If you say “Wisconsin” to any person from any part of the country, the word he or she is likely to say back to you is “cheese.” Yes, Wisconsin is known for its cheese, and in case you can’t remember that fact on its own, Wisconsinites wear foam cheese-shaped hats to remind you. (Mine proudly rests on my desk, taunting my Viking-fan co-workers year-round.) But while many cheeses that hail from Wisconsin are your typical commodity bunch of cheddars and colbys, once in a while you’ll taste a cheese that makes you realize that Wisconsin is not only known for its cheese, but it knows how to do cheese right.
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, made by the Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wis., is a shining example. A raw cow’s-milk cheese made in the style similar to French Alpine cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve deserves the kudos it has received from the American Cheese Society, which gave it the Best in Show award not once, but twice, and from the U.S. Cheese Championship, which awarded it U.S. champion. The milk from the pasture-fed cows starts being processed into cheese minutes after it leaves the cow, and the cheese is only produced in the warm months when the pasture grasses fill the fields of southwestern Wisconsin. After being aged and bathed in brine in limestone caves for four months, the Pleasant Ridge Reserve is ready for tasting. The result is a sweet, grassy, firm cheese that offers a surprising salty finish.
Paired with a Riesling or Vouvray, Pleasant Ridge Reserve rightly earns its place on a cheeseboard, alongside a salad or as an accompaniment to a fresh fruit platter. I chose a German Riesling – mostly because the label matched the pretty tulips I bought at Trader Joe’s minutes earlier – and found the wine’s sweetness to be an elegant match for the cheese. Not too sweet or cloying, the wine brought out Pleasant Ridge Reserve’s tender grassiness – a wonderful after-dinner treat on a warm Minnesota spring evening.