Throughout its three decade history in Minnesota, the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) has collaborated with hundreds of food and beverage entrepreneurs to help turn their dreams into reality. The organization assists with everything from product testing to recipe development and revision to nutrition labels and packaging to help bring products to market. An excellent example is AURI’s work in supporting a couple of young cheese enthusiasts from small-town Minnesota.
Located in Brooten (population 633), Redhead Creamery got its start in 2012, founded by Alise and Lucas Sjostrom and Alise’s parents Jerry and Linda Jennissen. After visiting a farmstead cheese plant in Wisconsin as part of a 4-H youth trip, Alise decided at the age of 16 that she wanted to be a cheesemaker. She took her passion to the University of Minnesota where she created her own curriculum around cheese and dairy food quality. In addition, she trained at the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese. Over time, her friends and family lovingly bestowed her the nickname, “Cheese Alise.”
Upon graduating from college, Alise and Lucas lived in Vermont and Wisconsin where she worked in retail grocery and expanded her knowledge of the cheese supply chain. Alise’s dream was still at the forefront and eventually she and Lucas made their way back to the family farm in Minnesota. By 2012, her parents were fully in support of her dream, and they joined her and Lucas in founding the company that would become Redhead Creamery. As is the case in many efforts, it wasn’t smooth sailing in the beginning as Alise discovered that to build her dream cheese facility, existing farm structures would need to be removed and a milk pipeline added. To help fund the dream, Alise launched a Kickstarter fundraising campaign that ultimately led to securing loans and grants to fully fund the construction. The first batch of cheese rolled out in 2012, and in 2015, the family’s business ties grew even stronger when Alise and Lucas became partners in Jerry’s and Linda’s dairy farm, known today as Jer-Lindy Farms.
An Assist from AURI
The team at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute played a role in helping the Creamery get its start by providing professional guidance in business start-up and product cost-share, as well as with the development of experimental batches of cheese and nutrition labels. Dr. Jimmy Gosse, Senior Scientist of Biobased and Renewable Energy at AURI also helped identify a commercial yeast provider with proven capability.
“The first call for both of our developments [cheese and spirits] was the most fun. AURI isn’t the inventor or the business owner. They’re the value-added business incubator,” Lucas Sjostrom said.
Cheese Shop and Tasting Room
Guests visiting the Cheese Shop and Tasting Room in Brooten can sample and purchase a wide variety of cheddar-style cheeses, cheese curds, Margie American-style cheddar, cider-washed Tipsy Tilsitter, whisky washed St. Anthony (an original created by the team at Redhead Creamery), North Folk whisky washed Munster, and its best-seller, the Little Lucy Brie. All of its cheeses are smaller than a normal wheel to make them more usable for restaurants, cheese counters and home cooks. The Cheese Shop also offers tours on Fridays and Saturdays to those interested in learning more about the cheese-making process.
Award Winning Cheese
In February 2023, Redhead Creamery’s Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar was named Best of Class and a Top 20 Cheese (out of 2,200 entries) at the United States Championship Cheese Contest in Green Bay, Wisc., the first big win for the Creamery after years of second place finishes. Lucas said Lucky Linda’s win was a seven-year process that started with two blown-up cheese vats, but the team persevered and learned along the way.
“Since I first started wanting to be in this industry, I always admired the cheese companies that won competitions,” said Alise Sjostrom. “It’s hard to believe it’s now our team and me. We’ve won seconds, and thirds, but this was our first outright win of a national contest and to be named in the top 20 of 2,200 was truly humbling.”
A Spirited Future
Following its recent collaboration with AURI, Redhead Creamery is working to launch its next line of products— spirits. Once its distillery is up and running, visitors to the tasting room will have the opportunity to sample whey alcohols, whey fortified wines and whey spirits. Down the road, the Creamery also hopes to develop whey ricotta.
Today, Alise and her family produce cheese 2-3 days per week. What began as a teenage dream has grown into a successful cheese shop and soon-to-be distillery, in the heart of Minnesota. Thanks in part to the kind hearts in Minnesota (and beyond) who contributed to the original Kickstarter.
“I believe this is just the beginning of our cheese love story. All of us at Redhead Creamery are thankful for our journey thus far and continue to grow and love what we do each and every day,” said Alise Sjostrom.
If you’re not able to make it to the Cheese Shop, Redhead Creamery products can also be purchased online at redheadcreamery.com or at retail outlets in Minneapolis, Minn., St. Paul, Minn. and Fargo, ND. Delivery is also available via Cheese Van to those residing along I-94.