With a vacation out of the way, Tony Hook will be prepared for the madness that looms.
The Mineral Point cheesemaker is about to release another batch of the 15-year Cheddar that brought him worldwide attention last year and gave a boost to all his company’s cheeses. It will be available beginning Nov. 19.
“It looks like it’s going to be another crazy one,” said Hook, one of the owners of Hook’s Cheese Co.
The Hooks made 1,800 pounds of the Cheddar believed to be the oldest available for retail. Last year, they made 1,200 pounds for a December release and 1,500 pounds for February.
This year’s release will be the only one until next December, with others to follow at least for the next couple years, Hook said.
The story of the Hooks’ cheese was picked up nationally by The Associated Press, which brought even more attention to it than they had anticipated. Hook was interviewed about it on National Public Radio and got grief afterward when host Michele Norris called him “Mr. Cheese” instead of “Mr. Hook.”
Because of the AP story, news of the cheese was also published in international newspapers and websites. That made it a particularly busy time at the small operation run by Hook, his wife, Julie, and his brother Jerry.
“December was just a blur because it was so crazy busy when it was first released and Jerry was on vacation,” Hook said. “This year, we planned it a little bit better. We’d go on vacation and get back in time, Jerry would be here, and then I’ve hired my sister full time. That gives us a few more options.”
The aged Cheddar was a boost to the Hooks’ overall business. Besides Cheddars, Hook’s Cheese Co. has won awards for its Colby, Gorgonzola and a blue cheese made of sheep’s milk and has a variety of other cheeses.
“Not even counting the 15-year sales last December, everything else was probably double,” Hook said. “It was nuts.”
The rarity and uniqueness of the cheese was what created such a buzz. Standard shredded Cheddar cheese in a bag at the grocery store is mild and aged one to three months. Ten-year Cheddars are sold by other cheesemakers in Wisconsin, including Carr Valley of La Valle, Forgotten Valley of Browntown and Widmer’s Cheese Cellar in Theresa.
As the cheeses age, they become crumbly in texture and creamy in flavor and have more of the calcium lactate crystals that give the cheese a little crunch.
Most of the 15-year Cheddar has already been sold to stores and restaurants, although the Hooks will be selling some at their Mineral Point factory store on Fridays beginning Nov. 19 and at the Dane County Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. His price will be $50 a pound, but $26 for a half-pound block. Last year, a Beverly Hills cheese shop sold it for $75 a pound.
Hook’s Cheese Co. sells other cheeses by mail order, with a 5-pound minimum, but not the 15-year Cheddar.
If Hook thinks things have been crazy with a 15-year cheese, he’s got a few years to prepare for another potential whirlwind. He set aside 400 pounds of this batch to age for another five years, meaning a 20-year Cheddar could hit the market in 2015.
“Who knows?” Hook said. “It won’t be enough for everybody, but it will be enough for some people to try it.”