Pleasant Ridge Reserve Cheese

Excerpt from Ari’s Top 5 enews

An amazing original from Southwest Wisconsin comes to Washtenaw County

For nearly 30 years now, one of the best cheeses in the world has been made in the out-of-the-way, South-Central Wisconsin town of Dodgeville! The wheels of Pleasant Ridge Reserve that we have in the ZCoB right now are among the most remarkable versions of this always remarkably good cheese we’ve ever had. Semi-firm, super delicious, meaty, milky, dense, and almost fudgy with a tiny hint of the aromatic “nose” you get with a fantastic French mountain cheese. It’s great to eat as is (at room temperature) or use it for cooking as well. A super tasty example of American craftspersonship at its flavorful best!

The project that created Pleasant Ridge Reserve was begun back in 1994 (the same year we started ZingTrain) by Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. Mike had been an executive at Xerox and decided he wanted to devote the latter part of his life to doing something more meaningful and more connected to the land. I remember talking to Mike in those first few years and tasting the surprising excellence he was achieving in a cheese that, back then, had only been made for a very short period of time. Over the past couple of decades, current owners Andy and Caitlin Hatch and Scott and Liana Mericka have taken what was already terrific and made it even better still.

Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made—as all cheese was 150 years ago—strictly seasonally. It’s produced only in the late spring, summer, and early autumn when the cows are out in the pasture grazing. The variety of grasses at that time of the year make for an exceptionally interesting set of flavors. “Rotational grazing” like this, where herds are moved to fresh pasture regularly, is as good for the soil as it is for the quality of the milk—the pastures get a chance to replenish themselves and stay healthy. Pleasant Ridge Reserve is also made only from raw milk, which means that the natural complexity and exceptionally high quality of the milk as it comes from the cows is preserved in the flavor of the final cheese.

One of the beauties of working with artisan food as we have here for 40 years (as I wrote about in “A Taste of Zingerman’s Food Philosophy”) is that we know far, far more about what we’re selling and serving! Cheesemongers from the Deli make the drive around the Lake to Dodgeville to go taste a whole range of different days’ production and select three or four days of their favorites for us to sell in the ZCoB. (The Deli’s Trevor Murray actually went and worked with Andy Hatch making cheese for a whole year!) The wheels of Pleasant Ridge Reserve that we have at the Deli right now just celebrated their one-year birthday. Andy Hatch happily shared that:

The two wheels we sent you were both from the batch made on May 24, 2022. This is one of the four batches selected by ZCoB. It was an early favorite of ours here and we flagged it as something to show Zing back in January. It’s what we call “roasty toasty,” which is often the direction Zing selections tend towards (as opposed towards a sweeter profile, say). We also thought the fudgy texture, salt, and acid were expressive now and would stay in balance for a number of months. We think you picked a winner. Late May was gorgeous last year—everything cows and pasture want!

The Pleasant Ridge Reserve right now really is remarkable—there’s really nothing else like it, simultaneously exceptional and accessible. Sean Hartwig, longtime cheese manager at the Deli, will happily tell you that of the hundred-plus artisan offerings we have on hand, Pleasant Ridge is one of his favorites. It really is one of those remarkably good cheeses that appeals to both aficionados and those who aren’t always up for anything out of the mainstream.

Over the years, Pleasant Ridge Reserve has become the most-awarded cheese in American history. It’s been recognized by Food Network’s Simon Majumdar as “one of the ten best foods in America!”