To understand the making of Rush Creek Reserve cheese, it’s important to appreciate the operations of its producer, Uplands Cheese, located in Dodgeville, WI.
The dairy farm milks its cows seasonally while the animals are on pasture, producing grass-fed milk. This is used to craft the company’s Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an alpine-style cheese available only during the summer. When the pasture stops growing, Uplands stops making this cheese, although the cows are milked until about Christmas, when the herd is dried off for the winter.
“Our cows continue to produce milk in the fall, although it’s not coming from the pasture,” says Uplands Cheese co-owner Andy Hatch. “It may seem obvious to create a different cheese line using this milk, but it’s unusual for us.”
Creating diverse cheeses with different origins of milk certainly is nothing new. This has been happening for hundreds of years in Europe, with harder more durable cheese produced in the summer months to better withstand the trip down the mountain to market. In winter, more perishable soft cheese was available from cows that didn’t travel as far from mountain pastures.
Although the milk’s character plays an important part in both Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek Reserve cheeses, it takes many months of aging to reveal the qualities inherent in grass-fed cheese, not unlike aging certain red wines to unlock the complexity.
“When producing Pleasant Ridge Reserve, we get out of the milk’s way, which reveals its character over time,” says Hatch. “With Rush Creek Reserve, we’re more proactive in coaxing the flavor out of the milk using different ripening techniques.”
With this cheese variety, cows are feeding on hay and the fat content rises significantly during the cold months. This milk has less inherent flavor than the summer milk, but its richness acts as a canvas onto which the cheesemaker can create flavor during ripening. “The two cheeses are opposites in that sense, so technically it was a big challenge making the leap from one to the other, at least initially,” says Hatch.
At Uplands Cheese, the saying goes, Pleasant Ridge is made in the fields, while Rush Creek is produced in the caves.
Rush Creek’s ripening technique consists of the cheese being wrapped in a strip of spruce bark and washed in the same brine that for months has been used to ripen Pleasant Ridge. This helps produce a variety of yeasts, molds and microflora on the rind.
Hatch compares the milk used to make Rush Creek to half and half and the cheese itself to savory custard, as it exudes a very soft, delicate texture with a savory, rich finish likened to cured meat. The flavors are born out of the rind’s ripening technique.
Since the cheese is produced in the fall and only available in November and December, it is typically served during one sitting and not stored for any extended period of time. To properly eat this cheese, the top rind is sliced off, exposing the custard-like, soft center that has a paste-like consistency.
This can be scooped out with a spoon to be eaten on its own or paired with sparkling or dry white wine. Rush Creek’s flavor also complements figs and braised meats, and it can be eaten atop toasted bread and roasted potatoes.
“It makes a beautiful presentation, and the texture feels indulgent,” says Hatch.
In addition to being sold at specialty cheese stores, Rush Creek was made available on Uplands Cheese’s website for the first time in 2015, but had to be pulled off, as it sold out in about a week.
“We try to make more, but since this variety is just made from the milk of our own cows, production is very limited,” says Hatch.
Due to production timing, Uplands Cheese is unable to enter Rush Creek in the cheese competitions, which take place mainly in the spring and summer.
Even without any well-deserved accolades, this cheese has enjoyed a cult following since its debut six years ago.