"We get really geeky about noodles." Meet Kelly McManus and Jeff Casper, co-owners of the Twin Cities-based fresh pasta company Dumpling & Strand. Per Yia Vang's adamant nomination, I had the pleasure of chatting with these two about their noodles, their geekiness, and the how & why of their start-up business.
If you've shopped at a co-op or a Whole Foods in the area recently, or Mill City and Kingfield Farmers' Markets this summer, chances are you've happened upon this duo's boldly-labeled, skillfully-crafted, and downright delicious line of noodles. They haven't been around for long, though--after months of thought and research, the enthusiastic neighbors and business partners officially launched their venture in May 2016 at Kingfield Farmers' Market. Jeff's science background and passion for grains combined with Kelly's marketing and entrepreneurial expertise are the factors that ultimately led the neighbors to turn to noodles. "Fresh pasta is kind of a novel concept in Minnesota," explains Kelly. "Because of that, we found an interested crowd and dedicated following right for the get-go. It was kind of fun."
This is where I stop to say--if you've never had fresh pasta, GO. NOW. It is surely not the same species as boxed pasta, and the Dumpling & Strand line ranks amongst the top for flavor and flare. For Kelly and Jeff, pasta starts with the very soil the grains they purchase (most of which are local) to mill into the flour (most of which is done locally) they use to make their pastas are grown in. "Most grain growers rank flavor of their grain second or third to yield and consistency," explains Jeff. "We've been experimenting with working with farmers who will place flavor as their top priority." The duo has worked tirelessly to get grants, co-ops and other funding for such experiments that ultimately impact a more sustainable future for farming, as well as elevate the flavors of their pastas.
Their lineup of noodles ranges from classic spaghetti, to ramen, to several gluten-free pastas, and my favorite--the wild rice Minnesoba. It's a thick noodle crafted from local wild rice. Minnesoba lends a pleasant nutty flavor that pairs nicely with Asian flavors as well as more traditional cream sauces. "We're all about finding an expression of a food in its place, " says Jeff. "There are a lot of purists who might not like the fact that we're using local grains to make a really good ramen, for example--it's not traditional--but we like to push boundaries and ask what ramen would look like if Minnesota were the first place it was made. And then make it!"
As for how the business partners see Dumpling & Strand affecting our community--well, "You can make all the fun you want of people posting pictures of their dinners, comments Kelly, "but for us it's really fun to see the ways people get creative with our products, the stories behind the dishes, and the people they share them with. It's a pretty big thing in a world that's becoming more insular. We're one tiny part of bringing people together."
"It's not just noodles," Jeff chimes in with a confidant smirk on his face, "it's the essence of humanity."
If you want to meet Kelly and Jeff at a farmers' market, or find out where to purchase their products, click here. Stay tuned to find out who they nominated for my next post!