Updated: Nov 22, 2022
This is a story about long lost cheeses......
The Jura Region in Eastern France has been able to boast historic Alpine Cheeses for centuries. The cows are brought into the mountains in the spring to graze on the fresh grasses. The milk they give is unique, and is made into the Alpine cheeses in Fruitiers in the mountains of the Alps. In the fall, they are brought back down the mountains and feed dry feed which results in different milk. As with most of our traditions, we brought the cheese making recipes with us when our relations emigrated.
Our cheeses for today are Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve. And a bonus, Redhead Creamery's St.. Anthony.
Yes, this will be a long blog. Grab a cup, snuggle in and watch the snow fly while you read.
Firstly, where do I buy the cheese?
Direct from the websites and in stores.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve: approx. $30/lb
Rush Creek Reserve: $36-$37 each 8 oz wheel
St. Anthony: approx.$21/lb
Keep in mind that the LAST release of Rush Creek from the producer(Uplands) is December 19th. It may still be in stores after the 19th. But don’t wait!
In Minnesota, Lunds & Byerlys and Kowalski’s have really great cheese counters, and cheese mongers! They are very responsive to their clientele. So, ask for what you want! If they can get the cheeses you want, they will.
Other parts of the country, Whole foods and any specialty cheese shops will provide the same service.
Talk to your cheese monger. Ask them questions like: “what is tasting good today”, “what would you recommend for my cheese and charcuterie board”, “can you get this cheese?”. AND, most importantly, “can I have a sample of this?”. You will totally make their day!!
For Pleasant Ridge Reserve, ask your Monger for a fresh cut from the wheel, if that is offered. Alpine style cheeses oxidize and lose their full flavor quickly upon portioning. If the piece has been vacuum sealed by the producer, no worries, it is fresh and you will know the difference by the packaging.
Secondly, tell me the story and introduce me to the makers
Well, this is where it get long. But, please, consider this a true to life Hallmark movie.
Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Made from summer milk, styled after Beaufort (Alpine cheese) from the Jura Region of France. It is a farmstead cheese.
Uplands Rush Creek Reserve. Made from the fall milk, styled after Vacherin Mont d’ Or. Again, from the Jura Region of France. It is also a farmstead cheese.
Western Uplands Region of Wisconsin (aka, Driftless region) is similar in latitude to the Jura
St Anthony is produced by Redhead Creamery in Brooten MN. It is a farmstead cheese as well. A “happy accident” cheese that won second in it's class of American Originals by the American Cheese Society in 2019
· From Culture Magazine: https://culturecheesemag.com/cheese-library/Rush-Creek-Reserve
The original vision for Uplands Cheese was as a collaboration between Mike & Carol Gingrich and their business partners, Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. Having had a successful career in the corporate world with Xerox, Mike decided to realize a long-held ambition to create a farmstead cheese operation modeled after the traditional practices found in the French Alps. Together they acquired a farm in southern Wisconsin in the mid 1990's and immediately set to work to improve the quality of the pasture, which was sown with specific varieties of grasses, clovers, herbs and wild flowers. The 150 cows at Uplands deliberately consist of a variety of well-known milking breeds and carefully crossed genetics with a view to producing the highest possible quality of milk. The farm incorporates rotational grazing by creating 20 separate pastures on their 244 acre farm.
In 2007, cheesemaker Andy Hatch joined the team and has now taken over responsibility for the cheesemaking as well as acquisition of the business. Dan and Jeanne are now retired, having left a great legacy of the very high quality milking herd that still provides 100% of the milk for cheese production.
The cheese for which Uplands became known is Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Modeled closely after French Beaufort from the Jura region, Pleasant Ridge has won multiple awards including being the three times Best in Show winner at the Annual American Cheese Society competition.
However, in the autumn of 2010, Andy decided to launch a new cheese, Rush Creek Reserve. Rush Creek takes its inspiration from Vacherin Mont d’Or, a wonderful, seasonal cheese made in the Jura region of France - the same area as Beaufort. Traditional Beaufort is only made during the summer months when the cows are grazing on high altitude pasture. In the fall, when the cows come down to the lower slopes, the cheesemakers switch production to make Vacherin Mont d’Or from the fall and early winter milk. This milk is naturally high in protein and solids and is particularly suited to production of softer cheese. So, for the same reasons, Andy decided that Rush Creek Reserve would be a natural companion to Pleasant Ridge Reserve.
Rush Creek is made only between September and November each year. Cheeses are produced from fresh, raw, warm, evening milk gently pumped directly into the cheese vat from the milking parlor. After the cultures and rennet are added and the curd is set, Hatch cuts and stirs the large curd by hand—using no mechanical agitators—to protect its delicate texture. He hand-ladles the curd into forms, where it sets briefly, is flipped, and then is drained overnight.
The next morning the 12-ounce wheels are brined and hand-wrapped with spruce bark that’s been first boiled, then soaked in a portion of yeast and molds. This colonizes the bark with bacteria that helps ripen the cheese. Disks are then transferred to a series of maturing rooms where they remain for at least two months prior to release. During this time, they are also washed with a mother culture—a mixture of brine, yeasts, and bacteria, including Brevibacterium linens—which results from washing Pleasant Ridge. Hatch explains; “We wash the big wheels of Pleasant Ridge first to capture the bacteria from those rinds in the solution. Then we wash the Rush Creek wheels with the same solution and transfer the bacteria. Our purpose is to really express the milk and the wash reinforces that.”
Soft and luxuriant, Rush Creek Reserve is not designed for slicing. Like Vacherin Mont d’Or, it is meant to be served slightly warmed with its thin top rind removed so a spoon or bit of bread can be dipped into the cheese.
This cheese, with its rippling pink surface lightly dusted with white, is positively striking. Rich, salty, and savory, flavors of smoked and cured meat dominate, with notes of sour cream and grass in the background.
We love Rush Creek Reserve alongside roasted and starchy foods; think french fries, roasted Brussels sprouts, warmed apples wrapped in bacon or pancetta, or rosemary potatoes. For drink pairings, try a sweet, woody bourbon, a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. A Belgian Tripel would work nicely, too.
· From the website: https://uplandscheese.com/
About Uplands Cheese Company
Hatch and Mericka Families
Our farm is owned and operated by two families: Andy and Caitlin Hatch, and Scott and Liana Mericka. Andy and Scott began as apprentices under the previous generation of owners – Uplands Cheese founders Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude. In 2014, Andy, Scott, Caitlin and Liana purchased the farm from the Gingriches and Patenaudes, ensuring the future of a dairy farm where cows have been milked for over a hundred years.
After years of farming separately as neighbors, in 1994 the Gingriches and Patenaudes bought this farm together in order to join their small herds and manage them in a seasonal, pasture-based system. Dan and Jeanne had been, in the early 1980s, among the earliest people in the United States to feed cows by rotational grazing. This was thanks in part to the work done by Jeanne’s brother, Bill Murphy, then an agronomist at the University of Vermont, whose book, Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence, is largely credited for helping introduce rotational grazing to American farmers.
Their new farm’s layout and location (up on Pleasant Ridge in the Uplands region of Wisconsin) were ideal for growing the diverse range of grasses, legumes and herbs that give us such high quality milk. It soon became clear that the milk our cows were producing on this new farm had exceptional flavors, and it seemed a shame to see it pooled together with milk from other farms at the local cheese factory. They began looking for a way to take advantage of these flavors, and looked to other regions in the world where cheese is produced seasonally from grass-fed cows.
Their search led them to the hard, aged cheeses of the Alpine regions of France and Switzerland, where for hundreds of years cows have spent their summers grazing in mountain pastures. In order to preserve that milk, cheese makers followed the cows up into the mountains and made cheeses that were hard, aged and durable enough to make the trip back down to the valleys.
Southern Wisconsin has a deep reservoir of cheese making knowledge, much of which has been passed down from the alpine cheese makers who have emigrated here over the past two hundred years. In 2000, Mike and Dan began working with local cheese makers and with the cheese scientists at the nearby Center for Dairy Research, and eventually settled on their own version of these ancient, alpine recipes. Today, our approach to making Pleasant Ridge Reserve is very traditional in the sense that we only use fresh, raw, grass-fed milk during the grazing season, but we have also developed new ways of expressing the flavors of our farm, such as the breeding behind our unique herd of cows.
Andy and Scott began their farming and cheesemaking careers with an appreciation of the pioneering work the Patendaudes and Gingriches had done for grass-based dairying and traditional cheesemaking. Andy studied Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he focused on grass-based dairy farming, and where, while working with the Center for Dairy Research and Babcock Hall, he apprenticed under Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen. Scott studied agronomy and grass-based dairy farming at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, an agricultural college with a working farm.
After finishing school and spending a few years working on various other farms, Andy came to work at Uplands in 2007, and Scott in 2010. What began as apprenticeships led to their roles as managers and, finally, as owners, with Scott taking over Dan’s role in the barn, and Andy taking over for Mike in the creamery.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Named after the land formation on which our farm sits, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made in the tradition of Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort. Like the Alpage versions of these cheeses, we only make Pleasant Ridge Reserve from May through October when our cows are eating fresh pasture. This grass-fed, raw milk produces flavors in the cheese that can’t be replicated by “ordinary” milk.
In mid-summer, when the cows are at the peak of their production, a batch of cheese may yield up to 78, 10-lb wheels a day. Because we’re very particular about using milk from only the best pasture conditions, the weather largely determines how many batches we can make in a year. When the pasture conditions aren’t ideal, we sell the milk. Some years we’re able to make more cheese than other years. This may seem like a luxury, but using only the ideal milk is the most important way we ensure the quality of our cheese.
America’s Most-Awarded Cheese
Pleasant Ridge Reserve is the most-awarded cheese in American history, having won Best of Show in the American Cheese Society’s annual competition three times (2001, 2005 and 2010), and having also won the US Cheese Championships in 2003. It is the only cheese to have won Best of Show three times, and the only cheese to have ever won both of the major, national cheese competitions.
We age all of our cheese in ripening rooms built into the creamery. Here, the cheeses are washed several times a week in a brine solution, which encourages the development of certain bacteria on the cheese rinds. These bacteria, along with the microflora indigenous to our raw milk, develop flavors in the cheese over time. As the cheeses age, their flavors become more complex and concentrated.
Each batch develops its flavors at a different pace, and an important part of our work in the ripening rooms is to taste each batch again and again to determine when they are ready to sell. We age a small percentage the cheese produced for over a year, and these “Extra Aged” batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve are available only in the fall and early winter.
Rush Creek Reserve
Rush Creek Reserve is made only in the autumn, as the diet of our cows begins to change from the fresh pastures of summer to the winter’s dry hay. While Pleasant Ridge Reserve is aged many months in an effort to express the flavor complexity of our grass-fed milk, Rush Creek Reserve is designed to show off the richer texture of our hay-fed milk and the delicate ripeness of a soft, young cheese.
Like Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rush Creek Reserve is made with raw milk, and the two cheeses are aged side-by-side in our ripening rooms, sharing the environment that gives our cheeses their characteristic savory flavors. Rush Creek Reserve is inspired by the French Vacherin Mont d’Or, and is bound in spruce bark, which gives shape to the soft round and imparts a sweet, woodsy flavor to the cheese. Combined with the savory flavors born from the rind, this gives the custard-soft paste a deep but delicate richness, reminiscent of beef broth or finely cured meat.
Redhead’s St Anthony
Since we are hanging out in the Jura region, let’s take a look at another Alpine Style cheese, made in MN.
We have found a cheese that is—dare we say it—heavenly. But not on purpose. On a Lucky Linda Clothbound Cheddar make day, we experienced a glitch in our process. Forced to adjust accordingly, we then aged out what we feared would be a wasted batch of cheese. Two months later, we dug into this mystery cheese and loved it. The mystery cheese became known as St. Anthony, the saint of lost things, as well as the name of our childhood church in Padua, MN. Our St. Anthony cheese provides meaty undertones with hints of cured salami. This young, washed rind cheese will leave you praying for more.
Thirdly, the wines.......TBD