Cheese of The Week is a weekly feature on The Daily Meal, drawing on the expertise of internationally renowned cheese expert and consultant Raymond Hook. What follows is based on an interview with Hook.
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Pleasant Ridge Reserve, produced by Wisconsin-based Uplands Cheese, is on a tear. In the past 10 years, it’s won the American Cheese Society's "Best in Show" award a whopping three times during their annual competition, most recently in 2010, which is truly astounding due to the fact that on average more than 1,400 cheeses are entered into the competition. It’s considered the Oscars of the cheese world, and for the past decade, Pleasant Ridge Reserve has been Meryl Streep.
So what makes this cheese so good? This Alpine-style cheese starts with the grass. "These cows only eat fresh grass," Hook said. "They can only graze in the pasture from May through October, and even then if the weather isn’t good, they sell the milk instead of making cheese with it." During peak season, a batch can yield up to nearly eighty 10-pound wheels of cheese per day, but some seasons less cheese is produced if conditions aren’t perfect.
The cheese is aged in ripening rooms built into the creamery, where they’re rubbed with brine several times per week to encourage the development of good bacteria. Each batch needs to age for a different period of time before it’s ready to be eaten, but certain wheels are kept around for more than a year, and are sold as "Extra Aged."
Hook recommends sticking with the traditional version, though, because it’s about everything you could want in a cow’s milk cheese. "This cheese is so full of nuances, it’s astounding," Hook said. "It’s firm and rich, and you can taste the pasture flavors of grass and wildflowers. There’s a hint of nuttiness and toasted grain, and notes of fruit and herbs."
While it could be used in cooking, Hook wouldn’t recommend it (it’s best on its own). He advises pairing it with a robust, high-tannin, high-alcohol red with floral aromatics, like Sassella’s La Castellina di Fojanini, a nebbiolo from Lombardy, or a not-too-hoppy Belgian white ale or IPA, like Lagunitas IPA.