Q&A With Caves of Faribault

Oh cheese… it’s time for another local producer interview! This month we spoke with the folks from the Caves of Faribault. You can find their St. Pete’s Select Blue cheese, Jeffs’ Select Gouda, and Fini Cheddar here at the St. Peter Food Co-op on a regular basis. Read on to learn more about the history of the caves and what makes cave-aged cheese so deliciously perfect.

a cheese board with bread and nutsHow did the Caves of Faribault get started?

The Caves of Faribault’s history starts way back in the early 1850s. From the 1850s until 1919, our sandstone caves were home to the Fleckenstein Brewing Company. When prohibition happened, the brewery was shut down and the caves sat dormant for about 12 years until a cheesemaker named Felix Frederiksen stumbled upon the caves in Faribault and set up shop to start making cheese. He knew that he could use these caves for cheese aging just like cheesemakers and affineurs were doing in Europe.

In 1936, with the help of the University of Minnesota and University of Iowa, Frederiksen made the first commercial American Blue cheese by deconstructing Roquefort (coincidentally the caves in Faribault are located on nearly the same latitude line as the caves in Roquefort). Frederiksen knew he was on to something, and started selling the cheese under the company name Treasure Cave. As sales of blue soared, his team dug more caves from the 1940’s-1970s creating the 12 caves that are still used today. In the 90’s, Treasure Cave was closed and production was moved out of state leaving the caves empty.

It was not until 2001 that a former Treasure Cave cheesemaker and Faribault local, Jeff Jirik, founded Faribault Dairy Company and revitalized cheesemaking in these historic sandstone caves. His first cheese was the AmaBlu. With his first cheese being a huge success, Faribault Dairy started to expand the line. At the suggestion of local chefs looking for a local Gorgonzola-style cheese, Jeff created AmaGorg, and then St. Pete’s Select. In 2009, he partnered up with Jeff Wideman of Maple Leaf Creamery and started an affinage program leading to the creation of Jeffs’ Select Gouda, St. Mary’s Grass-fed Gouda, and Fini Cheddar. In 2019 our newest, and first natural-rind, Blue cheese named Felix (an homage to Felix Frederiksen) was introduced to the market and has been a customer favorite! We still make and age cheese in our sandstone caves today.

a cheese board with nuts and crackers

What makes your cheese unique?

Besides being one of the only (if not the only) American Blue cheese aged in sandstone caves, we are also a single-sourced milk Blue cheese. We are part of a dairy co-op and work with one farm, Dutchland Dairy, for all of our milk supply. Dutchland Dairy is a family owned farm that crossbreeds Jersey, Brown Swiss, and Holstein cows.  This crossbreed gives us the high fat and protein content we want in our milk as well as the quantity we need to produce our blue cheese. Our Blue cheese is made with thermalized, rBST-free cow’s milk and uses microbial rennet so it’s safe for vegetarians.

an empty cheese cave

Tell us more about the cave-aging process.

Affinage, or the art of aging cheese, can be done in many different environments, but we are particularly lucky to be aging our cheese in sandstone caves. Sandstone allows for water to move vertically which acts as a natural filtration system in the caves and absorbs excess moisture and the ammonia released by the cheeses. Oftentimes when you walk through a cheese aging room, the smell of ammonia can be quite potent, but in our caves you are met with a potent smell of Blue cheese instead. Also, our caves are naturally at a 99% humidity level and the temperature is also around 52℉. Whether it’s the hot, humid summer or a cold Minnesota winter, our caves are self-regulating.

Our caves also have their own terroir. Terroir is a French term that refers to the unique characteristics of a region and the effect they have on the flavor of a product. Our caves definitely impart their own flavors to our cheeses. Over the years, our sandstone caves have collected different native yeasts and molds which create a microbial community super unique to our caves. This environment cannot be recreated anywhere else, which makes our caves, and in turn our cheese, one of a kind.

Why is local so important?

Local is important to the Caves of Faribault because we have been part of the Faribault community for over 100 years. From Fleckenstein Brewery continuing on today, the businesses that inhabit the caves have always been an active part of the Faribault community, collaborating with other local businesses, working in partnership with the town of Faribault, and bringing local employment to the town. As far as the Minnesota community as a whole, our success is due to the support we receive from other Minnesota businesses. We value the relationships we have built with other Minnesota makers, businesses, and the loyal customer base we have because we know without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Find the Caves of Faribault on Facebook, Instagram, and at the St. Peter Food Co-op.

All photos courtesy of Cave of Faribault.

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