Greetings to all of you who may be discovering Wisconsin artisan cheese for the first time. As part of Fork & Bottle’s Great Artisanal Cheese Pairing Project, I am honored to introduce you to the many great accompaniments that pair exquisitely well with Pleasant Ridge Reserve.

First, a bit about the cheese. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is handcrafted by Mike Gingrich on his dairy farm between Dodgeville and Spring Green in the rolling green hills of southwestern Wisconsin. Making only this single cheese – Uplands Cheese is a farmstead operation using the milk from a single dairy herd, rotationally grazed on pasture grasses, herbs and wildflowers.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made only in the summer (and occasionally if Wisconsin gets enough rain -in the early fall). Supply is very limited and carries a rare honor – winning Best of Show twice in 2001 and 2005 from the American Cheese Society, and named as the U.S. Championship Cheese in 2003. It is the only cheese ever to win both national awards.

Recognized as one of the top 10 American-made farmstead artisan cheeses, it is Beaufort in style. This washed-rind, complexly-flavored cheese is aged in a cave environment anywhere from six to 24 months. Depending on the age of the cheese, its taste can change dramatically (always for the good, of course).

Now, onto the pairings. I’ve enjoyed this cheese since it came on the market in 2000. I must say that Pleasant Ridge Reserve is usually eaten as a table cheese and is excellent just by its lonely old self as an appetizer or a dessert cheese.

However, I have been honored to conduct tastings with Cheesemaker Mike Gingrich and I thought I’d first start with Mike’s favorite pairings, which include: pear slices, rosemary herb bread, apple slices, dried cranberries and sweet dessert wines. Mike especially recommends Torcolato – an Italian wine that fittingly is considered “a wine of meditation.” I second this recommendation.

I myself am neither a wine nor a cheese pairing connoisseur, so I asked my friend Heather Porter Engwall (who most definitely is) for advice. Through her work with the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, Heather just finished working with a group of chefs on pairings for Wisconsin cheeses. Pleasant Ridge Reserve was among them. So, I slowly worked my way down the list she sent me and I must say, was blown away by some of these pairings. Here we go:

Classic Twist: pair Pleasant Ridge Reserve with marinated cucumber pickles, kirsh – a clear brandy made from double distillation of the fermented juice of a small black cherry (the European Union sets a minimum of 37.5% alcohol by volume for this drink – so pace yourself) and cumin spiced quince. One word: yummy. This is a Great Pairing.

Savory Pair: try pairing Pleasant Ridge Reserve with salami from your favorite charcuterie source, pickled white asparagus and roasted chanterelle mushrooms. Since I personally didn’t care much for the pickled asparagus, this pairing was less than perfect, but it of course depends on your individual taste buds. I consider this one a Neutral Pairing.

Sweet Pair: chocolate covered cherries, paired with Mangosteen (a rather hard to find tropical fruit in Wisconsin – but those of you on the coasts would have an easier time of it) and guava. Wow, if you have a sweet tooth like mine, this beats just about any dessert I’ve ever had. This is a Great Pairing.

Drink Pair: try pairing Pleasant Ridge Reserve with any of these — Moscato de Asti, a refreshing summer wine; a Rye & Cherry Manhattan or a Belgian Witbier – a barley/wheat beer brewed mainly in Belgium, although there are some coming out of the Netherlands. Great pairings.

Seasonal Pair: roasted purple cauliflower, persimmon and roasted squash rings are all a good bet. These are Good Pairings.

Last but Not Least: if all else fails, here are a few other things that I found paired amazingly well with Pleasant Ridge Reserve: fenugreek, chocolate pomegranate, plain old molasses, brandied peach halves, fig preserves and olive jam. All of these are Great Pairings.

Fork & Bottle provides a good reminder on their website: “Remember, always try the cheese after you try the pairing element – for example, taste the wine first and the cheese and then the two together. The butterfat in the cheese coats your palate and will change the perception of the flavor.”

Pleasant Ridge Reserve enjoys a fairly decent distribution across the United States, so ask your favorite specialty cheese store if they carry it. If not, encourage them to! Also, if you’re interested in discovering more Wisconsin artisan cheeses, visit: Wisconsin Dairy Artisans.

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