This past week, I did what anyone who needs an excuse to go see some of her favorite cheesemakers would do: I organized a two-day artisan cheesemaker and craft beer tour of the Driftless Region. Fifteen members of Wisconsin Cheese Originals came along for a backstage pass to some of America’s finest food artisans.
First stop: Uplands Cheese near Dodgeville. Cheesemaker Andy Hatch, son August and wife Caitlin were amazing hosts, showing off one of America’s most famous farmstead cheese plants, home to Pleasant Ridge Reserve.
We tasted three ages of Pleasant Ridge Reserve – 5 months, 11 months and 15 months.
We also got a sneak peak at baby Rush Creek Reserves, which will hit the market in about a month. This washed-rind cheese, wrapped in spruce bark, is aging nicely in the aging rooms. I can’t wait to taste that yummy gooiness of a cheese — it’s been too long since I had my Rush Creek fix.
After waving goodbye to Andy, Caitlin and Baby August, we were off to Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point. Owners Tony and Julie Hook are always the most gracious of hosts, and Tony was in an especially good mood, just having made his very first batch of goat milk blue the day before. He says he’ll know in six months whether his new goat blue (yet to be named) is a success, but with Tony’s track record, I’m pretty sure it’ll be a winner.
One of my favorite places to visit is Hooks’ cold storage, packed floor to ceiling with Cheddar just waiting to be eaten. I saw some 17-year Cheddar in there — fingers crossed it hits the market in the next year or two!
After a local lunch of pasty, corn casserole and pecan pie at the Brewery Creek cafe in Mineral Point, we were off to Potosi Brewery for a museum tour and beer tasting (because nothing goes better with cheese than beer, right?). The always amazing Sara Hill of the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board put together a full Potosi beer and Wisconsin cheese course together for us. My favorite pairing of the day: Potosi Cave Ale and Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Thank you, Sara!
After a four-course local-foods dinner and overnight at the Old Oak Inn Bed & Breakfast in Soldiers Grove, we were off bright and early to Hidden Springs Creamery near Westby. Owners Dean and Brenda Jensen took us on a wagon ride to get up and close and personal with their sheep, and trek through a little of Amish country. Aren’t we a good looking group? Check out this 20-second video of the Driftless Region.
Brenda gave us the full tour of her farmstead cheese factory, milking parlor, barns, farm bed and breakfast, and treated us to a tasting of the many award-winning sheep’s milk cheeses she makes by hand.
We were then treated to an on-farm lunch catered by Rooted Spoon in Viroqua. Owner Dani Lind made us some Hidden Springs Ocooch Mountain cheese cornbread & jalapeno honey butter, local greens salad with roasted beets, cucumbers, Hidden Springs Driftless cheese, sausage, pepitas, & fresh mint vinaigrette, fresh local fruit and some tasty purple basil & aronia berry lemonade. What a treat to eat a meal right from the area from which the ingredients were sourced.
Our last stop of the trip was Nordic Creamery, where we were greeted by owner Sarah Bekkum and given a VIP tour of the farmstead butter, cheese and ice cream plant. After a butter and cheese tasting, we ended our day with an ice cream cone made right at Nordic Creamery.
Thanks to everyone who joined me on the tour, and special thanks to our hosts and hostesses who showed off the Driftless Region with pride. I have no doubt we will be returning, and returning very soon!
All photos by Uriah Carpenter. Copyright 2012.