Wisconsin Cheeseathon: Hobbit Caves & Rush Creek
After eating a meal richer than David Lebovitz's Roquefort honey ice cream recipe, the Wisconsin dairy tourists tucked into bed to rest for the the big day ahead: Bleu Mont, Uplands and Roth-Kase. The plan was something like this: cheese, cheese, then fondue and cheese plates.
If hearing about the Crave Brothers Poo Power wasn't enough to convince us that Wisconsin is ahead of the dairy curve, then the underground cheese hobbit caves built under a hill on Bleu Mont property was enough to do it.
Trained by his father and by traditional cheesemakers in Switzerland, Owner Willi Lehner is a skilled artisan and ages his own beautiful bandage-wrapped Cheddar, his new cheese Alpine Renegade (my favorite of the fantastic duo) and some other wheels for local cheesemakers in his cave. Put his, Japser Hill's, and Fiscalini's cheddar on a board, and if you're a fan of savory, buttery, sharp, beefy cheese, you'll be amused for hours.
Cheesemaker Andy Hatch only makes the famed Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheeses with milk from his grass-fed cows from April to October. He rotationally grazes his cows on the pasture to make sure they're getting the tastiest greens possible, rich with clover, wild grasses and the occasional yellow daisy. This makes better milk. Uplands's mixed herd also promotes flavor complexity. Unlike many dairy farmers, Uplands breeds Holsteins, Jersey, Brown Swiss, Tarentaise, and Montbeliards of the French-Swiss regions. By using such a mixed herd, they have milk with varying fat content, protein, and flavor, and pretty cows of different colors prancing around the field.
One look in the cheesemaking vats shows an immediate pay-off - Upland's milk is already the color of French Vanilla ice cream or freshly churned butter.
During the cow's resting season, Hatch has started to make a new raw-milk cheese crafted from the subtle winter milk not used for Pleasant Ridge, called Rush Creek Reserve.
Inspired by the oozing, creamy Vacherin Mont D'Or in the Swiss-French Alps, Rush Creek is aged 60 days and wrapped with spruce imported from the Jura region. Jasper Hill already makes a cheese in this realm that if you haven't tried it before, well, lucky you- it's almost Winnimere season too! But while Winnimere is washed with a local brew as it ages, Rush Creek is washed with a salt and water brine and should produce a cleaner, more milky taste.
We didn't get to taste this cheese- it wasn't ready. But I looked at it. A lot. And I shot some photos of it so you can dream about it too. They say it will hit the stores in November. Please save me one.
After dreaming about oozing wheels and hobbit caves, we went to Roth-Kase.
A large cheese plant packed with stainless steel, workers wearing matching white crocs, and more sanitizing stations than a new hospital, Roth Kase started out as a small family creamery who made America's first "Gruyère." The family had big dreams and now makes more than 15 styles of cheeses. Some are made to appease people who want low fat or low-flavor cheese. Others are full-fat and stunning. My favorite is their Gran Queso and Roth's Private Reserve.
At Roth-Kase we were serenaded by a yodeler, ate a fondue lunch, and served cheese plates paired with Woodford Reserve (god bless them), a Riesling from Wisconsin, and kirsch.
Believe it or not, all of us made it back to the bus alive. I took a nap on the way home.
Next Wisconsin adventure on "It's Not You, it's Brie": Otter Creek, Cedar Grove, and Carr Valley.