We have teamed up with Wisconsin Cheese for an interview mini-series known as Meet the Cheesemakers, that includes a sampling of the state’s most interesting makers and their award-winning creations.
The world of cheese is made up of many colourful characters. There are the educated mongers who’ll enable you select your new favourite wedge whereas regaling you with extra info in regards to the cheese in query than you knew existed. There are the cheese cave-dwelling affineurs whose precision and detail-oriented nature produces completely aged cheeses of all styles and sizes. There are the dairy farmers, who’re stewards of the land, masters of terrain, and usually have a herd in tow. There are the cheesemakers, who are typically equal components artist and scientist, harnessing the ability of milk and cultures to craft every wheel. After which, there are the unicorns like Uplands Cheese who do all of it—they milk the cows, make the cheese, age it on web site, and ship on to customers. Farmstead operations like theirs are few and much between, even in America’s Dairyland (aka Wisconsin). I sat down with Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese to talk about what it is prefer to be a Wisconsin cheesemaker, their artisan cheeses, and camaraderie within the dairy neighborhood.
This interview has been edited and condensed for readability.
MADISON TRAPKIN: Are you able to inform me who you’re, what you do, and the place you’re employed?
ANDY HATCH: My identify is Andy Hatch. I am the proprietor and cheesemaker right here at Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.
MT: Did you at all times know that cheese or dairy could be your path?
AH: No. I grew up on the town, so dairy farming for me was form of like a teenage pastoral fantasy. I went to College of Wisconsin for dairy science, wanting to exploit cows, and form of stumbled into cheesemaking. I took to it straight away, and I am good at it. It simply fits my character.
MT: What makes Wisconsin so ideally suited for cheesemaking?
AH: [After college], I left Wisconsin for a few years. I labored throughout western and northern Europe as a cheesemaker, and thought I’d by no means come again. However [eventually] I did, and after having that have [in Europe] I noticed fairly shortly that—and I imply this—there is not any place on the earth I’d reasonably milk cows or make cheese than southern Wisconsin.
We’ve a deep [cheesemaking] legacy right here, however we even have a progressive perspective that you could’t discover within the Outdated World, actually. There is a sense right here that new issues are at all times doable. A little bit enterprise like Uplands, solely 20 years outdated and making unique cheeses, you do not see that in Europe.
MT: How did Uplands Cheese come to be?
AH: We’re [located] within the southwest nook of the state, which is basically hilly. Particularly, we’re up on Nice Ridge, which could be very steep, has skinny soil, and isn’t a simple farm. [This land] handed from household to household, largely Norwegians, till the ’90s when our predecessors planted all these steep hillsides into pasture, which is basically in all probability what they had been meant to be all alongside, and began grazing their cows. So, as any dairy farmer who places cows out onto contemporary grass is aware of, the milk tastes completely different. [The original owners] began to take a look at cheesemaking 25 years in the past as a method to reap the benefits of the flavour of that milk. They made their first batches of cheese within the 12 months 2000 and began slowly.
I confirmed up proper out of college in 2007. It’s important to serve apprenticeships to develop into a cheesemaker in Wisconsin and go to high school and in the end take a take a look at. This was the final apprenticeship I served, and I simply by no means left.
MT: How does Uplands match into the bigger cheesemaking neighborhood in Wisconsin?
AH: Nicely, our operation isn’t typical of what you may discover in Wisconsin. We’re a farmstead producer, which implies we milk cows and switch our personal milk into cheese. When cheesemaking began down on this a part of the state proper after the Civil Struggle, there have been small cheese factories shopping for milk from neighboring farms, then pooling the milk. There have been cheese factories round right here each 4 or 5 miles, and most of them have since closed during the last 150 years. Cows have been milked [in this area] since simply after the Civil Struggle, however Uplands did not begin making cheese till about 20 years in the past. Within the early 2000s, we had been a part of a resurgence of small-scale cheesemaking in Wisconsin, and with that got here some reawakening of conventional cheesemaking methods [plus] a extra progressive bend to how individuals had been taking a look at it. Our operation combines each of these issues.
We’re very small, and among the methods we strategy dairy farming and cheesemaking aren’t frequent right here. However we have nonetheless at all times been welcome on the desk with the larger firms. We slot in, together with a number of the opposite small producers on this a part of the state, and when our voice must be heard, it is heard. I’ve at all times appreciated that.
MT: Your cheeses, Nice Ridge and Rush Creek, have received so many awards. What makes them so distinctive? Why do they preserve successful awards?
AH: We bribe the judges.
MT: Excellent, that is smart.
AH: I feel they get a number of consideration as a result of they’re distinctive, and that’s actually our complete objective right here. We do not intention to make cheese that wins awards, however we intention to make cheese that tastes like our farm, which clearly seems like generic brochure copy nevertheless it actually is form of our technique as a cheesemaker. We need to make one thing that no person else could make. To try this, we use unpasteurized milk from a single herd of cows and we solely make sure cheeses throughout sure instances of the 12 months to mirror the character of the milk. That is how we have at all times approached it right here.
We make our aged cheese [Pleasant Ridge] in the summertime months when the cows are on pasture, and within the fall after they begin consuming hay, we make our small mushy cheese [Rush Creek]. We prefer to say that Nice Ridge is made within the subject and Rush Creek is made within the caves as a result of it is reflective of our perspective after we’re making the cheese. Nice Ridge is supposed to indicate off the character of that milk, and like growing old a pink wine, it takes a very long time for that character to disclose itself. They’re cheeses that could not exist anyplace else, and it is at all times thrilling.
MT: It’s thrilling! It’s additionally fairly unbelievable to let the milk communicate for itself in that means.
AH: Yeah, it takes many months of growing old a cheese for that native character of the milk to disclose itself. Nice Ridge actually would not have something fascinating to say for six, seven, eight months of growing old. However when it does, what you see is the character of the milk itself. We take a really light-handed strategy as cheesemakers with that cheese.
Rush Creek, however, is made with milk that is not as fascinating, if I am being sincere. It comes when the cows are consuming hay as a substitute of contemporary pasture, however what it does have is much more weight and texture to it. The fats content material is rather a lot increased. When making Rush Creek, we have a look at the milk extra as a canvas onto which we are able to coax or create taste. It is a way more heavy-handed strategy from a cheesemaker, notably with the way in which it is ripened. We pull out all kinds of methods within the cheese caves.
MT: Each cheeses are actually lovely, however Rush Creek appears to have a little bit of a cult following. What makes it so particular?
AH: Comfortable cheeses like Rush Creek are unusual in Wisconsin, I feel largely as a result of the immigrants who settled right here introduced with them their traditions of [making hard cheeses]. After I got here up as an apprentice [in Wisconsin], I discovered cheddar, colby, and Jack. I first discovered how you can make a mushy cheese like [Rush Creek] in France as an apprentice and introduced that again right here, so I [started] taking part in round with it on this farm. It’s a completely completely different mind-set about cheese.
It is also develop into a particular cheese as a result of the time of 12 months it is launched, November and December—individuals are able to be indulgent and this can be a purely indulgent cheese. It is meant to be eaten suddenly, and it is nice for sharing. I feel it is a splurge for the vacations for lots of people, just like the one time of 12 months you purchase a pleasant bottle of Champagne. Loads of issues form of got here collectively completely for that cheese: the character of the milk that point of 12 months, the truth that I stumbled right into a cheesemaker in France who taught me how you can make it, and now it is develop into a seasonal basic for individuals round right here.
MT: Do you ever really feel such as you’re actually competing in opposition to different Wisconsin makers relating to occasions just like the American Cheese Society Competitors, or does it really feel like extra of a neighborhood?
AH: Actually, the one time I really feel like I am in competitors with neighboring cheesemakers is on the cheese competitions themselves, and it is all fairly back-slappy, winner-has-to-buy-beers. The subsequent day, it is again to work. Notably on this nook of the state, I work actually carefully with the opposite neighboring cheesemakers, and we share virtually every part.
MT: What does the long run appear like for Uplands?
AH: The long run right here at Uplands might be sluggish, regular development, which is how we have spent the final 20 years. What’s uncommon about our mannequin is that we have managed to develop slowly and steadily with out compromising any of these unique ideas behind how we farm and make cheese. Our cows are nonetheless all seasonal, all pasture-based. We solely use milk throughout the season, and it’s uncooked milk, contemporary each day, then aged with a pure rind. We’re fairly dedicated to doing issues that means.
However, we have run out of area in our constructing, so we have to put up a brand new constructing, which is an opportunity to do one thing new and completely different. The subsequent frontier for us might be beginning to have interaction extra with the general public, looking for methods to convey individuals onto the farm and get near cows and get near cheese. I feel that is going to be a superb factor for our enterprise, however I feel it is also going to be a superb factor for Wisconsin dairy.
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Our mates at Wisconsin Cheese are dedicated to showcasing all of the superb cheeses the state has to supply—and there is a number of them. Wisconsin has extra flavors, varieties, and types of cheese than anyplace else on the earth. From Italian classics like Parmesan and ricotta to Wisconsin Originals like colby and muenster, this cheese-obsessed state has just a little one thing for everybody. Discover out extra about Wisconsin Cheese by visiting their web site.