Monday, July 9, 2012

Cheese Tour Part 4 of 4: Last Stop -- Uplands

We made our way from Mineral Point to Dodgeville to visit Uplands Cheese Company, which is only eight years old. Uplands was quite a bit different from the other two creameries we stopped at in that while the others produce many types of cheeses, Uplands really only produces one (although it has one other variety in the winter) and all the milk comes from cows that graze right on the creamy property.
Andy Hatch, cheesemaker and general manager, explained to us that the farm follows more of a European style of cheesemaking and it’s not a typical format for a Wisconsin creamery. He explained that the more complexity in the milk supply, the more of a possibility for flavor complexity. These old techniques the creamery follows generate a great flavor.
Uplands makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a raw-milk artisan cheese that tastes similar to a French Gruyรจre. The cheese wheels are aged in ripening rooms built into the creamery where they are washed several times a week in a brine solution, encouraging the development of specific (good) bacteria on the cheese rinds.
In the fall, Uplands produces Rush Creek Reserve. At this time, the cows’ diet changes because of the seasonal changes. The cheese is super soft and has a slightly sweet flavor. While we didn’t get to try it at the creamery, we have sampled it before and it’s delicious.
I thought it was interesting that Andy explained the Uplands cows take part in rotational grazing. Each day, the cows are moved to different fields. This ensures the milk they produce gets the best flavors and keeps the grass in the best stages for optimal growth. If the farmers have to feed the cows hay, rather than grass, they don’t use the milk for cheese, but rather ship the raw milk for drinking. Having the cows right on the property gives the cheesemakers an intimate relationship with the animals. 

Like at the other creameries, we got an in-depth tour at Uplands, checking out where the milk is turned into cheese and big wheels are ripened. And of course, we got to sample! Andy cut us chunks of cheese from a large wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. So good!

Cheese Tour Part 3 of 4: Hooked on Hook's Cheese

After our stop in Monroe, we boarded the big, fancy tour bus (did I mention the bus is something like rock stars take on tour?!) and headed to Mineral Point.

We stopped at Hook’s Cheese Company, which is fairly compact creamy that actually has caves, cut into the side of the hill, where some of the cheese is cooled.

Hook’s has been around since 1952 and produces a world-champion Colby variety. The creamery gets its milk from the same farmers it has for 36 years, all of whom run small dairy farms. Other varieties Hook’s is known for include a Blue Paradise and 10- and 12-year-old cheddars (watch for a 20-year-old cheddar in 2015!). We got to feast our eyes on a peculiar cheese called Stinky Fottene, which translates to stinky feet in Norwegian. It is, as you might imagine, stinky.
Tony Hook gave us a tour of the creamery, even giving us a peek into the 16-foot underground cave. We also got to tour a huge cooler with a vast amount of cheese. And then, of course, we got to taste. They had so many types of cheese out for us to taste, it was fantastic.  

They were all great, but I particularly liked the Blue Paradise, Little Boy Blue and 15-year-old cheddar. Of course, we got to try the cheese curds, too, which were fantastic and super squeaky.
While we didn’t pick up any cheese to take with us from the creamery, we did visit the Hook’s booth at the Dane County Farmer’s Market and picked up some pesto curds.

Cheese Tour Part 2 of 4: Chalet Cheese Co-op

We took off early on a beautiful June morning and headed to our first stop: Chalet Cheese Co-op in Monroe. Chalet is owned by farmers of 21 farms all from Green County and dates back to 1885. The creamery has 24 employees and eight master cheese makers.

Chalet is highly unique in that it is the only U.S. producer of Limburger cheese. Once upon a time, Limburger was a top 10 cheese. Roughly 3 to 4 million pounds were produced throughout the country annually. Today, only about 500,000 pounds are produced, and it seems to get a bad rep for being a stinky cheese.
There is no denying that it’s pungent, but have you tasted it? It’s quite good! We had the opportunity to try four different types, each aged a different amount of time. My favorite was the mildest, or youngest, of the bunch. We tried one of the more aged varieties with some strawberry jam on top. So good! 

Chalet is also known for its Swiss cheese varieties: baby Swiss, which is rich and creamy, and regular Swiss, which has more of a nutty flavor. Both were incredibly good. We also got to sample German-style brick cheese. Mmm …
But before the sampling, we got a thorough tour from Myron Olson, master cheese maker. He gave us the low-down on the creamery, what it takes to be a master cheese maker and the varieties of cheese Chalet produces. It was a great introduction to creameries and a great first stop.

Cheese Tour Part 1 of 4: Tour Introduction

If there is one thing everyone knows about Wisconsin it’s that there is a lot of cheese in this state and that we eat a lot of cheese. So as a Wisconsinite through and through, I am, of course, mildly obsessed with cheese. I love just about all types, and there is always something new to try.

So when Nate and I were invited to be part of a creamery tour, sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, to check out three creameries and stay the night in Madison and sample delicious food, we said, “Sign us up!”
And so we begin.

First, some fun cheese facts courtesy of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing board:

·         Wisconsin makes about 26% of cheese in the United States, making it the No. 1 producer nationwide.

·         Wisconsin leads the nation in specialty cheeses, including Asiago, Provolone, Aged Cheddar and Gouda.

·         As you’ll find out in other posts, Wisconsin is the only producer of Limburger in the country.

·         Wisconsin has more than 12,000 dairy farms.

·         Did you know it takes 10 pounds of milk to make just 1 pound of cheese? Incredible!

·         Colby cheese comes from … wait for it … Colby, Wisconsin.

·         Since the 1930s, Wisconsin has officially been known as “America’s Dairyland.”

In subsequent posts, you’ll learn more about the three creameries we visited and see some of the many photos I took. Do yourself a favor and check look for the cheeses we tried at area stores.