Though few states, if any, are as well know for their cheesemaking as Wisconsin, most cheese from there has been strictly factory produced. Unlike Vermont’s hippie “back to the land” vibe, Wisconsin is more like a commerce-driven tourist-trap, a Disneyland for “Cheeseheads”. Seeking to change that image, a new artisanal movement has begun springing up in the state. The best example of this, if not the best cheese from Wisconsin period, is Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Inc.
Uplands Cheese takes great pleasure in their use of “traditional methods” in preparing cheese, but what exactly does that mean? For starters, they use what is called “rotational grazing. In rotational grazing, the pasture is divided into sections called paddocks. Uplands Cheese has 20 paddocks in their 300 acre farm. The animals are moved from paddock to paddock over the grazing season. This not only helps eliminate overgrazing, which can cause erosion problems, but also assures that the herd is grazing on mature, nutritient-rich pastures rather than overgrazing on a single pasture. They also limit their milking to the period from spring until fall, when the animals are actively grazing, rather than extending production into the silage-fed winter months, where the milk quality would not be as good or flavorful.
Without a premium end product, this extra work would be hard to justify. Luckily, what Uplands Cheese produces is well worth the effort. Based on the traditional alpine cheese Beaufort, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is everything a mountain cheese should be: sweet and complex with a strong nuttiness that reminds me of toasted cashews. The texture is semi-hard, perfect for grating in place of Gruyere or Comte, with a nice bit of crunch. Its natural rind, though a little chewy, is perfectly edible and lacks the bitterness I’ve found with other natural rind cheeses. Though I’ve relaxed a bit in my “if I can physically eat the rind, I will” viewpoint, this is still a cheese which I enjoy every bit of it.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve is widely available at most quality cheese shops. Murray’s Cheese offers it for $28.99/lb. Artisanal will sell it to you for $23.00/lb. Cobblestone Foods has it for $22.00/lb, and iGourmet fans can have it for $23.98/lb.