When I think about wine and cheese, I think about the 1940s-style apartment I rented when I taught in France after college. I think about its kitchen. It had bright yellow wallpaper, with a potted herb motif—it housed an oven that burnt most things it touched, and an odd array of pots, pans, bowls and silverware that had been abandoned by previous tenants. Really, most unusually, it had a beautiful cherry table. La cerise sauvage, we called it.
My friends and I spent many evenings laying out perfect, farmers market fresh meats and cheeses on that table. We’d light candles or incense, uncork a cheap bottle of wine, and recount the day’s adventures. How many high school boys had made Meredith feel uncomfortable when she had asked them about their hobbies? How many 2nd graders had barked at Emily?
I think about cheese, and it takes me to a different time and place.
If you don’t think you have a cheese memory, I’d suggest you drop by GYST. It’s a new fermentation wonderland in Whittier, just off of Eat Street. Sisters Ky and Mel Guse will help you pick out a plate of fermented goodies, and you’ll just be somewhere else. You’ll have a favorite cheese memory.
The other day, I chatted with Ky about how she and her sister ended up claiming a corner of their own in Minneapolis. Here’s what she had to say about the process, its inspiration, and her hopes for the future.
What inspired you to plant yourself in Minneapolis, and open a fermentation bar?
In the 1970s, our grandparents owned a little restaurant in South Dakota called Cantina. Growing up, we always heard stories about it. I think these stories really took root and inspired my sister and me to dream up our perfect place.
Also, while I was in grad school in San Francisco, I worked at the cheese bar of a Bi-Rite to make a little money. Bi-Rite is this tiny, specialty, sustainable, local market—for me, the energy there was amazing. I learned a lot about cheese, wine, chocolate, and I made a lot of good friends. Mel worked there too, and was also in the process of becoming a licensed sommelier. It just made sense. We realized all the things we loved to eat were fermented.
So you were studying and working in San Francisco…they have an awesome food scene. How’d you end up in Minneapolis?
Our attention was drawn to the Midwest primarily because of our family. While in school, we’d spend time off at our parents’ home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota—we’d hang out around the lakes and go into the city. We’d also readarticles in the New York Times and elsewhere highlighting Minneapolis’ up and coming food scene. It seemed like the perfect place to introduce something like a fermentation bar.
What was it like trying to work your way into the Minneapolis food scene?
When Mel and I first moved here two years ago, we discovered the Bachelor Farmer, and it really felt like being back in San Francisco—it’s where we ended up meeting a lot of our friends. Jill Mott and Jim Bovino, two of our other business partners, used to work there, and we just formed a really tight relationship with them. They created this warm, inviting, really knowledgeable place for us to go. Anyways, we realized we all had an interest in natural, simple food. We sat down, and started to dream up our own place—we launched a Kickstarter in late June of 2014, and we opened our doors the day after Thanksgiving!
You mentioned your interest in natural and organic foods—what other kinds of values was GYST built on?
Well, so, we also offer classes and different events so that people can meet local urban farmers, cheese makers, cider makers, brewers, etc. We have somegreat cider makers in Minnesota, so we’re working on bringing those kinds of people in. Really, the idea was to connect the producers and amazing products to our staff members and then to our customers—so that the producers become better known in our community, and so that people know where their food comes from.
Once you know where your food comes from, it a whole kind of…it’s this wonderland, where it’s like, wow, this person spends their living making this chocolate, where it comes all the way from Costa Rica, and this is how the farmer produces it. For me, it really connects people to their food.
It sounds like GYST is really focused on community education…for readers who haven’t yet visited, can you describe its vibe a little bit more?
I think the one kind of confusing thing right now is that people think we’re a restaurant. We’re not really a restaurant. It really is more of this…not like abar—like a wine bar or a beer bar—but like a salad bar! A fermentation bar! We have lots of different fermented, beautiful things to try. You can come in and try different cheeses—our fridge is always stocked with between 15 and 25. We have a pickle plate, a meat board, a cheese plate…You could just buy half a pound of cheese to go. It’s really just about coming in and trying different fermented products.
Yum. What’s on the menu that’s house made or Minnesota made?
Right now, we’re pickling a lot of different kinds of things—all of our pickles are house made. The health department only allows you to ferment for a specific amount of time for safety reasons, so we do a light ferment on all of them. We’re also working with Adrienne from Kiss My Cabbage, so we’ve got a couple of her fermented goodies on our pickle ferment plate.
What kind of food projects are you currently working on?
One of our projects is trying to look at wines in a different way. Once you open them, they change. For example, we’re looking at the Saperavi, a Georgian varietal…opening it on day one, it’s delicious. It’s great. It’s a deep, dark red color, but it doesn’t get super tannic. We just tried it again on day 5, and it gets juicier, more tannic and full—fruit forward. We really want to do a flight where people could try this wine on day one, day five, and day ten, you know? They could just sample it, and see what happens when oxygen hits, and things start moving along. Wine is alive, and that’s one word we like to use to describe GYST.
You’ve got a lot going on, and everything seems to have happened so fast for you. What are your hopes for GYST?
So far, we couldn’t be more excited about our neighborhood. We have the best neighbors in the world. People are coming in over and over again, and we love them.
We just sat down and thought more about the role GYST has taken on in the community. Mel and I love this idea of creating a space that is relaxing, that takes you away to a certain place. If you wanna come in, get a glass of rosé and a beautiful cheese board, and read a book at 2 in the afternoon, we wanna help you do that. We’re really excited, and we’re still learning.
IMAGE PROVIDED BY GYST