Made by Andy Hatch at Uplands Farm in southern Wisconsin, Rush Creek Reserve is a washed rind, raw cow's milk cheese made in the style of France's Vacherin Mont d'Or.
The original vision for Uplands Farm was as a collaboration between Mike & Carol Gingrich and their business partners, Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. Having had a successful career in the corporate world with Xerox, Mike decided to realize a long-held ambition to create a farmstead cheese operation modeled after the traditional practices found in the French Alps. Together they acquired Uplands Farm, in southern Wisconsin in the mid 1990's and immediately set to work to improve the quality of the pasture, which was sown with specific varieties of grasses, clovers, herbs and wild flowers. The 150 cows at Uplands deliberately consist of a variety of well-known milking breeds and carefully crossed genetics with a view to producing the highest possible quality of milk. The farm incorporates rotational grazing by creating 20 separate pastures on their 244 acre farm.
In 2007, cheesemaker Andy Hatch joined the business and has now taken over responsibility for the cheesemaking as well as acquisition of the business. Dan and Jeanne are now retired, having left a great legacy of the very high quality milking herd that still provides 100% of the milk for cheese production.
The cheese for which Uplands became known is Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Modeled closely after French Beaufort from the Jura region, Pleasant Ridge has won multiple awards including being the three times Best in Show winner at the Annual American Cheese Society competition.
However, in the autumn of 2010, Andy decided to launch a new cheese, Rush Creek Reserve. Rush Creek takes its inspiration from Vacherin Mont d’Or, a wonderful, seasonal cheese made in the Jura region of France - the same area as Beaufort. Traditional Beaufort is only made during the summer months when the cows are grazing on high altitude pasture. In the fall, when the cows come down to the lower slopes, the cheesemakers switch production to make Vacherin Mont d’Or from the fall and early winter milk. This milk is naturally high in protein and solids and is particularly suited to production of softer cheese. So, for the same reasons, Andy decided that Rush Creek Reserve would be a natural companion to Pleasant Ridge Reserve.
Rush Creek is made only between September and November each year. Cheeses are produced from fresh, raw, warm, evening milk gently pumped directly into the cheese vat from the milking parlor. After the cultures and rennet are added and the curd is set, Hatch cuts and stirs the large curd by hand—using no mechanical agitators—to protect its delicate texture. He hand-ladles the curd into forms, where it sets briefly, is flipped, and then is drained overnight.
The next morning the 12-ounce wheels are brined and hand-wrapped with spruce bark that’s been first boiled, then soaked in a potion of yeast and molds. This colonizes the bark with bacteria that helps ripen the cheese Cheeses are then transferred to a series of maturing rooms where they remain for at least two months prior to release. During this time they are also washed with a mother culture—a mixture of brine, yeasts, and bacteria, including Brevibacterium linens—which results from washing Pleasant Ridge. Hatch explains; “We wash the big wheels of Pleasant Ridge first to capture the bacteria from those rinds in the solution. Then we wash the Rush Creek wheels with the same solution and transfer the bacteria. Our purpose is to really express the milk and the wash reinforces that.” Soft and luxuriant, Rush Creek Reserve is not designed for slicing. Like Vacherin Mont d’Or, it is meant to be served slightly warmed with its thin top rind removed so a spoon or bit of bread can be dipped into the cheese.