Driftless taste of place is a well-kept secret, especially with cheeses. One of the region’s most famous cheeses is made by Uplands Cheese – Pleasant Ridge Reserve. It is the most awarded cheese in American history. In October 2017, they received the Slow Food Resistenza Casearia Award. This is the first time an American cheese company has won. Slow Food International bestows this award on select cheesemakers who make the highest quality cheese while respecting animal welfare and the environment.
In June 2018, CIAS hosted a national meeting entitled, “The Agro-ecological Prospect: The Politics of Integrating Values, Food, and Farming. A tour of the farm and the cheese plant was a highlight of the meeting. The farm is owned and operated by two families: Andy and Caitlin Hatch, and Scott and Liana Mericka. Andy and Scott began as apprentices under the previous generation of owners – Uplands Cheese founders Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude. In 2014, Andy, Scott, Caitlin and Liana purchased the farm from the Gingriches and Patenaudes, ensuring the future of a dairy farm where cows have been milked for over a hundred years. Scott is committed to raising the next generation of dairy farmers through his work with the Dairy Graziers Apprenticeship program, hosting an apprentice on his farm.
This grazing operation is typical in the Driftless region. In fact, leadership for intensive rotational grazing came from a network of farmers in the Driftless in the 1980s, when some of the farmers went to Australia and saw how management intensive grazing made it possible to raise animals in a way that required a low capital investment. (Dan Patenaude was one of these farmer-leaders.) In this system, cows eat fresh grass on hilly pasture and will thus produce healthy, flavorful milk. Calves are born in the spring to coincide with the emergence of pasture grasses, and are milked until mid-December, when they dry off and are given a few months vacation. In mid-summer, when the cows are at the peak of their production, a batch of cheese may yield up to 78, 10-lb wheels a day. Because the best cheese depends on using milk from only the best pasture conditions, the weather largely determines how many batches we made in a year.
In 2011, CIAS worked with the UW-Dairy Business Innovation Center to convene cheesemakers in the Driftless region to discuss terroir. The group met at Potosi’s National Brewery Museum. The UW College of Agricultural and Life Sciences covered the event, “Exploring Taste of Place for Wisconsin Driftless Cheeses”. Jeanne Carpenter, cheese officionado posted her impressions from the session in a blog post entitled, “Bacteria Farmers“. The following documents were shared with the cheesemakers.