This article originally appeared as part of the story Piè de Résistance in the May/June 2019 issue.
Dexa Franks knows her cheeses. So much so that the veteran Kowalski’s imported cheese specialist can rattle off the favorite fromages of her neighbors, which vary noticeably from the ones that sell on Grand Avenue or around Lake Minnetonka.
“People around here don’t like a lot of stinky cheeses, I can tell you that. But it’s kind of trial and error,” Franks says. Franks' shoppers also become her friends, and she treats them accordingly, memorizing their preferences while staying on the cutting edge of what’s new in the cheese industry. “But yeah, we go through a lot of bries and cheddars.”
She once went through 70 cases of seasonal Brillat-Savarin—a creamy French brie—in just two months. And it’s normal for the smallish store to fly through 40 pounds a week of Prairie Breeze, a nutty, aged white cheddar made by Mennonites in Iowa. Franks flies around her case, answering questions and helping customers curate dinner party menus or fill picnic baskets for a day on the boat. But where she really shines is in the pairings, developing custom cheese and charcuterie trays that bring together the best of Kowalski’s gourmet food selections. Franks recently had a visitor from Alaska become so smitten with her expert hand that she requested 11 pairings that could be shipped home.
As we head into deck and boat season, here are a few of her favorite pairs:
- Fromager d’Affinois, a French brie. Pair with locally made Lucille’s Raspberry Pepper Jam and slices of Kowalski’s housemade French bread.
- St. Agur, a flavorful French blue that’s delicious with rosemary crackers by Denver’s 34 Degrees, orange blossom honey and slivers of dark chocolate. “Cheese. Drizzle with honey, top with chocolate. Drink. Red. Wine.”
- Goat cheese is super-refreshing with fig spread. Pair with Raincoast Crisps in the fig and olive flavor.