Andy Hatch, Uplands Cheese

As the general manager and lead cheesemaker at Uplands Cheese near Dodgeville, Wis., Hatch has taken the reins at this small farmstead dairy founded by Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude. In 2001, the dairy was first made famous for its Pleasant Ridge Reserve cheese, which earned the American Cheese Society’s “Best in Show” honors the first year it was entered. Since then, Pleasant Ridge Reserve has earned the title of U.S. Championship Cheese and won Best in Show a total of three times.

Today, the farm’s founders have stepped back, hiring Hatch and a herdsman to manage the farm. While the herdsman oversees 244 acres of grass and 150 cows, it is Hatch who turns that grassy, rich milk into Uplands cheeses. Spring, summer and fall milk is still made into Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and winter milk is crafted into Hatch’s new American Original, Rush Creek Reserve.

Not your typical Wisconsin cheesemaker, Hatch cut his cheesemaking teeth in unusual fashion, when he was sent to stay at a remote farm in Norway to help his boss’s recently-widowed mother-in-law tend the land. With no car, no computer and no phone in the fiords of west Norway, he spent mornings hand-milking 14 goats, never having milked an animal before.

“For the first week, the muscles in my forearms were so sore, I couldn’t grip a fork at supper,” he says.

After morning milking, he helped make cheese in a tiny stainless steel vat in a shack 300 yards from the ocean. With no access to modern equipment or starter cultures, Hatch learned how to create his own by souring the previous day’s milk, and learned how to make cheese via sight, smell and touch. He made hard, aged goat’s milk cheeses, which were sold to tourists at the ferry landing. After the daily dose of cheesemaking, he spent the afternoon in a hut stirring the day’s whey in a pot over a fire to make geitost. By evening, it was time to milk the goats again, eat a simple supper, and collapse into bed on a mattress stuffed with straw.

He stayed three months, long enough to help settle affairs to sell the farm. From there, instead of going home, Hatch headed south to Europe. He had caught the cheesemaking bug. He roamed two years, making mountain cheeses in Austria, sheep cheeses in Tuscany and goat cheeses in Ireland. He stayed a season or two in each location, earning his keep during the day with his cheesemaking labor, and earning a few coins at night by playing mandolin and fiddle in local taverns. For two years, he couldn’t decide which path to take: musician or cheesemaker. And then came a call from home.

“My mother called with the news that my dad was very ill, so I got on the first plane home and spent the summer with him in the hospital,” Hatch said. That fall, his parents spent time recuperating at the family cottage in Wisconsin’s Door County. Hatch followed, and met Caitlin, now his wife, a Door County artist. He took an agricultural short course at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, milked cows on area dairies, and apprenticed with renowned cheesemakers to earn his Wisconsin cheesemaker’s license. He accepted the cheesemaking job at Uplands in 2007, married Caitlin in 2009, and with her, moved into the four square farmhouse on the Uplands farm. It’s where the Hatches plan to stay and raise a family.

He’s already dreaming of teaching his children to play the violin and mandolin, his second great love to cheesemaking. His current band, Point Five – a local group of musicians playing traditional, acoustic American music – just released its debut CD, and is lining up gigs for next summer. “We’ve got enough instruments in this house that the kids will be able to play whatever they want to,” Caitlin says. “And if they’re lucky,” Andy adds, “I’ll even sing along.”

For more information about Uplands Cheese, visit http://www.uplandscheese.com/