Uplands Cheese: Old-world Farming, Award-winning Cheese

andyhatch

Andy Hatch, cheesemaker and manager of Uplands Cheese Co., in Dodgeville, Wis.

A common adage among Wisconsin cheesemakers is that happy cows produce better milk, and that better milk makes a better cheese. Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis., takes it a few steps further. The farmstead, managed by cheesemaker Andy Hatch, operates on the belief that great fields for happy cows leads to even greater milk, and that milk paired with great cheesemaking leads to highly decorated and award-winning artisan cheeses.

Home to 300 acres of rolling landscape in the Driftless region of southwestern Wisconsin, Uplands uses an old-world model lifted from the French and Swiss Alps, where it produces cheese with fresh, unpasteurized milk from its own cows. In order to produce artisanal cheeses that boast unique flavor complexities, special attention is paid to what the suppliers of the milk are fed.

Happy Cows

The location of the farm, coupled with the nearly 40 inches of rain it receives annually, is ideal for growing a diverse range of grasses, legumes and herbs. It’s this steady diet that the farm’s nearly 150-cow herd feeds on from spring until the final days of autumn, giving Uplands a high quality milk. In order to ensure the herd is getting its proper nutrients each day, the farm rotationally grazes the cows in 20 different pastures and never in the same field for consecutive days. Moving the cows from one pasture to the next allows the cows to feast on new patches of grass and legumes, while allowing the previous day’s pasture to rest and recover.

uplandscows

Uplands’ cows are rotationally grazed on 300 acres of pasture.

Managing a closed herd, the farm only uses its own bulls and raises its own calves. It does not purchase cows from outside the herd. In fact, Uplands crossbreeds nine different types of cows. Because the cows spend their life outside grazing pasture, Uplands’ cows need to have athletic and robust characteristics. As a result, the farm breeds less for size and more for mobility and efficiency in converting grass into milk. The farm has found success crossbreeding larger breeds like Holsteins and Brown Swiss with smaller breeds such as Jersey and Tarentaise, says Hatch, cheesemaker and general manager at Uplands.

“We’re after a few things with our cows. Physically that they’re outside grazing all the time,” Hatch says. “We’re also looking for a flavor complexity. Different breeds of cows give different kinds of milk. They have different fats and proteins. The other end is the flavor you can develop in your cheeses is how those fats and proteins are broken down in the aging process.So our thinking is the more complexity you begin with in your milk supply, the more flavor complexity is available. It’s a luxury and we can approach it like that because we use the milk just from one herd. If someone is buying milk, they can’t pick and choose. But everything we do here, how we breed the cows, how we manage the farm, how we age the cheese, it’s all aimed at flavor complexity.”

uplandscheeseboards

Cheese is placed on racks and is moved into the ripening rooms.

Uplands’ philosophy is that its herd should go through a natural calving pattern, so the cows have their calves in the spring and are allowed to go dry throughout the winter, meaning they don’t get milked. This allows them to build body reserves for next year’s calves. As a result, cheesemaking does not occur in the winter months.

“It’s the old school way of dairy farming and it’s a natural way of farming,” says Hatch. “A cow is meant to have her baby in the spring when there’s abundant food and then hibernate when she’s pregnant in the winter. It’s not practical for most dairy farms but because our focus here is that grass-fed milk in the summer, we’re able to make it work.”

Hatch says the cows are milked seasonally in the spring, summer and fall, twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

“We don’t get very much milk out of our cows,” he says. “A holstein kept in a barn fed hay and corn will give you 100 pounds of milk a day. We get about half of that out of our cows. It’s because they’re eating only grass and their genetics aren’t geared towards volume. The volume is much smaller and the flavor properties are much different.”

From May through October, while its cows are grazing fresh pasture, Uplands is busy making its highly decorated Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a hard cheese made in the tradition of coveted Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort.

Cheesemaking

The traditional practice in cheesemaking was to make cheese on the farm using milk that was as fresh as possible. That’s exactly what Uplands does. Moments after the morning milking is done in the barn (which is 10 yards from the creamery), the milk is pumped directly into the cheese vats in the make room and the cheese making begins.

“It’s pretty much straight out of the cow,” says Hatch. “We don’t pasteurize it or homogenize it or anything, it’s about as fresh as you can get. We get more flavor complexity out of raw milk.”

cheeseforms

Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese forms

Making Pleasant Ridge Reserve takes Hatch about six hours and the last step is to put the curd into forms. The cheese gets pressed over night and the next day the 10-pound wheels are removed from the forms, salted and placed on racks where they are then moved into the ripening rooms. Here, the cheese is hand-washed every two days in a brine solution, which encourages the development of certain cultures on the cheese rinds. These cultures, along with the micro flora that is indigenous to its unpasteurized milk, develop flavors in the cheese over time. And as the cheese ages, the flavors become more complex and concentrated.

Hatch says the cheese is aged a minimum of four months, and after 12 months it’s considered extra aged and is sold at a somewhat higher price.

“A large part of our work is ripening it and deciding if we can sell it,” says Hatch. “Each batch is a little different. We use raw milk, so each day cows are in different pastures the milk can be variable. It’s just a part of working with raw milk. So the name of the game is how do you ripen each batch differently and how do you sell it at its peak. It’s almost like dealing with different vintages of wine.”

By the time the cheese wheels are shipped across the country, they get turned and washed an average of 60 times. In fact, it takes more labor to age the cheese than it takes to make it. Hatch says washing rinds rarely occurs today because of all the labor it requires, but doing it this old fashioned way creates wonderful flavors during the maturation stage.

uplandscheesewashing

Cheese is hand-washed every two days in a brine solution.

The results have spoke volumes. In 2001, 2005 and 2010, Pleasant Ridge Reserve was named “Best of Show” at the American Cheese Society competitions, and is the only cheese to have ever received the honor more than once. It was also named U.S. Grand Champion at the 2003 U.S. Cheese Championships, making it the only cheese to have ever won both of the national competitions.

Building on the success with its Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, Uplands began producing its other highly-coveted cheese, Rush Creek Reserve, in the autumn of 2010. Previously, the farm always sold its milk to another cheesemaker in the autumn when the cows start transitioning to eating hay because the milk produced is less than ideal for Pleasant Ridge.

Instead of producing a hard cheese like Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Rush Creek Reserve, which is made from September to mid-November, is a soft cheese that, since being produced, is a hot commodity across the country.

“We like to say that Pleasant Creek is made in the pastures and Rush Creek is made in the caves,” says Hatch. “The flavor that you find in Pleasant Ridge is very much a product of the inherent complexity of the milk itself. Rush Creek on the other hand develops its flavor much more through the ripening process and the yeast, the molds and the microflora.”

Rush Creek Reserve is designed to show off the richer texture of the hay-fed milk and the delicate ripeness of a soft, young cheese. Made with unpasteurized milk, it is aged side-by-side Pleasant Ridge in the ripening rooms. It’s a smaller wheel, weighing 12 ounces, roughly an inch thick and wrapped in spruce bark.

Hatch says Rush Creek Reserve is inspired by the French Vacherin Mont d’Or, and is bound in spruce bark, which gives shape to the soft round and imparts a sweet, woodsy flavor to the cheese.

pleasantridgereserve

Pleasant Ridge Reserve in its early stages.

“Rush Creek’s flavor is a product of how its ripened, what molds are growing on the rind,” says Hatch. “The idea is you’re working with less flavorful milk, so you have to generate flavor somewhere else.”

The savory flavors born from the rind gives Rush Creek’s custard-soft paste a deep but delicate richness, reminiscent of beef broth or finely cured meat. Hatch says it’s best enjoyed by removing the top crust and scooping the cheese with a spoon or a nice crusty bread.

The award-winning cheeses that Hatch produces at Uplands is coveted in households and restaurants from coast to coast. In fact, the cheesemaker, who says he stumbled into the profession, says the company’s biggest market is San Francisco, followed by New York and then Chicago.

City Boy Turned Cheesemaker

AndyHatchUplandsCheeseGrowing up in Whitefish Bay, Wis., Hatch’s family was not a farming family. But somehow, he was always attracted to the profession. In the early 2000s, he began working for a corn breeder at the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute in East Troy, Wis. But corn breeding wasn’t an ideal job for Hatch who was looking to go a different direction.

In a rather strange turn of events, Hatch was whisked into cheesemaking.

“The corn breeder I was working for had married into a Norwegian cheesemaking family, and right about the time I was getting ready to leave his lab, his elderly father-in-law in Norway died and he sent me over there to help out,” Hatch recalls.

While in Norway Hatch was taught how to make cheese. He then spent a couple years in Europe apprenticing for a few different cheesemakers. Upon returning to the states, Hatch decided to enroll at the University of Wisconsin to study dairy science. He then apprenticed with a couple cheesemakers near Madison and became a licensed cheesemaker. It was in 2007, when he was hired by Uplands’ owners Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude to head the operations.

Pigs

On top of raising a herd of dairy cows and cheesemaking, Uplands also raises pigs. In fact, it sells about 50 Berkshire pigs, which are pasture-raised, yearly to restaurants in Wisconsin.

“We fatten our pigs on whey – whatever is not incorporated into the curd from the milk,” ” says Hatch. “They go nuts over the whey. Most of the lactose is still sent out in the waste, which is sweet, sugary, and they just go [crazy] over it. They’ll drink five gallons a head a day.”

When the farm gets the pigs in the spring each year they are about 35 pounds. When they get butchered in November, they’re 400 pounds.

“That’s like 180 days and like 350 pounds,” says Hatch. “We finish them on acorns because there are a lot of oak trees around here. And then we sell them to chefs.”

Hatch says the pigs are sold to restaurants such as Sanford Restaurant, Rumpus Room and Lake Park Bistro in the Milwaukee area and to L’Etoile in Madison.

“The fat in this pork tastes like maple syrup. All of the sweetness in the whey gets concentrated in the fat,” Hatch says. “The fat is like three inches, it’s really amazing.”

Uplands Cheese Company, Inc.Racks of Pleasant Ridge Reserve at Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis.
5023 State Rd. 23 North
Dodgeville, WI 53533
Phone: (888) 935-5558
Email: contact@uplandscheese.com
Website: www.uplandscheese.com

Not My Farm, Or Your Farm, It’s R-Farm

macriemenschneiderWhen his alarm clock sounds at 4:30 a.m., Mac Riemenschneider can’t afford to hit the snooze button. That’s because he knows he’s got a whole lot of work ahead of him pulling double-duty as a full-time farmer and a full-time construction estimator.

Hours before clocking in at his daytime job in Waukesha, Wis., Riemenschneider starts his day by tending to the livestock on his 100-acre farm, R-Farm, in Dousman.

A husband and father of three young children, fulfilling his role as farmer and estimator takes a lot of balance and dedication. Once morning farm chores are completed, Mac heads to the office. At 3:30 p.m., it’s back to the farm to do field work until the sun goes down.

Mac Riemenschneider, R-FarmSince his freshman year in high school (1991), Mac has been raising livestock. What started out as simply raising two steers with a friend, has evolved into Mac owning his own diversified livestock farm that produces naturally-raised steer, chickens and pigs without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics. His passion for farming and connecting the community to local food resources, whether it be from R-Farm or a fellow farmer, prompted the formation of the Dousman Farmers’ Market where he served as the market’s organizer and first manager.

Steer

R-Farm is well known for its steer. Mac currently raises anywhere from 30 to 40 at one time. Currently, his herd of choice is Jersey Steer. He starts them as calves and finishes them all the way through, which typically is just over two years.

“Jerseys are not as big an animal,” says Mac. “It works out for a family that buys a half [of a steer]. They aren’t getting a lot of meat as if they would out of an Angus or a Holstein. It’s a little more consumer friendly and they’re a little more reasonable to buy.”

The farm purchases its Jersey Steer calves from a rotational grazing dairy farm in Waukesha. With help from his dad, Bill, the calves get a bottle of milk twice a day until they are two months old. Afterwards they are fed a grain mix and hay. After reaching two months of age, the calves are moved into a separate pasture for the summer. Then, in the fall they get mixed in with the bigger steers.

Some farmers like to keep their calves in a barn. Mac raises calves until they are two months old in calf hutches because he says if there’s a sick cow, it will jeopardize the well being of the calves.

“The idea is you want them separate when they’re young in case one does get sick, then it doesn’t move through all of them,” he says. “And as long as you keep them dry and out of a draft, they’ll do better. You can put them in the barn but if it’s humid in there or if it’s warm and then there’s a draft, they’re more likely to get sick. If you keep them warm and dry and out of a draft, they do a lot better.”

The calf hutches, Mac says, are a proven, healthy, safe method. Most days, calves are taken out of the hutches and let into a larger group of four to five other calves where they can socialize and drink milk with one another.

cattleThe farm’s cattle herd is grass-fed on pasture from spring up until winter. The farm’s pasture is a mixture of alfalfa, orchard grass, timothy, festulolium, and whatever wild grasses creep in.

When the steers are out on pasture they are moved every day.

“Our cattle are all grass-fed on pasture in the warmer months and dry hay in the cooler months when the pasture is not available,” says Mac. “It takes better hay through the winter to feed them. We usually butcher them at about two years old, but because our animals are grass-fed it can sometimes take a little longer to finish them.”

Poultry and Pigs

R-Farm currently raises a variety of 200 Production Red and Barred Rock chickens. A Production Red is a hen that is a cross between a Rhode Island Red, New Hampshire Red and a Leghorn chicken. The Production Red are a vigorous, hearty chicken that is touted as the best brown egg layer. The hens start laying dark brown eggs between four to six months of age. New to the farm this spring, Mac is raising Barred Rocks that are expected to begin laying eggs for the first time in May. He says Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.

 

hensBoth of the hen breeds raised on the farm lay brown eggs that contain rich, orange yolks. They are a big hit with customers. In fact, on our visit to the farm, the weekly supply was sold out in less than 30 minutes.

The hens lay about 70 dozen eggs a week and around 300 dozen large and extra large eggs a month. When young hens first start laying, they lay smaller eggs known as pullets. The farm sells a pack of 18 for the same price as a dozen.

While the public can come to the farm to purchase free-range eggs, R-Farm also supplies two local gas stations – Wales Lawn & Garden on Hwy 83 in Wales and The Paperchase Mobil on Hwy 67 in Dousman. The two stations purchase 20 to 40 dozen eggs a week.

The chickens rotationally graze in moveable pens starting in early spring and then get moved into the greenhouse by Thanksgiving. The portable, floorless coops have mesh or wire sides, a roof for shade and some enclosed spaces for nesting. The chickens have access to fresh air, all the grass and insects they can eat, and protection from predators.

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Chicken pens for rotational grazing

“When we put them out on pasture, we’ve had everything from foxes, raccoons, owls, hawks, and coyotes,” Mac says. “We’ve run the gamut on just about every predator.”

Pens are moved around the grassy pasture on a daily basis.

“We’ve got old lawnmower wheels on the back, so we pull them around,” Mac says. “We cover these with a tarp on the top and one side to keep the wind and the rain out. In the summer, the chickens will have it all grazed down, then it will all grow back.”

The farm has adopted a rotational grazing system where steers are moved first through a portion of the pasture to graze and then the chickens follow a few days after. Mac systematically moves the livestock based on the stage of growth of the forages. While one area of the pasture is being grazed, the rest of the pasture rests. This rest and recovery time helps maintain healthy forage plants for the livestock throughout the warm months.

In the winter, the laying hens are housed in a greenhouse that was constructed in 2009. Ground-up corncobs are applied to the ground as bedding for the hens and temperatures remain warm enough where water does not freeze. The sides roll up to allow for fresh air to pass through.

Mac Riemenschneider mixes his own feed for his pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.Unlike the steers and chickens, the pigs on the farm aren’t pasture raised. They get housed in  the barn, but do have access to a large pen outside where they can come and go.

“I stick to the old fashioned way of doing it,” Mac says about raising pigs. “I’m not brave enough to turn them out to pasture yet.”

Mac mixes his own feed for the pigs with the corn he grows on the farm, soybean meal and kelp. In the barn, he deep beds them in straw.

One of the farm’s large sows is expected to give birth to piglets early this spring. He also just finished raising a boar that weighed 740 pounds.

Raising Crops

Besides raising livestock, Mac also is busy tending to his farm’s fields. He provides custom feed for his livestock by raising a variety of vegetables without the use of herbicides or chemical pesticides. He does not use genetically-modified seed.

“We raise our own corn for the hogs and chickens and then I grow oats,” says Mac. “We’re going to grow some peas and wheat and barley this year for the pig feed. Something a little different. I like to move to a more organic feed for the hogs and the way you can do that is with the field peas. Then we raise peas and triticale as forage for the calves. That makes really good forage. Then we’ll do some annual grass, Sudan grass and some millet.”

Although Mac follows organic methods whenever possible, he isn’t always able to raise organic crops.

Barred Rocks are heavy birds that produce large eggs (about 20 eggs per month) and are also ideal for a soup chicken.“I use conventional soybean meal, I use some commercial fertilizers because some of the fields I have are real sandy and using organic methods, I’m just losing money,” Mac says. “I’ve taken a few fields that weren’t farmed for a few years and I’ve tried to get a crop out of them with the organic methods, but it just hasn’t been working too well.”

As a result, he uses water-soluble fertilizer to grow crops. At the same time, however, he’s trying to build up the organic matter by growing cover crops. He also has not used any herbicides in five years.

“I do use organic practices but don’t have the certification,” says Mac. “Most of our customers come right here, so if they want to know what I’m doing, I can show them and tell them.”

Three-person Operation

The farm has been in Mac’s family dating back to the 1950s, when his aunt’s in-laws purchased the farm. Since then it has changed hands a few more times. His parents purchased 20 acres of land in the 1970s and his dad cash-cropped the land. They purchased the house and buildings in 1990, and shortly thereafter, Mac started farming the land and took over the operations and named it R-Farm.

Even though there are hundreds of livestock and nearly 100 acres of land to tend to, a three-person operation is typically what it takes to run R-Farm. Mac runs the operational side of the farm with help from his dad Bill, who has a house on the property. Bill helps with daily chores in the morning and at night and will run errands while Mac is away at work. Mac’s wife Nicole does the bookkeeping, updates the website and responds to emails. She does the meat ordering, keeps track of orders and calls in orders to the butcher. Nicole also has the important job of cleaning the eggs before they get packaged and sold to the public.

Open For Business

rfarmretailstoreIn 2005, R-Farm obtained its retail license in order to offer a variety of cuts of meat. Prior to that they sold meat by quarters or halves. The retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.

“It’s just come and pick up what you need,” says Mac. “Just come and get whatever you want out of the freezers.”

When we visited the farm it was on a Saturday and several customers were coming in to pick up their Easter hams and other meat. Mac says it’s not unusual to get customers coming in from Dousman, Wales, Delafield, Oconomowoc, Waukesha, Brookfield, East Troy, Lake Geneva, and as far as Northern Illinois.

Besides eggs, the farm offers grass-fed beef, custom cut roasts and steaks, ground beef, whole chickens, pork, ham, and different sausage products, to name a few. R-Farm has been using Detjens Northern Trails Meat in Watertown for its butchering since 1991.

R-Farm's retail store, located on the farm, is open to the public from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings.Mac believes in using the whole animal and Detjens helps provide odd cuts of meat that can’t typically be found in supermarkets.

“We get soup bones, oxtails, tongue, liver and heart,” says Mac. “Oxtail I can’t get enough of. There’s only one oxtail per steer, so that’s part of the issue, but people really like it. Last year I don’t know why, but oxtail was going like crazy. I talked to our butcher and they were having people drive out from Milwaukee, buying all of the oxtail they had.”

The public is encouraged to call ahead of time or check the farm’s website to see what offerings they have prior to stopping by as some products sell out faster than others.

R-Farm

Mac and Nicole RiemenschneiderR-Farm is a diversified livestock farm located in Dousman, Wis.
W394 S4398 Hwy Z
Dousman, WI 53118
Phone: 414-881-2098
Email: mackayrr@hotmail.com
Website: http://rfarmdousman.blogspot.com/
R-Farm is also on Facebook