Pregaming Thanksgiving with Wisconsin's best cheeses

We're thankful for cheese

We're thankful for cheese

Want to impress your Thanksgiving guests with some of the best--and, at times, hardest to get--cheeses in the country? The two cheeses produced by Uplands Cheese in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, fit the bill: the extra-aged Pleasant Ridge Reserve was recently named Best in Show at the American Cheese Society's annual competition (that means they whupped 1,400 other cheeses), and the creamy Rush Creek Reserve, a smooth, mild cheese wrapped in spruce bark, is perfect for scooping.


The cheeses themselves couldn't be more different, and Mary Richter, manager of Surdyk's cheese shop in Minneapolis, says each variety deserves its own place at the table.

"Pleasant Ridge is a hard cheese, so you can put the wedge out and serve it with champagne or a nice sparkling wine," she explains. "It's a nutty, sweet, Gruyere-esque cheese that's fashioned after a Swiss mountain cheese."

Rush Creek Reserve is essentially the opposite of Pleasant Ridge; this soft, creamy cheese comes ready to eat in its own wheel. Simply slice the top off and dip your spoon in. "Rush Creek we can't keep in stock. It sells as fast as they get it to us," says Richter. "It's runny and liquidy, so it's great to scoop it up and spread it on slices of baguette."

Surdyk's keeps a waiting list for folks craving the Creek, so Richter says a good last-minute substitute is the Winnimere cheese from Jasper Hill Farms in Vermont. Made in the style of a Vacherin Mont d'Or like Rush Creek, the Winnimere comes in a larger size than the Uplands variety--around 1.5 pounds compared to Rush Creek's sub-pound size--which makes it perfect for sharing during the holidays.

We gathered a group of native Wisconsin cheese lovers to sample both Uplands varieties served just as Richter suggested: straight for the Pleasant Ridge, and spread on a baguette for the Rush Creek. The hard, cubed Pleasant Ridge's nuttiness was popular--several testers talked about grating it to include in stuffing--but the Rush Creek was the true star. As soon as the cheese wheel's cap was peeled back to reveal the creamy center, spoons were fighting for space. "Reminds me of brie, but better," said one tester. For the others, the silent sound of chomping told us all we needed to know. Though it left us wondering: Can it be called "spoiling" your appetite when you do it with some of the country's best cheese?