Fall is a good time to be a cheese lover. At Murray’s, our staff and customers look forward to a proliferation of incredible seasonal cheeses come October and November. One of those standouts is Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company in Southwest Wisconsin. To learn more about how this rich, custardy wheel is made, we talked to Uplands co-owner Andy Hatch for the inside scoop on this scoop-able masterpiece.
Uplands produces just two (incredibly delicious) cheeses: Rush Creek Reserve and Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Why is that?
We’re focused on making cheeses that taste like our farm. That means we only use milk from our own cows, and we make our two cheeses during certain parts of the year, to show off the character of the milk during that period.
Where did your inspiration come from for Rush Creek Reserve? What makes it unique?
Rush Creek Reserve is inspired by Vacherin Mont d’Or, which I learned to make as a young apprentice working in France. But while the French version is often sold at 25-30 days old, U.S. law requires raw milk cheese be aged for at least 60 days. We initially looked at that as a curse, but we’ve come to see it has a marvelous benefit. The extended ripening coaxes some really deep flavors out of Rush Creek, which sets it apart from most younger soft-ripened cheeses.
Why do you produce Rush Creek only during the fall?
We milk our cows seasonally, and since they all calve in the spring, in time with the pastures, they are entering late lactation in the fall. This, combined with the change in weather and the start of hay feeding, produces milk much richer in fat than that coming from summer pasture. This richer milk is ideal for the custard-soft texture of a cheese like Rush Creek.
Tell us a little bit more about Uplands’ dairy farming methods. How do they affect the taste and texture of your cheeses?
We are a seasonal, pasture-based dairy farm. Our cows all calve in the spring, in time with the emerging pastures, and we milk them through the end of the year before drying them off for the winter months. Pleasant Ridge Reserve, our aged Alpine-style cheese, is made while our cows are grazing fresh pasture, and it’s designed to show off the character of that grass-fed milk. Conversely, Rush Creek Reserve is made in the fall, as the milk becomes richer, and is designed to show off the texture of that autumn milk.
Why did you decide to craft your cheeses in Wisconsin?
I was born and raised here, as was my wife, Caitlin. And although I worked all over Europe as a cheesemaking apprentice, there’s nowhere I’d rather milk cows and make cheese than southern Wisconsin. We benefit from a long dairy legacy here, but at the same time, we encourage innovation in a way that you don’t often see in the old world. That’s a rare combination. I’m not sure a career like mine, buying a farm and making independent, original cheeses, would have been possible in Europe.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy Rush Creek Reserve?
On a dinner plate, alongside roasted meats and vegetables. The special sauce.
What’s your vision for the future of Uplands?
We’re committed to our pasture-based approach to farming and to making cheeses that reflect the character of this farm. To that end, we envision growing our two cheeses to the point where we fulfill the productive capacity of our 500 acres. We like to grow slowly, and our trajectory likely has us doubling over the next 10-15 years, as we have over the past 10.
The next step is building a new, larger creamery, which is on the books for 2023. In addition to adding cheesemaking capacity, we’d like to give ourselves the ability to interact more with the public. We think that onsite engagement and education is going to be important to the future of American artisan cheese.
A third cheese isn’t out of the question someday but not imminently. We’re still in love with exploring and improving Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek. The seasonality of our farm brings constant renewal, and it never gets old.
The 2022 batch of Rush Creek Reserve has arrived! Don’t miss the once-a-year opportunity to try this truly special cheese made with care by Andy and his team.