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O C G S h o w D a i l y 4 9 S u n d a y, Ju n e 5 , 2 0 1 6 Uplands Cheese is the farmstead producer of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, one of the most highly respected cheeses made in the United States. Made only in the summer with grass- fed milk and aged up to two years, it is Hatch's interpretation of traditional Alpage cheeses like Beaufort and Gruyere L'Elivaz. In some years, he also makes Rush Creek Reserve, a soft ripened cheese wrapped in spruce bark that is made only in late fall, after the Uplands cows have begun eating hay instead of the summer pasture grasses, and only if Hatch is moved to do so. A farmstead producer is one who makes cheese on the same farm where the animals that produce the milk are raised. Farmstead producers are unusual in Wisconsin, where cheesemaking is usually done in factories served by multi- ple family dairy farms, each usually with around 130 cows. Hatch and his partner, Scott Mericka, farm 300 acres here and milk 150 cows. While Hatch makes the cheese, Mericka looks after the herd. The only cows milked here were born here, and all of the milk produced on the farm is made into its cheeses. Bring any group of American farm- stead cheese producers together into the same room, and it won't be long before your imagination begins to fill in the cassocks and candles as they begin explicating in unison their creed that their cheese is the product of their pas- tures. Behind their cheese is milk, they will tell you – frequently in so many words – and behind the milk is an ani- mal and behind that animal is, well, okay, let's call it fertilizer. But that nour- ishes the grasses and the forbs in the fields that are strengthened by the min- erals in the soil and the water. It's the calcium in the limestone soils that makes the calcium in milk that makes the calcium for strong bones in the person who eats the cheese. The cheesemakers' role here is to be good stewards of all of it, both the visible and the invisible, and to do their best to make a cheese that's a true expression of the entire landscape in which they live. "Not all milks are created equal," Hatch said. "Everything we do – breeds of cows, when they calve, what they eat, is geared to the cheese.... We only serve one master." Hatch came to work at Uplands Cheese in 2007 after studying dairy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an apprenticeship with Master Cheesemaker Gary Grussen. He went to work for Uplands founders Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude, who'd bought the farm in 1994 with the idea of joining the sepa- rate dairy herds they'd been running as neighbors and managing them in a sea- sonal pasture-based system. In 2000, Gingrich and Patenaude had begun work- ing with local cheesemakers to develop their own version of the ancient Alpine- style cheeses, and Pleasant Ridge Reserve was born. Hatch showed up and started begging for a creamery job, and eventually, Gingrich and Patenaude caved and hired him. In 2010, Mericka showed up to apprentice with the herd. The two bought the property from Gingrich and Patenaude two years ago. "They grew slowly and kept doing things that I consider the right way," Hatch said. "Our intention is to not change the way we do things.... We still don't keep up with demand, so there's no incentive to compromise." The Uplands Cheese herd lives in the pasture year-round, grazing its way through a succession of small pastures divided by electric fencing. They're moved from one pasture to another every 12 hours, so that they're always eating grass that's growing at full vitali- ty, neither grazed too short to recover quickly nor left to grow until its exhausted and its protein content has begun to decline. In the winter, they're fed hay raised on the farm. In the spring, when the grass begins to grow again, they're provided with less and less hay until the fields are able to support all of their nutritional needs once again. The cows are all dry during the win- ter. Calves are born outside in the fields, all at about the same time in April. "It's better for the cows. It's better for the land, and it's better for the farmer," Hatch said. It is, however, a farming method that produces less milk than con- ventional methods in which dairy cows are housed in barns, are bred for the sole purpose of maximizing their productivity and calve year-round to provide a consis- tent milk supply. The Uplands cows pro- duce about half the milk of a modern Holstein. "It's hard to make a run at it D airyland (C o nt'd. fro m p. 4 4 ) selling commodity milk. But when you add value to it with the cheese, you can make it work," Hatch said. "This was not a nouveau concept." Once the grass has come in, and the cows have been eating it exclusively for a few days, Hatch starts making Pleasant Ridge Reserve around the first of May. The cows' evening milk is held in a tank overnight, and the morning milk comes in on top of it, hot from the cow. When the last cow is milked in the morning, the farmer taps on the creamery window, the cheesemaker turns the tap to empty the tank, and the milk flows into the cheese vat at 70 degrees. There are a few aspects that matter in the vat: fat content, microbial content, moisture and pH, Hatch said. "We think about what we're doing in here is just nailing it technically," Hatch said. "The magic is latent in the milk itself. It comes to expression in the caves." After the cheese has coagulated, the curd is pressed under the whey for about an hour, and the whey is then drained off. The curd is cut by hand, stuffed into forms and stacked into a press overnight. "The first guy in the next morning pulls the cheese out of the forms, dry salts it and packs it away, cleans the forms and gets ready to do it all again," Hatch said. "Then there's plenty of work to do in the caves.... The cheese is brushed by hand every day for the first three weeks of its life. It's a lot of work. That's one reason why cheese like ours is expensive... because we have to touch it a lot." As the wheels cure, they move through a succession of aging rooms where temperature and humidity are tai- lored to their changing needs. This is the process called affinage, the centuries-old and extremely labor-intensive process of caring for the cheese as it ages. While it costs about 3 cents a pound to age the average Wisconsin cheese, it costs Hatch 28 to 32 cents a pound to age Pleasant Ridge over the year or two it'll spend in his caves. "The old-fashioned way of doing things is now fancy," Hatch said. "You just can't fake the flavor develop- ment you get.... we don't do it this way out of nostalgia. If there was an easier way to do it, we would." Cheesemaking continues until the dog days of summer, when there's no rain, the weather gets hot, and the cows' milk productivity drops as they lounge around in the shade all day, avoiding sun- burn and trying not to break a sweat. When the rains come again in mid- August, the weather cools, the cows go back to work, and cheesemaking begins again for a few weeks. When the pastures turn brown in September, the cows start eating hay. They're still producing milk, but it's milk that lacks the complex flavors that devel- op when the cows are eating a diet of mixed grasses, so Hatch won't use it to make his Pleasant Ridge Reserve. The fall milk does have a higher but- terfat content, though, so what it lacks it complexity, it gains in gravitas. Hatch thought about that and decided a couple of years ago follow the example of the Swiss dairy farmers who make soft mold- ripened cheeses with their fall milk and try his hand at a cheese that he named Rush Creek Reserve. "Pleasant Ridge is made in the fields, and Rush Creek is made in the caves," Hatch said. Fermentation by the molds and yeasts that naturally feast on milk sugars develops flavors not present in the fresh raw milk as the spruce bark-wrapped cheese ages for just a few weeks. The fla- vors develop and deepen and the cheese's texture mellows until the microbes have exhausted their food supply. That's when the soft cheese is at its peak. A little later, and the beneficial microbes begin to die off, which creates off flavors and odors and a decline in the cheese's texture. Rush Creek Reserve is aged just longer than the 60 days required by Food and Drug Administration regula- tions for raw milk cheeses and then released to the market. It is one of the most sought-after cheeses in the American specialty cheese world, and because it's only made in winter and doesn't last, it is necessarily extremely seasonal, and in the early Wisconsin spring, what Hatch had on hand to offer the food editors was a taste of the last of his two-year-old Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which is as old as the cheese gets, and samples of his one-year-old Pleasant Ridge Reserve that's going to market now. "Everything we make in one calendar year is sold the next cal- endar year," Hatch said. "The name of the game is to sell each wheel at its peak.... For me, it's the most fun part of the work. It's like watching your kids grow up." AUNT SALLY'S PRALINES: RICH TREAT, RICHER HISTORY Generally, as things are replicated, they lose value. They lose the relationship to their namesake. However, sometimes in replication a certain magic happens, a magic that changes the meaning of the word entirely. The New Orleans praline was one of these magical mutations. Like life springing from the primordial soup, the rich New Orleans praline is now the universally loved and beholden confec- tion of Louisiana, and Aunt Sally's Pralines does them best. The traditional, proto-praline was cre- ated in the early 18th century for a French Marshal and Diplomat, Cesar du Plessis- Praslin (pronounced prah-lin) by his chef, Clement Lassagne. Lassagne concocted the treat by melting sugar over an almond, and named it after Praslin. When mer- chants and businessmen traveled on old sailing vessels, they would often find whole new worlds of foods and delicacies. This was certainly the case when a New Orleanian brought back one of these sugar- coated almonds from Paris soon after its creation. Intending to replicate the French treat, his plantation chef substituted a handful of Louisiana pecans and sugar cane syrup, and gave birth to the saccha- rine bliss that we now know and love. This treat came to play a pivotal role in the 19th century as many black women in New Orleans with little to no econom- ic opportunities would make and sell pra- lines on the street to support their families. This move- ment simultaneously gave pralines a definitive fame while also giving them a very important face. This is the exact face that founders Diane and Pierre Bagur honor with Aunt Sally's Pralines. Aunt Sally's Pralines began in 1935, when Diane and Pierre opened a small shop in the New Orleans French Quarter where they and their four children would all work together to make and sell their confections to passersby. In just a few generations, Aunt Sally's Pralines became a multi-million-dollar business known all across the country and the globe as the one place to get a genuine New Orleans Praline. From the four generations of family history to the delicate ritualization and adherence to the original recipe, Aunt Sally's world-famous pra- lines are as good as they get. Each praline is made from local Louisiana ingredients and hand- poured from a copper pot into distinctly unique shapes. This may be why every bite feels like it is right out of your family's kitchen, taking you back to the three-feet-tall days when you had no worries, the smell of home cooking and absolute comfort. With its expansion, Aunt Sally's Pralines now makes tweaked versions of the classic recipe, selling creamy and chewy versions of the candy, and the more adventurous "Bananas Foster" and "Cafe au Lait" varieties. For more information, call 800.642.7257, go to www.auntsallys.com or email service@auntsallys.com.

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