Taking a bite out of a pie baked at Saint Peter’s one and only Cheese and Pie Mongers is like taking a trip in time to Grandma’s home kitchen.
“We like to bring people back to ‘Oh my gosh, I haven’t seen that pie since Grandma made it!’” explained Liberty Warren, who along with her husband, Tim Harbo own the shop. When she and her husband Tim first dreamed up the idea for a specialty pie shop, they knew they wanted anyone who walked in their doors to be treated like family. What better way to achieve that feeling than through treasured heirloom recipes?
“The very first thing we do when we’re coming up with recipes is go back to Grandma’s cookbook,” Warren shared. “The whole staff has old recipes that were family recipes and that’s where we start. We have found ones that we all remember from childhood.”
Digging through old recipe boxes is how the Cheese and Pie Mongers unearthed the tried-and-true piecrust they use for every pastry. Although store-bought crusts would have been a quicker option, the owners and staff alike agreed that they wanted to be responsible for every single part of the baking process.
“We all got together and brought in grandma’s recipe cards and lo and behold they all had the same basic recipe,” Warren remembered. “It’s just a really nice, flaky crust.”
Warren says the decision to make their own piecrust really set the tone for the way the Cheese and Pie Mongers operates.
“That’s the base of what we do,” Warren said. “The piecrust is first and foremost and there’s so much technique to it. During the busiest part of our season, which is the fall and Thanksgiving, we make anywhere from 1,000 to 1500 piecrusts a week. Each and every one of them has to meet our standards. We don’t let any of them through our system that’s not perfect.”
The Saint Peter shop is a testament to Warren and her staff’s commitment to quality and deliciousness. Its walls are lined with freezers stuffed with pies and shelves loaded with syrups, jams, hot sauces, and other complimentary goods. As the crowning jewel, a table in the center floor displays sample bites of the day’s featured cheese and baked good selections.
Whether they know it or not, those samples make visitors even more a part of the Cheese and Pie Mongers family.
“We always say how lucky we are to get to quality-control everything!” laughed Sheryl Utter, full-time employee and baker.
Just like when they created their piecrust, when the Mongers decide to hawk a new pie flavor, the first step is always pulling out the family recipe cards.
“We’ve been in the research and development phase for French silk,” Warren explained. “What we do for that is pick a couple of different recipes, make them all, and then taste them side by side.
We always say how lucky we are to get to quality-control everything!
It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. The Mongers’ crew thoroughly compares each recipe and enlists friends, family members, and occasionally some lucky bystanders to give them their feedback.
“We can easily eliminate one that we don’t think is the one for us, and then we go back to the other ones and we try to make compromises,” said Warren. “Taste-testing around here is really fun. It’s a lot of sampling, a lot of discussion – the whole staff over here really takes a lot of pride in the baking and what we do.”
Quality control doesn’t end with taste-testing. Once the crew cobbles together a recipe that delights everyone’s taste buds, the next thing they check is how well the recipe holds up to different storage and baking methods.
“We break everything down and we try it and we freeze it and we thaw it,” Warren said. During the trial process, the baking staff takes note of what worked best and makes any necessary tweaks.
“We really make sure before it hits that sales floor that it’s one that we all put our stamp of approval on,” Warren said regarding each type of pie.
The sheer number of pies sold is clearly a stamp of approval from customers. The Cheese and Pie Mongers receive visitors from all over Minnesota, as well as surrounding states.
“You get to meet a lot of fun people,” said Utter. “We get people traveling from all over, like the Cities [and] South Dakota, and we have people who come down on a regular basis now.”
The Cheese and Pie Mongers’ website boasts over 40 different kinds of pies, many of which are stocked in the store’s ample freezer for customers to take and bake. This pastry headcount doesn’t include the selection of cakes the store’s bakers keep on hand, or the cheesecake varieties.
“When we first opened, we didn’t offer cheesecakes and we weren’t set up to make cheesecakes, but we kept getting questions,” Warren laughed. “I think people just expect the Cheese and Pie Mongers to have a cheesecake.”
In true Pie Monger fashion, the store found a way to put its own unique twist on the classic New York treat.
“We don’t use a spring-form pan,” said Warren. “We put a graham cracker crust in one of our pie pans. It’s a pretty traditional cheesecake in an untraditional format and they just took off.”
Cheesecake isn’t the only kind of cheese for sale at the Saint Peter store. Any space that isn’t taken by pies is claimed by refrigerators stuffed full of specialty cheeses from creameries in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Besides your basic (and delicious!) Swiss, Cheddar, and Blue, the Cheese and Pie Mongers carry everything from Garlic and Green Onion Jack to Savory Rosemary Cheshire. The whole staff is happy to share their thoughts on which cheese is best for any occasion – yes, even dessert.
“I think pie and cheese is an awesome thing!” Warren said. “I like whipped cream and ice cream with my pie as well, but sometimes something different like an apple pie with cheddar cheese is just where it’s at.”
Adventurous tastings and familiar favorites pair just as well as apples and cheddar. Mild Colby lives in harmony with the Mustard Melange Gouda on the Cheese Mongers’ ample shelves, just as the unique sour cream and raisin pies sit comfortably next to the classic cherry and key lime, evoking the best kind of family reunion. There’s something to entice every visitor – just like in Grandma’s kitchen.
- The Cheese and Pie Mongers on Facebook
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- Welsh Heritage Farms Website
- Welsh Heritage Farms on MankatoLIFE
Visiting The Cheese and Pie Mongers
- Where: 317 Minnesota Avenue, St. Peter
- Monday-Friday: 11 am – 5:30 pm
- Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
- Sunday: Noon – 4 pm
Check the shop’s website for up-to-date information and special holiday hours.