When it comes to kicking off summer, cracking a tub of Top the Tater is as much a tradition for some Minnesotans as opening up the cabin, waxing the boat and firing up the BBQ grill. In recent years, the chive-and-onion sour cream dip has become the edible version of the trucker hat: a humble staple of small-town grandmas' fridges, made hip by younger generations.

Minnesota's quirkiest condiment — fans eat it on everything from potato chips to chili to tacos — is distributed only in the Upper Midwest. Which is why some obsessives ferry it across state lines.

After visiting family in Minnesota recently, Tina Fisher filled an extra suitcase with Top the Tater (and Milaca, Minn.–made Heggie's Pizza) to bring back to Naples, Fla., where her family moved three years ago. Fisher grew up in Isanti, Minn., eating Top the Tater and later fed "giant tubs of it" to her five boys when they lived in nearby Center City.

This wasn't the first time the Fishers have lugged Top the Tater to Florida. When the family's adult sons drove down last Christmas, they filled a cooler. "I had a year's worth of Top the Tater transported across the border," Fisher said. "It's a taste of Minnesota that you can't get everywhere."

Its scarcity is part of why Minnesota expats cite it among their most-missed foods. Versatility is also a big part of its appeal. While Top the Tater was initially intended, as its name suggests, to dollop on a baker, it now tops almost anything — and everything. "Old Dutch Triple [Pack] Ripple chips, veggie tray, put it on burgers, brats, hell, just put the tub of it on the table — let nature take its course," one commenter wrote in the Minnesota sub-Reddit.

"It's the Dr. Bronner's of condiments," another commenter explained, referencing the all-in-one soap. "It is its own food group in this state," added a third.

Uberfans have gotten Top the Tater tattoos and repurposed empty tubs into purses. There are Top the Tater copycat recipes and food-truck knockoffs. A St. Cloud Sam's Club once paired bulk-size Top the Tater tubs with bonbons for a Valentine's Day-themed endcap.

Yet despite its cult following, Top the Tater remains under-the-radar — even in Minnesota — compared with Juicy Lucys, hot dish and other iconic regional fare.'

'Minnesota crack'

For those unfamiliar with Top the Tater, Reddit is a useful primer. "It's called Minnesota crack for a reason," one commenter wrote. "I try not to buy it, otherwise I eat an entire box of chips with top the tater in one or two sittings," another admitted.

Online, fans share stories of TSA employees calling dibs on Top the Tater tubs they've confiscated from carry-ons. They warn others not to forget to bring it to the cabin ("my sister hasn't spoken to me since"). Or substitute an inferior brand at a family gathering ("one of her uncles threw a hissy fit and actually left to go find it somewhere. After he got back with it, he said it 'wasn't christmas' without top the tater.")

It's mostly eaten as a chip dip, with Minnesota's Old Dutch Ripples being the go-to. But some swear by Doritos, Fritos, Dot's Pretzels, Bugles and Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

The creamy spread pairs well with all forms of taters, from French fries to mashed potatoes. But fans also slap it on pizza rolls and bagels. They mix it into tuna salad, potato salad, mac & cheese and scrambled eggs. It can also sub in for cream cheese in a ham-pickle roll-up (aka Minnesota sushi).

"Not going to lie," a commenter admitted. "Sometimes I just dig in with a spoon."

'It flies off the shelves'

Top the Tater first appears in newspaper archives in a 1962 ad in the Winona Daily News, hawking tubs for 39 cents. It's been produced by the same Farmington dairy plant for decades, even as it changed ownership, from Mid-America Farms (whose name remains on the package, to reinforce Top the Tater's longtime local roots), to Kemps, to Kansas City-based Dairy Farmers of America.

There are no company archives on it, so brand manager Corey Christofel doesn't know who invented its proprietary blend of ingredients (among them MSG, to which some attribute its addictiveness). But it's still made with milk sourced from family farmers in Minnesota and surrounding states.

Top the Tater doesn't taste dramatically different from other sour-cream-and-onion dips on the market: smooth and rich, perhaps with a little extra zing. Christofel attributes the product's appeal more to its longevity and nostalgia. "Multiple generations of Minnesotans have grown up with it and have memories of eating it with friends and family," he said. "It should be in the welcome package when you come here."

Christofel said his predecessor was once summoned to Walmart's headquarters to explain why one of their top-selling dips was only distributed in a small number of its stores. The reason, Christofel noted, is that Top the Tater fervor is concentrated in the product's home state. "It flies off the shelves in a lot of Minnesota," he said, while sales in surrounding states resemble those of their competitors. He isn't sure exactly what factors have cultivated Minnesotans' Top the Tater obsession. "If I did, I'd love to replicate it," he said.

'The beating heart'

Northern Minnesota "is the beating heart of Top the Tater country," according to Christofel.

The stuff is so popular in the Arrowhead region that the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center concessions serves it on hot dogs. And the University of Minnesota Duluth has long hosted "Top the Tater Tuesday" during its annual Homecoming Week.

Sydney Tomes, manager of UMD's student event-programming group, says the sour-cream-slathered-snack-break proved so popular that they added it to Spring Week. The group serves Top the Tater (original flavor, plus the taco, buffalo and bacon versions) with chips and pretzels to hundreds of students, who can also win Top the Tater merch. (The brand sells sunglasses, scarves, fanny packs and more.) "People are so excited," she said. "They want it all."

Tomes said the neon-green containers are a constant presence at UMD students' homes, tailgate parties and camping trips. Students smear it on sloppy joes ("it's surprisingly good") and add it to guacamole and tater tot hot dish. "It's always in the fridge," she said. "It's everywhere." Students have credited Top the Tater with getting them through college, she added.

Tomes has noticed that compared with her hometown in the west metro, Duluth grocers are more likely to carry all the Top the Tater flavors and put them on prominent display. So she loves letting Twin Citians in on the secret, as she did last July 4th by bringing Top the Tater to a friend's gathering on Lake Waconia.

"Their entire family went crazy," Tomes said. "It was gone in 10 minutes."