We know that Wisconsin teems with cheese curds at every truck stop and gas station. But what if you’re looking for something… finer?
As luck (and decades of work) would have it, our neighbor to the east is home to world champion cheese makers, who are on the cusp of releasing a version of cheddar that’s both super rare, and a little bit bonkers.
For over 45 years, Tony and Julie Hook of Hook’s Cheese Company have crafted award-winning cheeses out of Mineral Point, Wisconsin in more than 50 varieties. But now, for only the second time ever, they’ve created a special 20-year aged cheddar, which is due to hit very select markets Memorial Day weekend.
And you, dear reader, can pre-order some—if you’re fast about it.
For a little context on just how unique Hook’s creation is: Most cheddar ages anywhere from 60 days to two years. Grocery-aisle staple Tillamook ages its Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar for just over 15 months, making it a gawl-dang whippersnapper compared to Hook’s cheddar.
The flavor of Hook’s cheddar also doesn’t continue on your average trajectory from mild to sharp and tangy. Rather, it takes a turn past tangy, sometime just after your toddler enters pre-K, and smooths out again, developing a complex, rich flavor.
Tony Hook himself told City Pages they remove some of the guesswork and gambling involved in aging a cheese like this for… decades. “At least once a year we [check] the sample block to make sure it’s developing the way we want it to, make sure there’s no off flavors or anything.”
This is how Hook is certain this batch of ancient cheddar will boast crystals akin to those in a fine Parmigiano Reggiano when it’s time to ship the goods in May.
Of course, such delights come at a cost. Prepare to drop at least $209 to secure yourself just one pound of cheese gold. A lot could happen (but didn’t) in that time, and this cheddar is priced proportionately for the expertise and labor involved in creating this college-aged specimen. (Note: The $209/lb price tag does not include shipping, though some vendors will ship directly to your house.)
When asked how to best eat such a rare cheese, Hook remained pragmatic. “Well, for the price that it is,” he said with a chuckle, “you’re better off just enjoying it by itself or maybe with a bottle of wine, but you don’t want to add too many things to cover up the flavor. You want to just enjoy the cheese.”
And if committing several hundred dollars to a cheese pre-order isn’t gonna happen? City Pages’ favorite cheese expert, Kathy Scheer of New Hope’s Hy-Vee, has you covered. “I’m getting a small amount of 20-year,” says Scheer. “I will be selling it around my cost in quarter- and half-pound [portions].”
Scheer also assures us that you needn’t go all-in on Hook’s 20-year aged cheddar to get a taste of what these internationally lauded cheesemakers are capable of. “I do have five-pound loaves of [their] seven- and 10-year available at $26.99 and $36.99 a pound.”
If trying to put a dollar figure on cheese culture (sorry) sounds deeply stressful to you, just imagine what it was like the last time they did this: “The last time—we’ve only released it one other time—in 2015, we sold out in six days,” recalled Hook.
Oh, by the way, those pre-orders for Hook’s 20-year end today.
Otherwise, Kathy Scheer at Hy-Vee may have you covered come Memorial Day weekend. “I have a few regular Hook’s customers and will start a list,” she says. “First come, first served.”