I've never claimed to be on the cutting edge of cheese (yuk yuk), so let's admit up front that neither you nor I are shocked that it's taken me a while to finally taste the 15-year cheddar that folks began raving about in 2009.
This year's ultra-vintage cheddar was released by Mineral Point's Hook's Cheese Company at the start on November and I recently got a sample – and a remarkably generous one, too, if you ask me, considering the stuff retails for $60 a pound.
This cheese is worth its weight – and the wait – in gold. Almost literally.
Tony and Julie Hook make nearly three dozen cheeses from Wisconsin milk, but the 15-year cheddar is their bread and butter from a publicity standpoint.
But believe the hype. Their 15-year cheddar – the most mature available – is complex, crumbly and very flavorful, which will come as a revelation to folks used only to supermarket "cheddar."
Why is it $60 a pound? Before I visited Henning's in Kiel this year, I'd have guessed it was more to do with the cost of warehousing cheese for a long time. Silly me.
Thanks to Kert Henning, I learned that cheesemakers set aside some cheese annually for aging. But as time passes, the cheese is tested regularly, because no one really can guarantee how a cheese will age.
But experts like the Hennings and Hooks can tell when a cheese is peaking in quality. If that happens after a year, it is packaged and sold as one-year cheddar. If it happens after three years, they pull it and sell it as three-year. And so on.
But it makes the cheese not only storage-intensive, but also labor intensive. Additionally, the cheese shrinks as it ages, Henning told me. So, it you put aside 100 pounds of cheese today, you won't have 100 pounds in three years and you will have even less in 15 years.
The Hook's clearly have a knack for this process, since no one sells a cheddar older than their 15-year. And, it's not a gimmick. This is damn good cheese and I'm proud to say it's from Wisconsin, naturally.
Wanna try it? It's for sale locally at Wisconsin Cheese Mart Downtown, Larry's Market in Brown Deer and West Allis Cheese.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.