When our official cheesemonger, Marc Freshman from Murray’s picked Pleasant Ridge Reserve to be the first prize in our 2016 Cheese Give-A-Whey, we were thrilled.* We had seen it win Best of Show at the American Cheese Society competition in 2010. Unfortunately, when they brought out the cheeses from the competition for us to taste (the infamous Festival of Cheeses), there was a mad rush to the Pleasant Ridge Reserve and it was gone within minutes.
This is all the more amazing because that competition was actually the third time this cheese had won Best of Show- and it is, in fact, the only one in history to win 3 times (in 2001, 2005 and 2010). In 2003 it also won first place in the US Cheese Championships, making it the only cheese to have ever won both competitions.
Why is this cheese so special? There is a back story to any great cheese:
The ridge where Uplands Cheese is located, in the southwest corner of Wisconsin, is in the Driftless region of the state. It is called this because it is the only area of the state which wasn’t “scraped” by receding glaciers. The soil has been fed by rivers and streams for over tens of thousands of years, so it is ideal for growing the kind of grass which yields the finest milk. (40 inches of rain per year helps as well.)
The 300 acre Uplands dairy farm (with 20 fields) is particularly good for grazing because the fields have been rotated since the early 1980s. (The fields aren’t actually rotated (this would be difficult!) – the cows are moved to different fields every day so they are always eating the freshest grass.) This rotational grazing is as beneficial for the fields as it is for the cows.
Uplands has 150 cows, 45-50 yearlings and 50 calves. The cows are raised in the best possible conditions- they graze all summer on the freshly rotated pastures and they are only milked during this time. Calves are born in the spring, and the milkers are dried off at Christmas. The cows stay outside all year round.
The herd consists of 9 different breeds, crossed to meet the farm’s specifications (larger breeds like Holsteins and Brown Swiss with smaller breeds like Jersey and Tarentaise). It’s a closed herd, meaning the farm uses it’s own bulls and keeps it’s own calves. On it’s website, they explain that the complexities in their herd result in the complexity of their cheese.
Uplands cows are milked in the spring, summer and fall, twice a day – once in the morning and once at night. Upland cows don’t produce nearly as much milk as cows kept in a barn all day, but the cheese makers are looking for taste-not volume.
The milk is not pasteurized and the cheese is made as soon as the cows are milked.
The make process
Uplands makes only 2 cheeses- Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Hill Reserve (a soft cheese). Pleasant Ridge Reserve is only made from May-October. The amount of cheese they make depends on the weather. If it isn’t good in the summer, Uplands sells the milk and there is less cheese to sell that year.
The make process takes about 6 hours. Then, the cheese gets pressed over night and the next day the 10-pound wheels are removed from the molds, salted and placed on racks where they are then moved into the ripening rooms.
This is a fascinating story if you’re wondering where the recipe came from: From Cheese By Hand –
“Mike (Gingrich, the owner) looked through the Cheese Primer and identified cheeses that were made with milk produced when the cows are out on high quality, spring and summer pastures. The seasonal aspect of Uplands’ cheese production is key to Mike’s philosophy on producing award-winning cheeses; they make cheese only when the pastures are in excellent condition because they feel that this produces the best kind of milk for aged, raw milk cheeses. Once he identified a group of cheeses, he ordered chunks of each one from Murray’s Cheese and then invited all of their friends over to select the winner. The group unanimously agreed that Beaufort was their favorite. The next step was to learn how to make Beaufort so Mike went to the University of Wisconsin to work with cheese experts there who helped him learn the ways of Beaufort production. Of course they made some changes to the recipe to account for the difference in wheel size (traditional Beaufort is usually about 90 lbs per wheel and Pleasant Ridge Reserve is about 10 lbs per wheel). They were ready to begin making cheese but not quite ready to construct their own plant so Mike made an arrangement with Cedar Grove to use their facility.”
Once the cheeses are made, the real work begins. There is whey more time spent washing and turning the cheese wheels than actually making the cheese. For Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged, this goes on for 12-18 months. During this time, the wheels are washed and turned 60 times, on average (daily at the beginning, then 3 times/week and finally 2 times/week at the end).
When you buy this cheese (or win it!) you will want to keep it in peak condition. Directions for storing Pleasant Ridge can be found at the Uplands website (http://www.uplandscheese.com/storage-usage.html).
* Marcs’s reason for choosing this cheese to be the first prize in our Give-A-Whey:
“Pleasant Ridge was the first cheese I ever fell in love with. In many ways it’s a love letter to Beaufort, complete with all the hearty Alpine flavors you’d expect – brown butter and caramel, chocolate and figs, hazelnuts and flowers, the broth from an exquisite bowl of onion soup.
But there’s something about Pleasant Ridge that’s so unquestionably American in its flavor. It’s super tropical and fruity, like a bite of juicy pineapple.
The paste is smooth and firm, crunchy and meaty. The taste of excellent milk comes through with full force. Super creamy and nutty on the finish. There is a depth of flavor here that continues to challenge my senses, which is why I love it so much.”