Cheesemaker Andy Hatch embodies the slow food movement philosophy that is so dear to traditional cheesemaking. In an age where things don't arrive fast enough, where the gratification is always instant, we often forget to slow down and appreciate the quality of what is in front of us. It's what separates the professional pursuit of a skilled, hands-on craft over a quick buck. Where labor is love, and a real cult following develops. It is safe to say that Uplands Cheese has a national cheese cult following.
Read Andy's thoughtful musings about specialty cheese, sustainability, and the future of capturing it in an online experience. Their Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese is available year-round on our site, while their titillatingly addictive Rush Creek Reserve is available on our site only November & December. It will sell out quick.
1. When did you know you wanted to commit yourself to the cheesemaking craft, professionally?
Fifteen years ago, on the side of a Norwegian fjord. I was sent there after college by the corn breeder I'd been working for, en route to grad school for agronomy. He had married a Norwegian woman from a cheesemaking family and when his father-in-law died, they sent me to Norway to help the elderly widow on her goat dairy. So I stumbled into it accidentally but I was instantly hooked. It combined the lab-like work I enjoyed from school with the daily satisfaction of making something with my hands. And most importantly, by adding value to the milk, it opened a door into dairy farming that I thought would always be closed to me.
2. What is the story behind Pleasant Ridge Reserve and Rush Creek, and what is your favorite way to enjoy it?
Cows have been milked on our farm for over a hundred years but it was only in the mid-90s, when the previous farmers planted all the fields to perennial pasture and started grazing the cows, that it really found its purpose. Our steep hills were always poor at growing corn and beans but they're wonderful at growing grass. Once the cows became grass-fed and the flavor of milk became so pronounced, they looked at cheese as a way to distill that flavor and send it out into the world. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is an interpretation of alpine-style cheeses like Beaufort and Gruyere, which for hundreds of years have been made with the summer, grass-fed milk. So the style of cheese was really just an extension of the style of milk we were producing. This sounds logical but I think it's actually pretty rare in cheesemaking. More often cheeses are invented with marketing as the primary driver, not the character of the raw material.
Rush Creek is the other side of the coin. When our pastures stop growing in the fall and the cows start their transition into the winter's dry hay, the flavor complexity of the milk diminishes somewhat. This would make less interesting Pleasant Ridge, but with the hay and the cold weather comes a much richer, fattier milk that is perfectly suited to a soft cheese like Rush Creek. Again, the character of the milk is the driving force.
4. Do you believe cheese can be sustainably-made?
When done in the right ways, dairy farming can be a wonderful way to manage soil and produce milk in a sustainable way. This is particularly true in pasture-based systems that have the correct balance between their acreage and the number of animals. The land provides nutrition to the cows and the cow manure returns fertility to the land. Cheesemaking can also be very efficient with its resources, particularly when the cheesemaker can reuse and recycle water and cleaning chemicals, and when there's an efficient use of the whey. We spent some money upfront on water tanks and pumps that allow us to be a lot more efficient with our wash water.
Photo above features Scott, co-owner and herd manager.
5. Where do you think the future of specialty cheese is headed?
I think the American appetite for artisan cheese will continue to grow. As with coffee and beer, once someone has started eating delicious cheese, he/she doesn't go back to the boring stuff. What's less clear is how people will want to buy cheese in the future. Will small, cut-to-order shops be viable? Will grocery stores get better or worse at handling sensitive, artisan cheeses? Will we figure out how to efficiently and profitably deliver cheese to people's homes when they order online?
6. What is the most memorable cheese experience of your life?
The most memorable cheese experience of my life was my first visit, as a young, novice cheesemaker, to Fort Saint Antoine, Marcel Petite's Comte cave in the Jura. Jason Hinds and Daphne Zepos took me there - pure generosity on their part - and my eyes were opened to the infinite flavor potential of alpine cheese. I came home to Pleasant Ridge with a whole new sense of wonder and purpose.