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Experiences Made in Minnesota

Experience the stories behind these products made in Minnesota with one of the tours or museums.


Long before spam arrived in the inbox, there was Spam, the American meat in a can. First concocted to feed hungry soldiers during World War II, the six-ingredient, pressed pork product is still popular worldwide.

No one celebrates Spam more than Austin, home to Spam’s parent company, Hormel, since its founding in 1891. Austin calls itself Spamtown USA and, a few years ago, opened a new museum to salute its best-known export.

Three years ago, the Spam Museum moved downtown to beef up — or in this case, pork up — Austin’s Main Street. When it did, it also decided to have some fun and make a trip to the museum as memorable as a first taste of its namesake.

Over 100,000 people a year visit the free museum and take tours led by wise-cracking Spambassadors, who also serve as waiters, delivering trays of Spamples — Spam cubes speared with pretzel sticks. Visitors can calculate their height in Spam cans, learn why Hawaii is crazy for Spam and ponder 15 types of Spam — Spam with chorizo, anyone? Historic memorabilia, videos and interactive exhibits add to the fun.

“We talk about how Spam came to pass and evolved and where it is going,” said Savile Lord, the museum’s manager. “What is cool about Spam is, even at 82, it is not done. It is a very vital part of the cuisine of many countries.”


Until the mid-1950s, getting through the snowy Minnesota woods was a slog. Then along came a trio of tinkerers and their grand, snow-defying machine on skis: the snowmobile.

The company they founded, Polaris Industries, is still going strong today in Roseau, its hometown on the Canadian border. It makes snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and other vehicles.

Outdoor enthusiasts from all over come to visit the Polaris Experience Center and take tours of the nearby Polaris manufacturing plant. Although the center is self-guided, groups can arrange for a more formal tour guided by a staff member who will delve deeper into company history.

In the center, visitors are excited to see Machine No. 2 —  the second snowmobile made, with its skis fashioned from Chevrolet bumpers — and read about the company’s breakthroughs and inventions. They can watch old commercials, clips from races and footage of the Polaris thrill team doing stunts. A gift shop is stocked with Polaris-branded shirts, hoodies, hats and other items.

A daily one-hour public tour at the factory begins at 2 p.m. and covers company history and a significant part of Polaris’ 850,000-square-foot plant. Additional tours for groups can be arranged with advance notice.

Redhead Creamery

Alise Sjostrum was only 16 when she announced that she would become a cheesemaker. She made cheese her life, studying the craft in college and at specialized culinary schools. Friends started calling her Cheese Alise.

Four years ago, her teenage declaration came true when she, her husband and her parents opened Redhead Creamery on her parents’ dairy farm near Brooten in central Minnesota.

Sjostrum spends her days developing and making artisan cheeses that fit the ever-changing profile of the milk that flows from the farm’s dairy herd. The milk’s fat content and flavor vary, depending on what the cows eat. Sjostrum tailors her cheeses to take best advantage of those flavors.

On Fridays and Saturdays, the public is welcome for 60- to 90-minute tours of the entire operation. The $10 tours are at 12:30 p.m. each day. Visitors meet cows named for donors to the Kickstarter campaign that helped build the modern creamery and watch the cheese being made through windows into the creamery. They learn about environmentally sound measures the farm has taken.

Afterward, they sample North Fork Whisky Washed Munster, Little Lucy Brie, Ridiculously Good Cheddar Cheese Curds and other cheeses. They can also visit the creamery’s cheese shop to buy cheeses, local jams and breads to take home, or enjoy a custom cheese board and a glass of beer or wine.

The cheese shop’s sophistication surprises many, Sjostrum said. “From the outside, it is a steel building that looks like a glamorous shed. Then they come in and it is an elaborate cheese shop where they can look through windows and see cheeses being made” she said.

The tours are a good reminder of agriculture’s impact, she added. “It is fun to help bring people back to where their food is made.”


Need a bowed psaltery, a kantele, a hurdy-gurdy, a psalmodikon or a strumbly? How about a harp or a banjo?

If so, it might be time to visit Musicmakers in the Twin Cities suburb of Stillwater. The small company makes 30 instruments, including common ones like ukuleles and lesser-known ones like the hognose psaltery. It sells the instruments as finished products and as kits.

Tours of its manufacturing operation are informal, tailored to individual interests. According to Cody Clifton, who handles customer service and is also a musician, two audiences dominate tours: musicians who don’t know anything about woodworking, and woodworkers who don’t know anything about music.

Visitors can see the company’s six woodworkers on the job, and depending on the number and complexity of visitors’ questions, a tour can take “10 minutes to an hour,” said Clifton.

When it began in 1978, Musicmakers sold kits for making a variety of items, such as clocks, kitchen cutlery and musical instruments. And although you can still build your own kantele — that’s a 10-string zither from Finland, by the way — a lot more customers opt for finished instruments now than they did even a decade ago, according to Clifton.

Hafeman Boat Works

If you want to learn about birchbark canoes, Ray Boessel is the man to see. Over the past 37 years, he’s made 342 in his shop at Hafeman Boat Works near Big Fork in the Chippewa National Forest. He also travels to living-history events to talk about the role birch-bark canoes played in early American trade.

Boessel’s broad knowledge makes his shop popular for tours, and he welcomes them. It’s always a good idea to call ahead, since he does spend days away doing living history or in the woods collecting the roots, birch bark and cedar needed to build the vessels.

He uses the canoes in his shop, both finished and under construction, to help visitors understand the building process and the features of different canoes. Visitors also see the raw materials and learn how they are used to make a strong and watertight canoe.

To emphasize the birchbark canoe’s impact, he shares facts like this: In the fur-trade era, a 26-foot birchbark canoe would carry two tons of freight, six to eight men and all of their gear.

Lest you think birchbark canoes today are strictly museum pieces, consider this: Three-quarters of the people who buy Boessel’s canoes use them. He never gets complaints about the workmanship. And even though sales have slowed, he keeps turning out canoes. “Even if I don’t sell them, I will keep building them.”