It's a winner, all right. No, literally: a winner.
Last weekend, for the third time, Uplands Cheese Company's Pleasant Ridge Reserve won Best in Show at The American Cheese Society awards. The number of entries in this year's competition? A record-setting 1,462.
Realize that this cheese is the only cheese to take home this first-place award more than once. Now, with a historic three wins, there's no disputing that Pleasant Ridge Reserve is quite the singular sensation. This year's American Cheese Society conference was in Seattle, Washington. Over the course of five-days, panel discussions, tastings, and lectures took place, catering to the conference's attendees: cheese professionals, cheesemakers, and cheese enthusiasts. At the end of the conference comes the awards. Each year, the contest's expert panel of judges face more entries than the year before, and decide which cheeses fall where. There are numerous awards for many different categories, but only one cheese can take Best in Show.
Mike Gingrich, the founding cheesemaker of Uplands Cheese Company, shared the award with Andy Hatch, who has been the primary cheesemaker since 2007, and who made the wheel of Pleasant Ridge that won. The pair must have had some home-state pride that night, as well, since Wisconsin swept most of the categories and took home nearly one-third of all the awards. Pretty remarkable.
If you have yet to taste Pleasant Ridge, get ready for something incredibly complex. With a super long finish and flavors that range from savory to sweet, it's a cheese that tastes like cured meat, white wine, toasted nuts, and caramel, all at once. It makes excellent, if expensive, fondue. Made with the raw milk of Mike's grass-fed herd of cross-bred cows, it's crafted like those enormous mountain cheeses, but Pleasant Ridge wheels are smaller, and so age faster.
Be sure to choose the Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged, which is typically aged for 12-18 months, as opposed to the requisite 9 months for their standard Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Word on the street is that the wheel that won the hearts of the judges was aged even longer than usual. Might the cheesemakers be onto something new? Hm. Keep your eyes peeled for a Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Extra Aged coming on the market one of these days.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged is available at Zingerman's for $18.00/.5 lb and at many other specialty cheese shops.
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Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Images: Di Bruno Bros.)