Part of why we can say it’s a very artisan cheese is because it’s handled so many times.”
From there, the production process utilizes the natural surroundings. Faribault’s sandstone bluffs open into a web of caves creating ideal conditions for aging cheese.
“It’s 99 percent humidity and maintains a temperature of 52 degrees year round,” Ellingson said.
For three weeks, the wheels sit untouched to absorb the rock environment.
“This is where the magic happens in our flavor profiles,” she said.
Each wheel of cheese also absorbs the cave’s seasoned past, which dates back more than 150 years. The caves were originally created as a brewery in the 1850s. In some of the caves, yeast marks still remain on the sandstone walls.
“The sandstone remembers the history of what’s been here previously,” Ellingson said. “It’s the story, everybody loves a great story, but it’s a great true story.”
Another chapter of that story is AmaBlu’s impact on the cheese industry. Eighty years ago the first blue cheese aged in the U.S. came from this very cave.
“Nowhere else in the U.S. is it aged in sandstone caves like it is here today,” she said.
Even with its rich history, workers can’t help but look to the future. The public’s palate for artisan cheese is becoming more refined.
“Busier, every year we get busier,” Ellingson said.
Despite the demand for product, the Caves of Faribault isn’t adding new varieties. Instead, the company is sticking with its original recipes which date back decades.
“We’re going to keep doing what we do so well,” Ellingson said.
The Caves of Faribault isn’t open for public tours but there’s a virtual tour online here.
You can taste all products at the nearby Cheese Cave Store in downtown Faribault.
For hours and information, click here.