Scenes from Wisconsin’s Dairyland

by dccheese on August 15, 2013

in American Cheese Society,American-Midwest,Cheesemakers & People,Farm Tours

We covered a lot of cheeses in last week’s Blue Ribbon series, but there’s so much more from our time at ACS to share. Up first, a tour of Wisconsin dairy farms — four of them, to be precise.

We arrived in Madison early to attend the welcome party hosted by Andy Hatch and the Gingriches at Uplands Cheese Co. in Dodgeville. Check out the welcome committee greeting our bus as we arrived.

Cow welcoming committee at Uplands Cheese | CheeseandChampagne.com

Like any good cheesemaker-hosted pig roast, the pork was from the farm’s own whey-fed pigs and there were cheeses out for tasting: a special two-year-aged wheel of Pleasant Ridge Reserve, a wheel of Cellars at Jasper Hill’s Willoughby I may have tried to slip into my purse, and Bleu Mont Dairy’s Willi Lehner cutting his own Alpine Renegade and Bandaged Cheddar for the crowd.

Scenes from Uplands Cheese Pig Roast | CheeseandChampagne.com

At the event, Uplands founders Mike and Carol Gingrich announced the official transfer of ownership to Hatch, who joined the farm in 2007 and created the company’s second cheese, Rush Creek Reserve. The cheesy crowd partied into the night as Hatch eventually took to the stage for a turn on banjo with the bluegrass band.

The next morning I boarded a bus at 7 am and happily ran into my old friend, of a week prior, Ellen Fox of Shelburne Farms in Vermont. We enjoyed a scenic but long drive to the Driftless region, west of Madison, to visit Dreamfarm, Hidden Springs Creamery and Nordic Creamery.

Dreamfarm

Dreamfarm, Wisconsin Dairyland tour | CheeseandChampagne

Dreamfarm is a tiny farmstead goat — and one cow — creamery in Cross Plains, where Diana Murphy is on her 10th year of making cheese as virtually a one-woman show. It takes three days worth of milkings before she has enough to fill her pasteurizer and begin making cheese. Pictured, below left, is her Rose Blossom, a soft bloomy-rind goats cheese.

Diana Murphy, cheesemaker at Dreamfarm | CheeseandChampagne

Hidden Springs Creamery

From there it was onward to Hidden Springs Creamery in Westby, an area filled with Amish farms. Here, high atop a hill, Brenda Jensen makes award-winning sheeps milk cheeses that include Ocooch Mountain, Bohemian Blue (a collaboration with Hook’s Creamery) and Driftless fresh cheeses.

With over 500 milking sheep, Hidden Springs seemed enormous in relation to Dreamfarm. The property has a state-of-the-art milking parlor that can milk 24 sheep at a time. When constructing a cave on the property, they hit bedrock and weren’t able to dig down as far as they had wanted. To compensate, they pushed earth up against the sides of the building, helping to keep it cool.

Hidden Springs Creamery | CheeseandChampagne

Jensen sells excess milk to other cheesemakers, explaining, “If you’re making cheese, you want to make money somewhere along the way.” While she would love to make many different varieties, she has committed to making sure her cheeses are both environmentally and economically sustainable. After starting with the fresh Driftless, she decided to try a washed-rind. “I didn’t feel like a cheesemaker,” she stated, “I wanted to make something in a wheel.” Ocooch Mountain is a small, raw sheeps milk washed-rind aged at least 3 months, but usually sold at 6 months. Jensen would like to age more to 12+ months, but needs more room for aging. She also advises, for any aspiring cheesemakers, to not start out with a high-maintenance washed rind. We were able to see a progression of Ocooch wheels from the aging room — and taste a 12-month aged experimental feta.

Brenda Jensen, cheesemaker, Hidden Springs | CheeseandChampagne

We had a fabulous lunch catered by the local Rooted Spoon on the porch of the farm’s Bed & Breakfast. Dessert was a berry-topped lavendar Driftless tart (an aside: I’m officially smitten with champagne currants, one of the berries used).

Driftless Berry Tart | CheeseandChampagne

Nordic Creamery

Lastly, we visited Nordic Creamery in Westby. Al and Sarah Bekkum are the 4th generation to farm on the land since Sarah’s family emigrated from Norway. They make award-winning goat, cow and mixed-milk butters and cheeses on the Certified Naturally Grown farm.

Nordic Creamery visit | CheeseandChampagne

Al used to make butter for other companies, before they decided to build a creamery on the farm. As Sarah explained, with six children they hope to build a business diversified enough that each child could find his or her own niche, should they wish to join the business. While they have a mix of cow breeds, they are breeding them to heritage Norwegian Reds. Their farm store has a window into the creamery, offers buttermilk-fed pork, and features an ice cream counter as well.

Nordic Creamery ice cream and cows | CheeseandChampagne

There’s nothing quite like wrapping up a day of farm tours with some field-to-cone action and a scenic view.

Coming up next…. getting down to cheese business in Madison.

PS Congrats to Todd, the random.org-selected winner and thank you to Murray’s Cheese for sponsoring our Blue Ribbon Beauties giveaway — while we’d love to hand-deliver cheese to each of you, you’ll have to settle for ordering your own box of love from Murray’s.

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