We could begin every blog with the same sentence, but here it feels especially appropriate: My job is awesome. Really, awesome. Not only am I able – nay, encouraged – to taste the best cheeses from across the US and the world on a daily basis, I get to share the results of that grueling work with people every day in our classroom. And sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I get to hang out in a room with the best cheesemaker in the United States, and hear from the maker’s mouth how those cheeses get so darn good.
Last week, we were treated to a visit from Andy Hatch, Cheesemaker and Manager of Uplands Cheese. Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands is the most decorated and celebrated American cheese, having won the American Cheese Society’s Best in Show award more times than any other cheese in the history of the competition. And for good reason- Pleasant Ridge is a perfect cheese, redolent of toasted hazelnuts and fresh mango, transitioning from bright and fruity to deep and brothy through the season with grace. After ten years of making and mastering Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands added a second cheese, a custardy bacon bomb wrapped in spruce bark known as Rush Creek Reserve, a cheese often spoken of by our mongers with a series of sighs and googly eyed gazes.
As our staff sat with rapt attention, Andy lead us through the history of Uplands from the Ice Age glaciers that left the Driftless Region of Wisconsin with a distinctive rolling landscape perfect for smaller scale farming to Uplands’ founding in 2000 by two adjacent farming families, Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. We had lots of questions for Andy, from the beneficial microflora in the milk, cheese, and caves to the diet of the cows, but more than anything, our mongers wanted to know how, just exactly how, the cheese is always so. damn. good. Andy fielded our rapid questions with aplomb, and explained what we had suspected about the cheese’s quality: great fields with great cows lead to great milk, great milk and great cheesemaking lead to great cheeses, and when great cheeses are given great care in the cave, they only get better. It’s a simple equation, but when all of the variables are controlled for greatness, you can’t go wrong.
After our training, staff members lingered with questions: questions about the future of cheesemaking in Wisconsin, about the breeds of cows used at Uplands (crossbreeds of a variety of cows for better milk, naturally), and several expressions of undying love for two of our favorite cheeses. We’re lucky folk at Murray’s, surrounded by the world’s best cheeses day in and day out, and we’re even luckier when we come face to face with the people who make those cheeses.
Sascha Anderson is the Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese and has never met a cheese fact she didn’t want to know.