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Three holiday suggestions for your cheese board from Bemidji's Cheese Queen

Mackenzie Lindahl lights up when she talks about cheese. “I love talking about cheese,” she says with a laugh. That’s one of the reasons Mackenzie is considered Bemidji’s “Cheese Queen.” She is also cheese buyer and perishables manager at Harmony Natural Foods Co-op. The job includes frozen foods, meats, baked goods and dairy—which includes cheese—and cheese is the part of the job that has most captured her heart. “I’m responsible for selecting, purchasing, pricing, sampling, talking about cheese.”

When she describes what’s special about the cheese department at Harmony, she says “It’s ‘curated.’ Like, it’s really selected and put together based on what’s available in this region; what’s special; what’s delicious. I’ve visited lots of cheesemakers in Wisconsin, a couple in Minnesota, and I sort of fall in love with cheesemakers and with cheeses in particular. They’re like little special friends that just need to be around us.”

Each holiday season Mackenzie brings some of her favorite cheeses to the KBXE studio for tasting, and provides advice about cheese presentation and pairings for holiday entertaining. As described by Mackenzie Lindahl, her three cheeses for 2018 are:

The Doe: “This cheese is made by Deer Creek at the Artisan Cheese Exchange in the Sheboygan Wisconsin area. These cheesemakers buy milk from small farms and they are well-known for experimenting with interesting culture sets so they get really great flavor combinations. They also infuse their cheese with non-cheese ingredients. These guys are really into cheddars. Today I brought The Doe because it is infused with Madagascar vanilla bean. They recommend pairing it with coffee, bourbon, cognac, hard cider. For cheese board things that would go with it: cashews, chocolate…they say apple pies, cherries, baked ham. It seems like such a Christmas thing, like sitting by the fire, sipping on a brandy. Everything they make is really special.”

Three Year Aged Heritage Cheddar: “These cheesemakers are called Red Barn Family Farms. They buy milk from very small farms, with average herd sizes of about 55. They have a set of rules for farmers, where animal health is the #1 thing. They don’t use antibiotics or hormones or any of that ‘junk.’ The cows live exceptionally long lives, and are well cared-for. This company formed as a way to help small family farms survive and thrive. They are from the Appleton Wisconsin area, which is Packer country, but we don’t hold that against them…Doesn’t it taste like 10 cheddars put together? The flavor and the potency of it? That’s what makes holiday cheese special. It’s worth it to invest in that experience for your guests and even for yourself. I think macaroni and cheese or even grilled cheese with some spicy mayo…If I was to pair it with something—I have to give a shout out to Tom at Bemidji Brewing—his winter IPA –the hazy, juicy, delicious, intense beer that they have on tap right now—intensity with intensity—that’s kind of a key for pairing. So maybe toasty, salty, a little tangy and dank, going towards the bank. It changes as you go through and process it in your mouth.”

Chandoka: This is from LaClare Family Creamery, an artisan goat milk creamery. It’s actually a cow and goat milk blend. These guys started as a farmstead operation in 1978 and they’re still run by their family; all the people in their family are still involved. There’s cheesemakers and animal specialists. On all their packaging you can see photos of…it’s a lot of women that operate and run the business...you can see pictures of them with their goats. It’s a cool company and they have a huge line-up of cheeses. We carry several at Harmony. I picked this one just because it’s interesting to have a blend of milks. It’s dry, kind of crisp, maybe a little bright sparkly citrusy thing going on. These guys are in Malone Wisconsin. Since I’ve brought their products in, they’ve kind of become the ‘hot’ thing.”

Taken altogether, “Investing in operations that contribute to the regeneration of our Earth is really where it’s at, and it tastes AWESOME!”

In the interview below, Mackenzie talks about the many types of cheddars, how cheeses are aged, the importance of the proper temperature when serving cheese, and offers some ideas for what to put on a cheese tray.

“You can get really creative…What I like is definitely fruit—like apple or pear are my go-tos. A lot of folks really like dried fruit, like craisins. Dried cherries would be really good with that vanilla bean one—like cherry cheesecake. You can kind of think of recipes in your head and match things like that. Pecans are also my number one favorite nut to eat with cheese.

“Have fun, be adventurous, talk about your experience eating it—because that’s what’s the most fun. Getting to share flavor and fun and lightheartedness over really, really well-made food.”

Maggie is a rural public radio guru; someone who can get you through both minor jams and near catastrophes and still come out ahead of the game. She pens our grants, reports to the Board of Directors and helps guide our station into the dawn of a new era. Maggie is a locavore to the max (as evidenced on Wednesday mornings), brings in months’ worth of kale each fall, has heat on in her office 12 months a year, and drinks coffee out of a plastic 1987 KAXE mug every day. Doting parents and grandparents, she and her husband Dennis live in the asphalt jungle of East Nary.