“We’ve had our ups and we’ve had our downs but every time the down part comes we’ve been there for each other.” — Keith Adams on the friendship that launched William Cofield.
After graduating from UC-Davis, where they met and became friends, Keith Adams and Rob Hunter went their separate ways, Rob into the California winemaking business and Keith into Southern Minnesota's restaurant scene. Having established themselves in both the wine and cheese industry, they combined talents to bring to Wine Country the area's first proper British style cheese.
After moving to Minnesota where he married and raised two daughters, Davis native Keith Adams and a brother-in-law opened Bagel Bros. in Mankato, a mid-sized town in an agricultural community heavy on corn, soybeans and pork operations. Bagel Bros. hit big and expanded quickly, with five shops in four cities.
After many good years, the business took an irreversible downturn when the low-carb trend hit, and by 2007 Keith was working at a publishing company but still striving to create a life in the area of local, artisan foods. And he watched with great interest how his old college friend was making a knockout name for himself in wine.
Envious of and inspired by Rob's life working in a specialized and artistic local product, Keith in 2008 launched Alemar Cheese in Mankato — his main assets being a line on the best available organic milk (40 miles away in New Prague, Minnesota), financial investing from friends and a small manufacturing plant in an old Domino’s Pizza storefront.
The first cheese was Bent River, a Camembert-style soft cheese that in a few year’s time brought Keith's one-man, small-town operation to the attention of connoisseurs and critics well beyond Minnesota. Food writers raved about Bent River, which some famously claimed was the best Camembert outside of Camembert.
Demand nationwide continues to grow and Bent River today is sold at hundreds of specialty cheese shops and markets across the country.
(Alemar has added two cheeses, the Brie-inspired Blue Earth and Good Thunder, a funky, washed-rind cheese that utilizes Bender, an oatmeal brown ale from Surly Brewing).
Throughout his quick rise at Alemar, Keith remained intrigued by British-style cheese making. And it turns out his old friend was eager to work on a new venture.
Alemar had given Keith access to the cheese world's top-tier players, and doors were opened for him to visit, research and work in artisan English dairies, where in 2014 he learned some of the methods and technique of proper British style cheese.
Rob’s rise in the California wine landscape is a testimony to perfectionism, a quality that gives William Cofield its "proper" poise as a proper British style cheese.
Throughout his career, he’s pursued and delivered on outstanding formulas for wine using not only a connoisseur’s palate but a passion for meticulous record-keeping. It’s a talent in the form of paradigms and protocols that take much of the guesswork out and keep the quality consistent through the unpredictability of each growing season.
After graduation, Rob served as winemaker at Markham Vineyards, among others. His skill and wines were eventually noticed by Seagram, which at that time owned Sterling Wines. Seagram called upon Rob to serve as winemaker and revitalize the brand.
Rob worked at Sterling from 1997 until 2004, reviving not only the quality of the wine to his standards, but the morale and productivity of staff. “They were so proud to be at Sterling,” Rob said. “It was a wonderful run.”
Shortly after Sterling was sold in 2003, Rob returned to work at his family’s Robert Hunter Winery. With an innate appreciation and knowledge of the varieties and temperament of Napa Valley region's grapes, Rob in 2004 launched the Hunter III label, focusing on high-quality and limited-production Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and Sauvignon Blanc. He also began consulting for small, family-owned wineries, sharing his talents with close friends.
When Keith decided to pursue a cheese operation in Sonoma offering British style cheese, he approached Rob about the idea.
“He came to me and asked if I was interested," Rob said. "He was looking for two partners. I said "actually, I may be interested in being both of those partners.”
With Hunter III and Alemar enjoying best-of status in their fields, the time seemed right for two friends to merge their talents and passion into a small specialty company - Wiilliam Cofield Cheesemakers - that fills a void and brings to the area an exciting new adventure in taste, culture and friendship.