Has cheese making always been a part of your life?
I was not born into it, which is unusual in Wisconsin. I was raised outside of Milwaukee and stumbled into cheese making by accident after I completed my undergrad in Connecticut. I was interested in agriculture and working for a corn breeder. The man I was working for was married to a Norwegian woman. Her mother became ill, and I was sent to their farm in Norway to help her family. They were making goat cheese; it was a small commercial operation. I came back to Wisconsin in 2006. My dad was sick so I decided to stay closer to home and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin–Madison dairy science program. I went back to Europe as apprentice cheese maker and worked to get my license. Eventually I apprenticed at Uplands, then took over in 2010 before purchasing it with my business partner, Scott Mericka, in 2014.
What has remained the same at Uplands since you took over, and what has changed?
We continue to make farmstead cheese and operate the facility just as the previous owners had. We still make two cheeses, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an Alpine-style cheese, and Rush Creek Reserve, a soft ripened cheese. There are not too many other farmstead cheese makers in Wisconsin.
You have a small operation, by Wisconsin dairy standards. Do you plan or hope to grow or expand your cheese line at all?
We are thinking about growing for sure. We are young and ambitious. But we will not compromise the integrity of what we already do. We will continue to use only milk from our own cows, to use raw milk, and produce what we can from the milk the cows produce on our three hundred acre farm that supports one hundred and fifty head of cattle. There are natural limits; we yield only two million pounds of milk per year. Plus we want to maintain a scale that supports our two families’ needs—my wife and I have two young children. We currently sell about thirty percent of our milk to other cheese makers. That being said, we are tinkering with a new cheese but don’t have anything yet.
Why is farmstead cheese making important, and is it a growing movement?
It is important for me. As a cheese maker, I want control over the quality of the milk. Particularly because we are using raw milk, which is essential to the flavor of the cheese. In order to use raw milk you have to have the utmost confidence in your product. Controlling the number of animals and how and where they graze is the best way we do that. Farmstead cheese making is also important to me because it is a lifestyle, a way to raise our children. It is appealing. And economically good for our area. Cows generate economic activity [and create] jobs. I feel strongly about contributing in that way to our community.
Any life lessons you can impart from your time as a cheese maker?
I’ve learned patience. Our cheeses ripen for about a year before they are sold. That forces you to be patient and live at the pace of the seasons instead of the pace of Twitter, or the consumer. You can’t rush ripening of cheese. For better or worse, cheese making ties rhythms of life to rhythm of seasons.
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