Cheese Cave is a delicious retreat

A Saturday afternoon spent tasting cave-aged blue cheese is one well spent.

The Cheese Cave, located on Faribault’s main drag, is the perfect place to sample cheese. Stop by and tap into the award-winning blue cheese, aged just two and a half blocks east of the store, in sandstone caves.

A Saturday afternoon spent tasting cave-aged blue cheese is one well spent.

The Cheese Cave, located on Faribault's main drag, is the perfect place to do just that. Stop by and tap into the award-winning blue cheese, aged just two and a half blocks east of the store, in sandstone caves. The store is a Minnesota destination that's just as loved locally.

"We pride ourselves on the fact that we're a big part of the Faribault community," employee Anna Ochs said.

The cheese is produced at Caves of Faribault near the Shattuck-St. Mary's campus. It's the first producer of cave-aged blue cheese in the United States, and now it's the only remaining one. The region has the natural gift of rare St. Peter sandstone from the last glacial age.

The caves used now first were carved by German immigrants Ernst and Gottfried Fleckenstein in the 1850s for their brewery. They used the caves as refrigerators for beer, until Prohibition ended production.


Cheese maker Felix Frederiksen saw another opportunity with the closed caves. He had been searching for St. Peter sandstone and jumped at his find. Soon he became the first blue cheese maker in the United States and named his brand "AmaBlu," meaning "I love blue." Business quickly picked up for him.

The Faribault caves took a brief hiatus in the 1990s, when another company purchased them and moved cheese production to a conventional facility. Three local men refused to let them sit idle. Jeff Jirik, Randy Ochs (Anna Ochs's father) and Joe Sherman founded Faribault Dairy Company, Inc. in 2001 and started production of AmaBlu again. The Cheese Cave retail store opened in 2009.

The company was sold to the dairy cooperative Swiss Valley Farms in 2010, but that didn't change how their cheese was made at all.

"We're the only handcrafted artisan section of Swiss Valley Farms," Anna Ochs said.

The 16 caves are all hand-dug and have self-supported Gothic arches. St. Peter sandstone is slightly acidic, and water moves freely throughout, never dripping. Cave-aging makes cheese unique because of the way cheese picks up what's in the atmosphere around it.

I tried several of them at the store and noticed how much more moist they tasted than cheese I've previously had. Plus, they take their time in aging the cheeses. The flagship AmaBlu is aged 75 days and the St. Pete's Select is aged over 100 days.

They use milk from just 160 miles away, from a co-op member-owner farm in northern Iowa. The only other ingredients in the blue cheese are cheese-ripening bacteria and Penicillium rocquefortii, to create the blue veining.

The caves age several varieties of cheese in addition to blue, which you can find at the Cheese Cave store. There's AmaGorg Gorgonzola, Fini cheddar and Jeffs' Select Gouda, created from a collaboration between Jirik and his cheesemaker friend, Jeff Wideman.


Jirik is vice president of quality and product development for Swiss Valley Farms.

Spending time at the Cheese Cave store is truly a unique experience. Along with the legendary cheese, there's local honey and jam, wine, local craft beer, pizza, sandwiches and salad. It's served with a friendly small-town feel that goes right along with the handcrafted cheese.

"You can see everything that's being made," Ochs said. "We'll talk you through all the products. You can see us cleaning. You can try almost all of the cheeses. People come here, try cheese, buy a bunch, and come back. People come in and feel like they're in our kitchen with us. We tell them how we make the food, why we make it, we do wine tastings, beer tastings, chat with customers."

Ochs mentioned that a family all the way from Arizona loves the cheese so much that they ship back 20 pounds or so of blue cheese every summer.

"We're a destination spot," store manager Mary Meyer said. "We get people from all over coming in."

And deservedly so — Caves of Faribault was named a Champion Artisan Cheesemaker by the Upper Midwest Dairy Industry Association in 2014.

In addition to the flagship cheese, the Cheese Cave highlights cheeses from all over the Midwest, and some from Europe as well. No matter what you select, it's bound to be delicious. I came away with a wedge of Baby Swiss. Regulars come back often, and you even can host a private tasting party. Visit for more information on that.

If you're interested in how the process works, check out a cave tour on Or you can stop by the store on Central Avenue in Faribault and just enjoy the cheese for yourself.


— Brita Moore lives in Rochester, Minn.

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