The Blog Post to End All Blog Posts

You might want to have some basic provisions handy. This one's going to take a while.
Some potable water, canned food, personal hygiene products. Maybe get up and walk around, stretch a little.

It's summer in Madison. The weather is good, the bike racing is good, everything is good. Enough about that now. Here's the fun stuff:

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to visit a few world-class, local, artisan food producers. First up was Mike Gingrich of Uplands Cheese in beautiful Dodgeville WI, makers of Pleasant Ridge Reserve. If you know cheese, you know this story already. If you don't know cheese, Pleasant Ridge is probably the finest cheese made in the U.S. It's won numerous awards including Best of Show at the American Cheese Society conference twice (the only cheese to do so) and U.S. Champion at the U.S. Championship cheese contest. It's the only cheese that has won both national contests. Recently Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud selected Pleasant Ridge to compete in the Bocuse d'Or (if you don't know of those dudes, or the competition, google that shit.)
Anyway, the cows graze on lush prairie grasses and clover in rotating pastures through out the year, drying up in late fall and bulking up for calving in the spring when they start producing milk again, which is obviously more natural then grain-fed, confined, industrialized dairy cows. If, for whatever reason, the cows' diets are supplemented with grain, the cheesemaking stops and doesn't resume again until 3 days after the cows return to the pasture.

The cheese is made from the morning milking, and previous night's milking. The milk is raw, obviously, to take advantage of the subtle, delicate flavors of the milk. Mike said one vat makes about 70 wheels of cheese. Enzymes and rennet are added and the the curd is pressed and ladled into molds. The wheels of cheese are moved into one of three caves for aging where they are rubbed with salt for three days and allowed to age for 6-18 months on cedar boards, receiving regular washings of a bacteria/brine solution.

fresh wheels in the salting phase

Mike pointing to where he stands in the slow food community

wheels ready to be sent out to Neal's Yard in London
Mike is a good friend of ours at Whole Foods. Our store was the first place to start selling his cheese, and he comes in every few weeks to drop off wheels and sample out his cheese. Here are two videos about Pleasant Ridge Reserve: video 1; video 2.
Next up was Caleb and T.J. of Kickapoo Coffee in Viroqua, WI. Kickapoo is a microroaster that roasts organic and fair trade coffees. They take the social responsibility aspect of coffee as serious as other roasters, but unlike others, they take the art of roasting the best coffee possible pretty seriously too, as evidenced by being a finalist in Roast Magazine's Roaster of the Year competition, and these reviews.

The roasting works is located in an old train station, and houses a sweet Nazi German-era Probat roaster, and an innovative climate-controlled room that houses the green coffee beans.

After Kickapoo we drove the short drive to Hidden Springs Creamery where Brenda and Dean Jenson showed us around their sheep dairy. The Jensons live in the middle of Amish country, and appreciate and respect the Amish way. Their Amish neighbors built their home, and help with the twice daily milkings.The Jensons have a whole bunch of sheep - Lacunes and East Friesians - that graze on some beautiful pastures. The sheep have donkey body guards the protect them from coyotes. The milk is saved up for three days until there is enough to make a batch of cheese.
Brenda makes a fresh cheese called Drifltess, an aged, washed cheese called Ocooch Mountain, a gap filler between Driftless and Ocooch called Bad Axe, and a brand new blue cheese called Bohemia Blue. Here's a nice article and video about Hidden Springs.

Dean with the Percheron draft horses that escorted us around the farm. Usually the horses are on plow duty.


Those are some weird looking sheep

Brenda's cheesemaking room is much smaller then Mike's. The Lunar Lander looking thing is a pasteurizer, as the fresh Driftless cheese, by law, needs to be pasteurized. All the other cheeses are raw.

Wheels of Ocooch in the cave

Brenda's sweet wood oven. The Jensons are in the process of building a bed and breakfast on their farm, a la Fountain Prairie.
Dare I say the World's best Belgian Wit comes from Japan?
This post has taken so long to compose that I have progress shots from my garden. Here it is from June 8th, the day I started writing this.

And here it is June 18th.

Various lettuces, kale, peas, beans, tomatoes, chard, and herbs.
Andy and I were talking about barbecue the other day. I make a mean pulled pork.

Get yourself some bone-in pork shoulder roasts, aka Boston Butt. These are actually boneless roasts, and they worked fine, but with all the time, money and emotions invested in this, get the real deal. Dry rub them.

Set your grill up like this. Do a bunch of other shit involving wood chips and mop sauces, and lots of coffee and/or beer and several hours later you end up with this.

Lose interest in chronicling the endeavour, take the roasts off the grill, pull the pork, mix with sauce, eat.
Like Brian the week prior in the Wisconsin State Championship road race, I was second by a wheel length in the WI State Criterium Championships.
I'm not a hard liquor guy, but there's something about bourbon on a warm summer evening.
I have a pair of these compression tights. They're about the best thing ever.


Lars said...

Now thats a blog post. Great food porn.

Heathrow's World said...

very long. good job Brooks Leedahl.

daniel vincent john said...

wow. am wishing to visit a cheese or any kind of farm like that someday soon.

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