Handcrafted Natural Cheeses
Just a mile and a half south of Elgin, amid acres of rolling pasture, you will find one of Minnesota’s few farmstead cheese plants. In order to receive farmstead cheese designation in Minnesota, a farm must milk their own animals and make cheese on the farm in an inspected processing plant. Prairie Hollow Farm has been making cheese since 2000, and has gained a reputation for high quality cheeses that embody the flavors of southeast Minnesota.
Using milk from their own cows, Pam Benike and her children produce cheddars, monterey jacks, colbys, fetas, havarti, fresh mozzarella, ricotta and queso blanco. Each batch of cheese carries its own unique flavor undertones, since the flavor of the milk varies not only with the feed the cows eat, but also with the individual cows that are milking. The cows graze on 50 acres of mixed grass pastures that contain a wide variety of native plants. In the winter months, the cows dine on baled hay is raised on the farm without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides.
Cheeses produced in the summer are creamy in texture and buttery yellow in color from the beta carotene in the lush green grasses. Subtle flavor differences can be noted as the cows move from one pasture to another where the blend of grasses and native plants vary. In October, the cheddars pick up the crisp tangy flavors of fall as the cows munch on falling leaves and wild apples. Winter cheeses are slightly drier and firmer as the cows eat sweet clover hay baled during the warm summer months. By April, new grass sprouts in the pastures and the cheese is sweet and smooth.
Regardless of the season, all cheeses are made with great attention to taste, smell and feel. Using a minimum of equipment, the Benikes do most of the production work by hand. High quality cheese is created when the milk is handled gently from cows to the vat and throughout the cheese-making process. Try one of their many varieties and you will appreciate the time and care that goes into every cheese.
Mozzarella, hand pulled