October 19, 2012Uplands Cheese Company, located on a beautiful 300-acre farm in the rolling hills outside of Dodgeville, WI, is home to two of the most celebrated cheeses made in the United States – Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an alpine style cheese, and Rush Creek Reserve, a soft, wash rind cheese wrapped with spruce bark. Both cheeses are made with raw milk from grass fed cows at the Uplands farm.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve is fashioned after the famous alpine style cheeses from the Alps in France and Switzerland. In 2000 Mike Gingrich, the owner of Uplands Cheese, began producing Pleasant Ridge Reserve, using raw milk, and aging the cheese for nearly 12 months. In 2001 the cheese was entered in the annual American Cheese Society awards competition. It won a blue ribbon in its class, and to top things off, it won Best of Show, meaning it was judged by the panel of experts to be the best cheese in the entire competition, beating out over 1,500 other cheeses. Since that first win it has repeated the Best of Show award again in 2005 and 2010, something no other cheesemaker in the U.S. has ever done.
In 2007 Gingrich wanted to slow down from the 18-hour days required to run the Uplands operation. He hired Andy Hatch, a 26-year-old originally from Milwaukee. After graduating from a liberal arts college, Hatch realized that he wanted to be in the country, preferably on a farm. He travelled to Europe and spent 2-3 years travelling and working as an apprentice cheesemaker in Norway, England, Ireland, Italy and France. He fell in love with the art of making cheese. Life was carefree and good until the day his mother called him to tell him that his father was in grave condition in a hospital in Milwaukee. Hatch came home and spent the summer with his dad in the hospital, then in Door County, where the family has a summer home. It was while Hatch was in Door County with his dad that he met Caitlin Leline, a talented young artist from Baileys Harbor.
Hatch wanted to pursue his newfound love of cheesemaking so he entered the dairy short course at UW – Madison in order to obtain a cheesemaker license. After completing the course work he apprenticed with two well known Master Cheesemakers in southern Wisconsin, followed by an opportunity to join Uplands Cheese.
In 2009 Andy and Caitlin were married in Door County, and shortly thereafter they moved into the main house at the Uplands farm. Hatch was putting in long hours working side by side with Gingrich making Pleasant Ridge Reserve. In 2010 Gingrich turned over the reins to Hatch as head cheesemaker and general manger of the Uplands operation.
Because of Hatch’s experiences of working with French cheesemakers he was very familiar with how the great alpine cheeses of Europe were made. The cows were taken into the mountains for the summer where they would graze on lush meadows, and the cheesemakers would make the cheese with that milk. In the fall the herds were brought to the valleys along with all the cheese that had been made over the summer. The cows would then begin eating hay for a few months before “drying up” for the winter. The profile of the milk changes to higher butterfat content when they begin eating hay in the fall and that is when the French cheesemakers begin making Vacherin Mont d’Or, a soft, creamy cheese loaded with flavor.
Knowing that the farming practices and the herd at Uplands were very similar to what he learned while in France, Hatch went to work, experimenting with different recipes and methods to create his own cheese. The first obstacle in trying to make a raw milk cheese like this is that the cheese made in France is sold when it is 20-30 days old. In the U.S. all raw milk cheese needs to be aged at least 60 days, 2 to 3 times longer than Vacherin Mont d’Or. Hatch finally found the right combination, and introduced his first batch of Rush Creek Reserve in the fall of 2010. Within days of its release a feature story in the New York Times appeared, applauding this great new American cheese. The phones began ringing off the hook at Uplands from every major cheese shop in the country. All the cheese that Hatch made was sold overnight.
The petite wheels of Rush Creek Reserve are wrapped in spruce bark that Hatch imports from France. I would best describe this wonderful cheese as “a raw milk beauty with a custard soft, rich interior, and a unique, earthy, almost beef brothy flavor.” I love to eat it with a small spoon or spread it on a fresh piece of French bread. There is a “Cheese Insider” reader that I know well who tells me that is the “best cheese I have ever eaten.” This gentleman has wheels of Rush Creek shipped to him in Florida until the supply dries up. He already is asking when he will get his first order.
Hatch told me this year he is making five times the number of wheels of Rush Creek that he made in 2010, and it is already all pre-sold. If you have already enjoyed this cheese then I am sure you will agree that it is truly irresistable. If you have never tried it, I suggest you do so, you will be happy you did.
Michael C. Thomas is co-owner of Schoolhouse Artisan Cheese with his wife Janice. With locations in Ellison Bay and Egg Harbor, they aim to bring the best of Wisconsin artisan cheeses to Door County, and with “The Cheese Insider” Michael hopes to bring all things cheese to readers of the Pulse. If you have a question for "The Cheese Insider" please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.