Every region of Minnesota contributes to the state's cornucopia of local food, but the counties just south of the Twin Cities seem to lead the pack in creating culinary creme de la creme. Thousand Hills grass-fed beef, Callister chickens and dairy products from Cedar Summit Farms -- all of which come from this area -- are increasingly recognized statewide as quality products that respect the land and taste good. They are joined by a growing number of smaller producers who make the locale one of the finest places to savor the flavors of the state.
Head south from the metro area on Interstate 35, then go eastbound on Hwy. 19, which will serve as your guide for most of the journey from Northfield to Cannon Falls. On a weekend day you can visit all or most of the stops below, tasting and gathering a delicious collection of products to incorporate in your autumn cooking and eating.
The Larson family has been supplying the area -- both consumers and restaurants -- with their locally grown produce for years. As fall begins, stop by their roadside stand for apples, squash and mums. The farm holds its Fall Harvest Festival on weekends from now through Oct. 31 with a pumpkin patch, corn maze, petting zoo and afternoon hayrides. Admission is free with purchase.
4706 E. Lonsdale Blvd. (5 miles east of I-35 on Hwy. 19), Northfield; 651-253-2689; www.bridgewaterproducefarm.com; farm stand open daily from sunrise to sunset through October.
St. Olaf alums may remember this charming structure adjacent to campus as the Ole Store. But it's been thoroughly gentrified by Angie Perez for its new role as a hip coffeehouse and cafe. There's a nod to the past (the preserved pressed-tin ceiling), and brightly painted walls echo the colorful ingredients in the A+ desserts, such as fruit-topped cakes and decadent tarts. The cafe serves French toast, waffles and egg dishes at breakfast, and soups, salads and panini at lunch.
1011 St. Olaf Av., Northfield; 1-507-645-2500; www.the-ole-cafe.com; 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat.; 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sun.
This is the spot to stock up on the edible bounty of the region -- produce, cheese and meat, among many other products -- sold by a staff that's friendly and knowledgeable. While the market tries to feature as many products as possible from within 30 miles, it also carries special finds from neighboring states. One delicious example from Wisconsin is the nutty, buttery Marieke Gouda cheese with fenugreek seeds. Such experimentation shows "Old World and new styling married together," says Martie Jirovec, the meat, cheese and deli manager, who keeps about 100 varieties of cheese in stock.
516 S. Water St., Northfield; 1-507-650-0106; www.justfood.coop; 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sun.
This new venture along the Cannon River brings together a lively blend of food purveyors and artists like Kathy Zeman of Simple Harvest organic farm, who sells honey and her brother Nick's locally famous eggs. Pick up a freshly baked treat and gaze across the river to the historic Malt-O-Meal mill on the west bank, an indication of the area's rich agricultural legacy.
Sesquicentennial Plaza and Lower East Side Riverwalk, downtown Northfield; www.riverwalkmarketfair.org; 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays through Oct. 30.
Using grapes grown at their Sogn Valley vineyard and purchased from carefully chosen sources, John and Maureen Maloney have created a dazzling array of wines. On Saturdays, the winery's tasting room in downtown Cannon Falls hums as visitors enjoy sampling flights and wines by the glass (both $5-$7). Best of all, the wines you take home complement flavors you'll find in the markets listed here. The Sogn Valley Blanc, made from estate-grown Minnesota Edelweiss grapes, is a slightly sweet, but satisfyingly smooth accompaniment to Singing Hills goat cheese (from nearby Nerstrand; available at Just Food). The peppery Mancini's Levee Red pairs well with Italian turkey sausages from Ferndale Market.
421 W. Mill St.; Cannon Falls; 1-507-263-7400; www.cannonriverwinery.com; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sun.
You can talk turkey with John Peterson, general manager of Ferndale Market. After all, his family has been raising the birds here for almost 70 years. But Peterson is just as willing to describe the "many other good things happening with local agriculture and food production in this area." Those good things line the shelves of the market, located right on the farm -- items like grains and baking mixes, jams and jellies, ice cream, produce and, of course, turkey -- which is available smoked, ground and as sausage. Beginning Nov. 1, the market takes orders for fresh turkeys to pick up around Thanksgiving.
31659 County 24 Blvd., Cannon Falls; 1-507-263-4556; www.ferndalemarketonline.com; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mon.-Fri.; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sun.
Andrew David Baker is an Edina writer.