The United States is embarking on a revival of the craft of artisan cheesemaking. Over the past several years, American-made artisanal cheese has won back its place in the hearts of the people. Artisanal cheese can be found once again in cases at wine shops, specialty stores and at farmers’ markets. According to the American Cheese Society, there has been astounding growth in membership as well as the number and variety of American artisanal cheeses entered in its annual competition.
Some folks may dare to say that American artisanal cheese may rival those European classics that have long been thought of as the best of the best. It cannot be denied that American artisanal cheesemakers are becoming well known across the country. With the advent of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and cheese periodicals like Culture, American cheesemakers and cheesemongers are winning over America’s food enthusiasts.
At the American Cheese Society’s 27th Annual Conference and Competition, more than 225 cheesemakers from 34 states, Canada and Mexico submitted cheeses and cultured dairy products into the competition. It was the largest competition to date. The BIG winner this year, taking Best in Show, was the extra-aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Cheese Company near Dodgeville, Wisconsin. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made in the tradition of alpine cheeses like Gruyere and Beaufort. Uplands Cheese Company makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve only from May through October, when the cows are eating fresh pasture. According to Uplands, the raw milk from these grass-fed cows “produces flavors in the cheese that can’t be replicated by ‘ordinary’ milk.” The extra-aged batches of Pleasant Ridge Reserve are aged for over a year and are available only in the fall and early winter.
This is especially exciting for Uplands Cheese Company, as it is the third time they earned this honor in the past ten years. No other cheese has won the competition more than once. Pleasant Ridge Reserve was named ACS’ Best of Show in 2001 and 2005, and was named Best in Show in the 2003 US Cheese Championships, making it the only cheese to win both of the two major national competitions! That’s pretty impressive if you ask me!
Now that I’ve touted this fabulous cheese, you may be wondering where to find it. And lucky for us, it is available nationwide! The best bet is to ask your local cheesemonger if he or she has any available. More than likely, you’ll be able to try a slice on the spot! Any shop would be remiss not to be carrying this flavorful, versatile cheese. If you want to make the perfect grilled cheese, Pleasant Ridge Reserve is what you need. Made on crispy, buttery rye bread with spinach and roasted mushrooms, it can be the perfect comfort food. If you want to splurge—and I mean SPLURGE—a few thin slices of black truffle in the mix makes it the perfect decadent comfort food.
I found that this cheese not only is perfect for cooking with, but also perfect for your cheese board. Not too many cheeses can play on both teams. Pair it with dried fruits, pear slices, rosemary foccacia, chocolate-covered cherries or a slice of a plain baguette. It is a crowd pleaser! Pour a nice big berry-licious red wine or a bottle of Märzen and enjoy!
Over the next couple posts, we will talk about some other 2010 ACS winners. We will also begin highlighting artisan cheesemakers across the country. Stay tuned for more cheese talk! Wishing everyone happy holidays…filled with lots of love, hugs and cheese!
Annie Lehrer is a nurse practitioner who will soon be a farm girl and cheesemaker. Born and raised in St. Louis, she’s been in the kitchen with her mother and grandmother since she can remember. Having a house full of family, friends and delicious food is her idea of the perfect way to spend an evening. A former travel nurse, Annie has lived in various cities across the U.S. exploring diverse culinary scenes. Food—and everything associated with it, from earth to belly—is her passion. She dwells in downtown St. Louis with her cheesemonger husband, Simon. When not caring for patients at the hospital, Annie is swillin’ craft beer with her beer nerd crew, researching livestock, writing recipes, planning chicken coop designs, keeping up with the St. Louis art scene and spending time with her big Lebanese family. She loves cheese. She writes about all things cheese on her blog The Cheesemonger’s Wife. She’s funny as hell. You can try and keep up with her crazy life on Twitter.