One of the things I look forward to most about winter is the cheese. Over the winter, hay-fed dairy herds, off pasture for the winter, produce milder, richer, protein-dense milk that's perfectly suited to making washed-rind cheeses. There are two cheese makers in the US who are making the most of the season.
At Uplands Cheese Company in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, Andy Hatch makes Rush Creek Reserve, a raw milk washed-rind cheese that's one of the best things I've ever eaten. Unwrapped for the first time, its delicate orange rind gives off a wonderfully raunchy aroma. Within, the cheese is all creamy lusciousness, the texture akin to pudding, and each mouthful is a multivalent umami bomb: seared steak, grilled mushrooms, and prosciutto, layered with woodsy, resiny notes from the encircling band of spruce. At Uplands, the winter milking season ends in late December, so the last wheels of this extraordinary cheese are on the shelves now; it'll come onto market again in November. (Mark your calendars!)
Happily, thanks to a long winter and year-round milking, a similar and fantastic cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont, is available all the way up to April. Winnimere, bound in spruce harvested from a lot on the farm and washed in beer from a local brewer, is a bolder cheese—think country ham vs prosciutto—with a plush texture and a lingering, complex, mushroomy finish.
Rush Creek Reserve and Winnimere share more than just their style: when he was developing Rush Creek Reserve, Andy Hatch of Uplands Farm got help from Mateo Kehler, of Jasper Hill, who had already been making Winnimere for several years, and the two collaborate frequently. This time of year, as the last of Rush Creek leaves while Winnimere emerges—provides the rare opportunity to try the two cheeses together, an experience that reveals a taste of place. As Kehler puts it: "Until you have more than one of something, you can talk about terroir, but it's purely theoretical. You don't really have terroir until you have two of something."
_Rush Creek Reserve, Uplands Cheese Company: $33.99 each, at Murray's
Winnimere, Cellars at Jasper Hill: $39.99 each, at Murray's_