Our dairy farm sits on Pleasant Ridge, in the Driftless region of southwest Wisconsin. The Driftless region was given its name because it is the one corner of the state that wasn’t scraped flat 10,000 years ago by receding glaciers, and thus doesn’t have any glacial deposits, or drift.
Instead, our countryside is full of rolling hills and valleys that have been formed over tens of thousands of years by rivers and streams. Our farm sits near what was the northernmost stretch of the original, midwestern prairie, and its soils are ideally suited for supporting grazing animals with a diversity of grasses, legumes and wildflowers. Add to that some forty inches of rain a year, and it’s easy to see why there is such a strong tradition of small dairy farms here.
Our farm spans 300 hilly acres, all of which are pasture, segregated into small paddocks. Each day we move their cows to a different paddock, which ensures two things: first, that the cows are always eating fresh grass and will thus produce healthy, flavorful milk; and secondly, that the pasture isn’t overgrazed and will re-grow in time for the next grazing.
Aside from a small amount of grain while they’re being milked, our cows eat only fresh pasture from spring through fall. We have a seasonal herd, which means that our cows aren’t milked in the winter. Calves are born in the spring to coincide with the emergence of our pastures, and are milked until Christmas, when they dry off and are given a few months vacation.
Uplands Cheese Company’s Farm
There are a number of reasons to raise animals on a pasture diet:
for the land, which suffers less erosion and chemical inputs than when cropped
for the animals, who benefit from fresh air and exercise and have evolved with a diet of grass, not grain
for the farmer, who doesn’t have to spend all day feeding and cleaning in a barn
and for the consumer, who has access to the suggested health benefits of grass-fed animal products (more Vitamin E, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acids)
We raise our cows on pasture for all of these reasons, but the most enjoyable result of our style of farming is that grass-fed milk is so flavorful. This is a fact known by many dairy farmers, and it used to be common knowledge to cheese makers back when most cows were fed on pasture during the summer months. Of course the modern trend is to keep cows in barns year-round, where they can eat the maximum amount of machine-harvested food and produce the maximum amount of milk. Whatever advantages this style of farming may propose to offer, flavor is not one of them. We’re proud of the flavors expressed by our land and our cows, and we hope you’ll keep them in mind when enjoying our cheese.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve
Named after the land formation on which our farm sits, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made in the tradition of Alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort. Like the Alpage versions of these cheeses, we only make Pleasant Ridge Reserve from May through October when our cows are eating fresh pasture. This grass-fed, raw milk produces flavors in the cheese that can’t be replicated by “ordinary” milk.
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 we’re very particular about using milk from only the best pasture conditions, the weather largely determines how many batches we can make in a year. When the pasture conditions aren’t ideal, we sell the milk. Some years we’re able to make more cheese than other years. This may seem like a luxury, but using only the ideal milk is the most important way we ensure the quality of our cheese.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese
America’s Most-Awarded Cheese
Rush Creek Reserve CheeseRush Creek Reserve Cheese
Rush Creek Reserve
Uplands Cheese CowsUplands Cheese Cows
In an effort to breed animals that thrive on our farm and meet our demanding requirements for milk quality, we crossbreed nine different types of cows in our herd. Ours is a closed herd, which means that we use our own bulls and raise our own calves without buying any outside cows. This way, our herd is continually evolving to become better suited to our farm and each successive generation has more of the characteristics that we, as graziers and cheesemakers, value.
Some of the first things we look for in a cow are her physical characteristics. Because a cow on our farm spends her life outside grazing pasture, she needs to be athletic and robust. This often isn’t the case with modern cows, who are bred with the assumption that they’ll live a sedentary life in a barn. As the modern Holstein is becoming ever larger, we breed less for size than for mobility and efficiency in converting grass into milk. So we have crossed larger breeds, like Holsteins and Brown Swiss, with smaller ones, such as Jersey and Tarentaise.
Uplands Cheese CowsUplands Cheese Cows
Another focus of our breeding is the goal of supplying our creamery with ideal milk for making Pleasant Ridge Reserve. Beyond the requirement of a grass diet for the cheese milk, we are also looking for a particular balance in the major components of our milk (fat and protein) as well as flavor complexity.
Each breed gives milk that is different in its amounts and types of fat, protein, minerals and vitamins. This is due to a combination of genetic disposition with hundreds of years of selective breeding, and the result is that not all milks are equally suited to all types of cheese. This, like the flavor of grass fed milk, is a fact often lost among modernity’s emphasis on volume and efficiency, but certain cheese makers in both the new and old worlds still recognize this.
The milk from our crossbred herd inherently contains a more diverse range of sizes and types of fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals. As our cheeses age, this diversity enables a wider range of interactions among the microflora in the cheese and on the rind, which in turn generate a more complex array of flavors. Complexity breeds complexity. So our cheese making actually starts a long time before the milk hits the vat, with the selective crossbreeding of our unique herd.