This is one from the "90 percent of good cooking is good shopping" file. Serving a warm Rush Creek Reserve, the soft, young, raw milk cheese from Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, with roasted vegetables wasn't even my original idea--I got it from the Big Cheese himself, Uplands's head cheesemaker Andy Hatch. I was fortunate to be invited on the Cheese, Spirits, and Brews Tour sponsored by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board last week, and while I wasn't able to join the group for the first couple days of the four-day tour, I lucked out in being able to visit two of my favorite Wisconsin cheesemakers, Uplands and Crave Brothers, near the town of Waterloo, last Thursday and Friday. It was a really inspiring--and delicious--couple of days, about which I will have more to say in the near future. For now, let us simply delight in the wonder that is gooey cheese:
Really my only contribution to this utterly satisfying repast--other than being able to recognize a great idea when I hear it--was to build a fire and roast the vegetables in the coals, giving them some very appealingly rustic char and complex flavors of smoke and caramelization.
The cheese was the star (even if it didn't stand alone...), molten when we started to eat, cooling through a spectrum of flavors and textures as it gradually congealed--and even at the end we were scraping bits off the bottom of the dish. The roasted vegetables and good bread were the perfect companions--the turnips were especially good, sweet, soft, and just a little bit pungent. The beets were also lovely. Cornichons were too tart for this sweet-tempered cheese, although it carries a bit of its own tang. Apple was also out of place here; I think slices of pear might have gone well.
Produced from raw milk in late summer, Rush Creek Reserve is a seasonal cheese. Aged for just under the legally required 60 days before being shipped, this washed-rind cheese continues to ripen in the store or in your fridge, and Andy Hatch said it's at its best for the next 30 days. The interior becomes softer in that time, the aroma stronger--but I've had a Rush Creek Reserve aged past 90 days, and it never became as assertive as something like a Muenster or Epoisses. The cheese we ate was fresh out of the gate, released on October 17. I'll be looking to pick up another one in the next couple of weeks to see how it develops over a month's time.
To cook the vegetables--leek, potato, carrot, little onions, squash, beet, and turnip--we just wrapped them in foil and nestled them into the coals. You don't have to wrap each vegetable individually--we did a couple small potatoes together, three small turnips lined up and foiled together, big beet cut in half and both halves wrapped in one sheet of foil, etc. Turn every 10 minutes or so, and use your asbestos fingers to give the packets a squeeze for tenderness when you think they're getting done. And do note that you want a nice bed of glowing coals, not a raging fire, which will burn the outside of the vegetables before the inside is cooked. Of course you could simply do your vegetables in the oven, tossed with a bit of oil and roasted until nicely brown and tender.
To warm the cheese, we baked it, the bottom wrapped in foil to keep it from all melting away (a precaution which proved unnecessary), at 300 for about 20 minutes. That gave us quite molten cheese to start with, and if this somewhat Cheez Whiz-like consistency offends any connoisseurs, I make no apologies. The flavors of the cheese still came through, and the fragrance of roasty vegetables and richly flavorful cheese produced a kind of aroma-therapy of a very delectable sort.
|Rush Creek Reserve at the factory, ready to be wrapped; each cheese is bound with a strip of spruce.|
I purchased this particular cheese at the Driftless Depot , a delightful market, deli, and café in Spring Green, just a few miles up the road from Uplands. If you're visiting Wisconsin's enchanting driftless area, this is the place to fill your picnic basket. (Am I sounding a little like the southern Wisconsin tourist board? Well, chalk it up to the convert's zeal, and be assured that my enthusiasm is heartfelt and warranted.)
The Uplands website has a map showing where to buy their cheeses, which seems not very complete or up-to-date, as it shows only three sources in the Twin Cities, and I know it's more widely available than that. Check with your local cheese store or co-op. Rush Creek and Pleasant Ridge Reserve are also available on-line direct from Uplands.
Text and photos copyright 2012 by Brett Laidlaw