Have you ever tasted a cheese that was simply an oozy, delicious mess? Recently I found myself looking at the last few wheels of this year’s best new cheese, Rush Creek Reserve. The creation of cheese-maker Andy Hatch from the Uplands Dairy, Rush Creek is modeled after the famed Vacherin Mont D’Or. These two cheeses share common traits- small, seasonal, gooey goodness wrapped in a strip of bark. While Uplands has pulled techniques and characteristics from the original, Rush Creek is clearly part of the Wisconsin territory.
Uplands Dairy holds a special place on the American Cheese-making landscape. Until now, they have made only a single cheese, Pleasant Ridge. Pleasant Ridge, at several different stages of aging, is the only cheese to win Best in Show at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition three times. The latest winner was the Extra-Aged version last summer in Seattle.
The question at hand, why branch out now? The answer lies in the milk. Uplands runs their herd seasonally, meaning the cows dry off during the winter months. In the spring and summer the herd grazes on 300 acres of hilly pasturage around the farm. As the days get shorter and the grass turns brown, the animals are fed hay. What the cows eat directly affects the composition of the milk. Uplands usually sells the milk from those final milkings because the qualities of hay-fed milk are not ideal to make a nutty, golden, aged cheese like Pleasant Ridge. Instead of selling the end-of-season milk, Uplands created Rush Creek, a younger soft cheese that relies on the sweetness and texture of the milk.
Rush Creek is made from raw milk and is wrapped in spruce that holds its shape and adds an earthy quality to the final flavor. Called the most balanced cheese in the last 10 years by one of my cheese heroes, the flavor exhibits some of the vegetal qualities found in Vacherin, but the flavors of broccoli and cauliflower combine with a savory meaty quality. The silky cream texture coats the tongue for a truly surreal cheese experience.
The best method to eat Rush Creek requires running a blade along the outer rim of the cheese. After peeling the top off, a natural bowl beckons a knife, slice of baguette, or a finger to wade in for a taste. Sadly, once this cheese is gone, we’ll have to wait until next winter for another round of cheese decadence.
Rich Rogers has a love for good food and wine and is the head cheesemonger at Scardello in Dallas that specializes in artisan cheeses and wine. Rich has agreed to share his love for the craft with the Crave. Help us in welcoming Rich!