Winnimere cheese from Jasper Hill Farm / Lilith Spencer
Andy Hatch, co-owner of Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, makes exactly two cheeses: Pleasant Ridge Reserve in the summer, and Rush Creek Reserve in the fall.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve is an aged alpine-style cheese, like Beaufort or Gruyere. (It also just so happens to be the most-awarded cheese in U.S. history.) Rush Creek Reserve is a soft-ripened, fresh cheese wrapped in spruce bark, in the vein of Vacherin Mont D’Or.
The seasonality of these cheeses is not arbitrary. Hatch couldn’t switch it up and make Rush Creek Reserve in the summer or Pleasant Ridge Reserve in the fall even if he wanted to.
That’s because Uplands is one of a few U.S. producers whose intensely seasonal cheeses are linked to agricultural cycles that determine what animals eat and the quantity and characteristics of their milk. Some seasonal cheeses, like Uplands’ Pleasant Ridge Reserve, are aged and therefore can be released year round. Others have narrow windows of availability eagerly awaited by diehard devotees.
Understanding Winter Cheese
Because Uplands works with grass-fed milk, the availability of the cheese is parallel to the seasonality of the grass. In the summer, cows at Uplands glut themselves on an abundance of fresh, green pasture. As the weather grows colder, the cows start eating hay, a much denser feed, given its much lower water content than fresh grass. Hatch likens this to the difference between a strawberry and fruit leather.
The cows are also later in their lactation cycles in the winter. As a result, they tend to produce less milk, but with more fat and protein per ounce. Pleasant Ridge Reserve’s recipe is based on that lighter summer milk and Rush Creek Reserve’s is based on the rich winter milk.
Because Pleasant Ridge is aged, it’s sold year round. Rush Creek Reserve, on the other hand, is only available for purchase between October and January.
“Seasonal cheese isn’t something Uplands Cheese invented,” says Hatch. “Most of the great Old World cheeses are made by people making only one cheese for the same reason.”