Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – pictured middle in the attached image – wrote our second installment:
As cheesemongers at Fromagination, we are often asked how we know so much about cheese. While a lot of our knowledge certainly has to do with our own individual passion and interest, we are also lucky to interact with many of our local producers one-on-one. Sometimes we hear directly from the producers when they come into the store for a Saturday cheese drop-off before the Dane County Farmers’ Market, but we also make visits to our producers ourselves. At the end of May, we learned about the efforts of our local partners to maintain Wisconsin’s reputation as America’s Dairyland.
The cows at Uplands Cheese Company were up bright and early when we visited. After coming back from one of the fields on Uplands 300-acre farm, the cows were receiving the first of two daily milkings. Over the course of a few days, that milk would be cultured, cooked, pressed into wheels, and salted, at which stage it would begin to resemble the cheese Uplands is famous for: Pleasant Ridge Reserve, named for the ridge on which the farm sits.
As cheesemaker Andy Hatch, who last year received Martha Stewart’s American Maker award, said, using this fresh, grass-fed milk is “like starting on third base.” Hatch is of the philosophy that great cheese starts with milk. Not only does Pleasant Ridge Reserve begin with grass-fed milk, but it also benefits from a rotational grazing technique that Hatch has borrowed from the Alpine tradition and championed in Wisconsin. The Uplands cows spend about twelve hours in a given field, of which the farm has twenty, before moving to a new one. What this means is that they are constantly eating new grass – and grass that has not suffered from over-feeding.
Hatch admits this is a luxurious approach to cheese-making, but it has certainly paid off. Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which can only be made between May and October due to its grass-fed milk, has won best in show at the American Cheese Society’s competition three times – more than any other cheese. This makes the approximately 100,000 pounds of Pleasant Ridge produced annually some of the most desirable cheese in the country – and the world. Uplands also produces the softer Rush Creek Reserve starting in late August, using hay-fed milk. Because Rush Creek Reserve is more labor-intensive than even Pleasant Ridge – being flipped 8 times every day for about sixty days – Uplands produces only about 15,000 pounds a year. If you stop into Fromagination during the holiday season, you will be lucky enough to try these two cheeses side-by-side and taste the thought and care that goes into great Wisconsin cheese.