2012 American Cheese Month 31 Cheeses in 31 Days: Day Thirty-one: Rush Creek Reserve
Cheese: Rush Creek Reserve
Who: Uplands Cheese Company
Website: Uplands Cheese Company
Where: Dodgeville, Wisconsin
Milk Type: cow, raw
Texture: like thick pudding cold, runny when warmed
Rind: washed rind, wrapped in spruce bark
Shape: 12oz wheel
Flavor: salted butter, egg custard, cured meats, woodsy-sweet
“Pleasant Ridge is made in the pastures and Rush Creek is made in the caves.”
– Andy Hatch
Like yesterday’s review, Rogue River Blue, Rush Creek Reserve is on a steady upward trajectory to achieving legendary, perhaps mythical, status. Buyers in the upper Midwest eagerly anticipate the arrival of this short-run, seasonal cheese from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, where just a few thousand wheels make it to market. This was a challenging year due to the drouth and its impact on the grazing herds but they’ve made more Rush Creek Reserve than ever, near 18,000 wheels. Still, count on it to vanish quickly.
I knew when I started this month-long celebration of American Cheeses that Upland’s Rush Creek would, unquestionably, be #31, the culmination of a lot of curds. I was fortunate to recently meet up with Andy Hatch, with Uplands since 2007 and maker of both Rush Creek Reserve and the multi-award-winning Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Andy was gracious enough to take time to answer a few questions about bringing Rush Creek to life:
WITR: The two cheeses, Pleasant Ridge and Rush Creek are aged side-by-side in the same ripening rooms, sharing the environment. What’s unique about that space and how does it affect Rush Creek’s development?
AH: By the time we start making Rush Creek, in early autumn, the ripening room where it will age has had thousands of wheels of Pleasant Ridge pass through it over the course of the season. It’s brimming with yeasts and b-linens and with a high-moisture cheese like Rush Creek, all we really need to do is walk it into the room and let the ambient microflora do their work. Still, we do wash the Rush Creek with the same brine that’s been used to wash Pleasant Ridge, so the two are kissing cousins in that way.
WITR: You’ve said Rush Creek was inspired by the French Vacherin Mont d’Or. What was it about the French original that inspired you? How does yours differ from the original?
AH: I’ve always loved Mont d’Or and because it’s no longer sold in the states, I knew that other Mont d’Or fans here would jump at the chance to try a domestic version. Really, though, the most important inspiration was the same practical reason that led the French to make a cheese like this during the fall and winter – the milk is richer and has less flavor complexity than the summer, grass-fed milk, and so it’s better suited to a young, soft cheese. Ours is different in that, as a raw milk cheese, is has to be aged for 60 days, whereas the French sell theirs after 25-30 days.
So I learned to make Mont d’Or in France, but had to totally deconstruct the recipe here at home, because every small variation in the make has implications during the ripening process, and it was a challenge to learn how to pace that process so that the cheese peaks at 70-80 days instead of 25-30.
WITR: Rush Creek is a relatively “new” cheese- how it is evolving from year to year?
AH: Like Pleasant Ridge, and like any cheese made from raw milk and aged with a natural rind, it’s a process of never-ending adaption and adjustment. The conditions change and the cheesemaker has to change with them. It will take us years to master a difficult cheese like Rush Creek, and even then it won’t allow us to run on auto-pilot.
WITR: As you said, you had to deconstruct the French original to make an American original. I imagine it wasn’t perfect from the very beginning. Any tales of cheese gone wrong?
AH: We fed a lot of cheese to the hogs. Thousands of cheeses in 2009, when we were still experimenting, and in 2010, the first year we sold Rush Creek, we made 4000 wheels. Sold 3000 and fed 1000 to the hogs. We only want to release the best cheeses.
This season, don’t wait too long for your Rush Creek – you’d hate to miss out on this one-of-kind American Original and it will be gone before you know it.
In closing, here’s an in-depth feature of Andy and the folks at Uplands making Rush Creek Reserve from beginning to end in this episode of Wisconsin Foodie. The segment is 15 minutes and will give you a great example of the labor behind hand-made farmstead cheese.