Our farm is owned and operated by two families: Andy and Caitlin Hatch, and Scott and Liana Mericka. Andy and Scott began as apprentices under the previous generation of owners – Uplands Cheese founders Mike Gingrich and Dan Patenaude. In 2014, Andy, Scott, Caitlin and Liana purchased the farm from the Gingriches and Patenaudes, ensuring the future of a dairy farm where cows have been milked for over a hundred years.
After years of farming separately as neighbors, in 1994 the Gingriches and Patenaudes bought this farm together in order to join their small herds and manage them in a seasonal, pasture-based system. Dan and Jeanne had been, in the early 1980s, among the earliest people in the United States to feed cows by rotational grazing. This was thanks in part to the work done by Jeanne’s brother, Bill Murphy, then an agronomist at the University of Vermont, whose book Greener Pastures on Your Side of the Fence, is largely credited for helping introduce rotational grazing to American farmers.
Their new farm’s layout and location (up on Pleasant Ridge in the Uplands region of Wisconsin) were ideal for growing the diverse range of grasses, legumes and herbs that give us such high quality milk. It soon became clear that the milk our cows were producing on this new farm had exceptional flavors, and it seemed a shame to see it pooled together with milk from other farms at the local cheese factory. They began looking for a way to take advantage of these flavors, and looked to other regions in the world where cheese is produced seasonally from grass-fed cows.
Their search led them to the hard, aged cheeses of the Alpine regions of France and Switzerland, where for hundreds of years cows have spent their summers grazing in mountain pastures. In order to preserve that milk, cheese makers followed the cows up into the mountains and made cheeses that were hard, aged and durable enough to make the trip back down to the valleys.
Southern Wisconsin has a deep reservoir of cheese making knowledge, much of which has been passed down from the alpine cheese makers who have emigrated here over the past two hundred years. In 2000, Mike and Dan began working with local cheese makers and with the cheese scientists at the nearby Center for Dairy Research, and eventually settled on their own version of these ancient, alpine recipes. Today, our approach to making Pleasant Ridge Reserve is very traditional in the sense that we only use fresh, raw, grass-fed milk during the grazing season, but we have also developed new ways of expressing the flavors of our farm, such as the breeding behind our unique herd of cows.
Andy and Scott began their farming and cheesemaking careers with an appreciation of the pioneering work the Patendaudes and Gingriches had done for grass-based dairying and traditional cheesemaking. Andy studied Dairy Science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he focused on grass-based dairy farming, and where, while working with the Center for Dairy Research and Babcock Hall, he apprenticed under Master Cheesemaker Gary Grossen. Scott studied agronomy and grass-based dairy farming at Warren Wilson College in Asheville, North Carolina, an agricultural college with a working farm.
After finishing school and spending a few years working on various other farms, Andy came to work at Uplands in 2007, and Scott in 2010. What began as apprenticeships led to their roles as managers and, finally, as owners, with Scott taking over Dan’s role in the barn, and Andy taking over for Mike in the creamery.