From curds and whey to carefree catering

Nelson's Cheese & Deli, St. Paul
Nelson's Cheese & Deli, St. Paul

Why do cheese platters, box lunches and dessert trays have to be so boring? People put a lot of work into party planning, but when it comes to fanned-out assortments of yellow crackers and orange cheese slices, it seems neatness counts more than imagination.

Located kitty-corner from the state fairgrounds, Nelson Cheese & Deli holds their products to a higher standard — in both visuals and taste. They’ve been in the cheese business for more than 150 years, and that longevity keeps customers returning for more.

In the mid 1850s, Hubert Greenheck packed his bags and emigrated from Europe to America, settling in southwestern Wisconsin’s dairy country. A few years later he opened his first cheese factory using milk from neighboring farms. His grandson later opened a cheese factory in the town of Nelson, just across the river from Wabasha. Known for their diverse array of cheeses, the Nelson Cheese Factory is a well-known stop for Lake Pepin-area travelers.

The state of Wisconsin produces 26 percent of all cheese made in the United States and 45 percent of the country’s specialty cheese. Its cheese makers produce more than 600 varieties, types and styles, including at least 65 Wisconsin originals (brick and colby were invented there). While mozzarella and cheddar are the most popular, Wisconsin is also home to North America’s last Limburger factory. No matter your taste, the options are overwhelming.

Nelson Cheese now concentrates on showcasing the best of Wisconsin. They buy direct from many small, family-owned businesses. Coolers are packed with popular to unusual choices. In order to get their curated collection of cheeses appreciated by more customers, additional generations have followed into the business and opened deli-style outlets in Eau Claire, Rochester, Spring Lake Park and St. Paul. While most cheeses in their coolers today are from Wisconsin, Nelson also includes tempting offerings from the Midwest and around the world.

The busy St. Paul store boasts a cooler packed with freshly packaged cheeses. I tried out an assortment on company recently and Danish blue was the favorite. Smoked gouda and New York extra sharp white cheddar were tied for second place. My go-to appetizer this time of year is white cheddar with Honeycrisp apples — a big hit with my guests! Other popular choices in the store include Parmesan, Manchego, string cheese, cranberry goat cheese and cheese curds in an abundance of flavors.

In addition to a stocked cooler, Nelson Cheese & Deli is — a deli.

It’s all takeout, so don’t plan on eating there. Colorful chalkboards list numerous specialty, submarine and hot sandwiches. Hotdogs are available in styles of Chicago, New York or St. Paul. House salads or make-your-own include 40 ingredients and 15 dressings. Everything’s made to order at a long, clean counter. The options are fresh and well stocked.

Check out the photo display showing several steps to making cheese as well as historic photos and objects above the coolers and cash register.

Where Nelson Cheese & Deli really thrives though is in their catering. Beautifully designed cheese trays feature Wisconsin’s best, artisan bread baskets are a perfect cracker alternative, cheese and berry trays overflow with color, boxes of assorted sandwiches serve up to 20 hungry people and freshly baked dessert bars will please all sweet tooths.

A friend of mine said she orders a box of sandwiches every time she goes to a group gathering and there are never any crumbs left. Nelson Cheese personally crafts all orders and is happy to work with customers on custom orders.

Don’t forget alcohol-free drinkers this party season! Nelsons has an entire cooler dedicated to unusual sodas and juice drinks with retro and wacky graphics. I counted 13 kinds of root beer! My company loved Carouso’s Dark Cream and Limoncello, but Blenheim Hot Ginger Soda took our breath away, and I wished I brought home more bottles.

Happy planning this holiday season! Stop into Nelson Cheese & Deli either for your group or your own treat. You won’t be disappointed.

Know of any hidden treasures? Contact Linda Koutsky on Facebook.

NELSON CHEESE & DELI

1562 Como Avenue, St. Paul nelsoncheese.net

  •   Delivery available throughout the Twin Cities metro area.
  •   Stop in yourself or visit their website for menus and ordering.
  •   Open Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.–7 p.m.; Saturday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

LUNCH TIP: Classic sandwiches and those with a local twist fill the menu boards. Go for their best seller: The Lexington.

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