The Country’s Oldest and Priciest Cheddar

A one-of-a-kind cheese.

A very special gift arrived from a very special friend last month.

A block of vivid orange, it’s believed to be the oldest, most expensive cheddar in America.

Made with utmost patience by award-winning cheese-maker, Hook’s Cheese Co. of Mineral Point, WI, it was a holiday gift from my friend, Karen Herzog, a food writer at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

When Karen first wrote about this special cheese for her newspaper, it created a sensation. NPR, CNN, CBS News, Yahoo News, and newspapers around the globe picked up her story about this cheese that had been aged 15 years and was selling for $50 a pound.

Good things always come in small packages.

Yes, a 15-year-old, cow’s milk, sharp cheddar. That’s like half a century in wine years and an eternity in dog ones.

Apparently, the cheese started out as part of a 5,200-pound batch, most of which was sold when it reached the 10- and 12-year maturity marks. But the flavor seemed to improve so much over time that the Hooks decided to hang on to 1,200 pounds to let it continue to age.

The result?

A crumbly, yet extremely buttery cheese with a pungent fragrance that grabs your attention from the get-go. The taste is sharp and strong, but not with the wincing tang of younger sharp cheddars. Powerful, yet balanced, it knocks every taste bud in your mouth into overdrive. It’s a knockout paired with a substantial red wine such as a big California Cab or an earthy French Bordeaux.

I’ve been nibbling on the cheese since I opened the package in the mail a couple weeks ago. A little goes a long way, so a tiny nugget will satisfy in a massive way.

With the world-wide attention, the 15-year-old cheddar sold out. But those hankering for a taste will be glad to know that Hook’s plans to release a new batch in March.

Crumbly, creamy and with a powerful taste.

So how did my friend Karen enjoy her first taste of this coveted cheese? Not quite like she had planned. You’re sure to laugh when you read her account. And don’t miss her husband’s retort, too.

Karen and I first met long ago when we were both news reporters at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. She was a police reporter; I was a city government reporter. She was from a small farm in Iowa. I was from cosmopolitan San Francisco. I loved gourmet eats. She lived for burgers and fries, and tried to convince me that eating carrot sticks dunked into creamy, rich dip counted as her daily requirement of vegetables.

Who knew we’d not only end up the best of friends, but both successful food writers years later, too?

A cheese that’s 15 years old is quite special, indeed. But it’s got nothing on a friendship that’s endured for 24 years and is still going strong.

Another Interesting Cheese: Capricious, an aged goat’s cheese with a most unusual rind

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Date: Tuesday, 5. January 2010 5:20
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Cheese, General, Great Finds

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25 comments

  1. 1

    Very sweet post. And, hoo boy, I want to try that cheese!

  2. 2

    French cheese has nothing on this. Cheddar is one cheese (I’m sure there are a whole lot of others!) that I can not find here and I do miss it.

    I was tickled that you commented on my site – I’ve never had a comment area before and I’m experimenting. Very nice that the first comment I should receive was so kind and came from you.

    I should be in California this summer so I’ll be visiting you here for tips on the best food to enjoy while there.

  3. 3

    I love cheese! My husband is addicted to cheddar. His birthday is coming up; maybe I could get him a half pound of this!

  4. 4

    What a lovely friend — and a lovely cheese! I was wondering what wine you had with that cheese.

  5. 5

    I love this post–it’s nice to get a little glimpse into your life/past, Food Gal! But I also love the idea of this cheese. I mean, any cheese whose age can be measured in dog years…sign me up.

  6. 6

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CarolynJung, Kristan Sartor. Kristan Sartor said: I want this cheese. http://bit.ly/67Di1L [...]

  7. 7

    You’re so lucky! I tried to buy the cheese after I read about it, but of course it was sold out by then…oh well, m/b I can get it on the March batch. :-)

  8. 8

    Wow, that was some expensive grilled cheese sandwiches at the Herzog home! :P

    That cheese sounds amazing. It’s so funny how in America we’re worried about food spoiling but go ga-ga when some things are left to age for longer than it’s expected. Must be a sign of our eternal wish for things to live long and prosper.

  9. 9

    Hailing from Minnesota I can vouch for Wisconsin cheese, awesome stuff. I’ve had aged cheddar before and its delicious maybe not the oldest or the priciest. Have you tried their cheese curds yet?

  10. 10

    Carolyn, are you available to follow on Twitter?

  11. 11

    Nate: I tried the cheese with a Turnbull ’99 Cab, a 2007 Estate Cab from Eden Canyon Vineyards, which was made by my good friend, winemaker Elaine Villamin and her family. The Turnbull is more earthy, full-bodied and bold. The Eden Canyon is softer and silkier. Both went very well with the cheddar.

    Sun: My friend Karen, who wrote the original story, wanted me to tell you that the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills (yes, right here in California) was selling some of the original batch of the 15-year-old cheddar. So you might want to keep that place in mind when the next batch of the cheddar hits retailers. http://www.cheesestorebh.com/

    Single Guy: Nicely put, and so true. We do worry too much about food spoiling. I’m as guilty as the next person. But just goes to show that some bacteria and mold do good things to our food. “Noble rot” on grapes is another example of something that sounds horrid, but has a magical effect on grapes to turn them into sweet, concentrated juice for knockout icewines.

    OysterCulture: I don’t believe I’ve had the cheese curds. Must keep an eye out for them in the stores.

    Amanda: Yes, indeed, you can follow me on Twitter: @CarolynJung

  12. 12

    I was sitting here for the whole story saying “I must try this cheese.” And then was saddened to see it was sold out. I am off to read Karen’s story but I love how your friendship has continued all these years. An aged friendship truly is more satisfying than an aged wine or cheese.

  13. 13

    Oooh boy! Would I LOVE to get my hands on this cheese! And I loved the little background of your great friendship….the best friendships are usually totally unpredicted!

  14. 14

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by CarolynJung: The oldest, priciest cheddar in America. http://www.foodgal.com/2010/01/the-countrys-oldest-and-priciest-cheddar/

  15. 15

    What a great gift. It sounds and looks wonderful!

  16. 16

    what a sweet story! I heard the NPR blurb about this cheese, it sounds amazing… I don’t think I’ve ever had such ancient cheese!

  17. 17

    Nice report Carolyn! Just to pass along a little info from
    near the cheese “front line”…

    You can order straight from Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point at
    http://www.hookscheese.com/
    Call to check on availability & prices

    HOOK’S CHEESE COMPANY, INC.
    320 COMMERCE STREET
    MINERAL POINT, WI 53565
    (608) 987-3259
    HOOKSCHEESE@yahoo.com

    Tony & Julie Hook are really neat folks – Julie is the only woman ever to win the World Cheese Championship.

    The 15 year cheddar extremely good…and I’ve had it with
    Carmenere (CHILI), Malbec (ARG), McLarenvale Shiraz (AUS) and Petit Syrah (CA)
    and (local meets local) Wisconsin’s Wollersheim Winery’s Domaine Reserve — I’d say ANY big red will be a good accompaniment!

    IMHO the 4 or 5 year old cheddars are some of their best values at a much lower price –
    but of course – it’s not the 15 year star!

    Cheese Curds: Do yourself a favor and do not order any or buy any from a grocer or cheese monger who won’t guarantee that they’re less than 12 hours old. The true delight of cheese curds is to eat them “squeaky fresh” at the cheese factory – or within hours at a near-by store. The finest are scooped right out of the vat by a friendly cheese maker – but after about 5-6 hours they tend to loose moisture and become more chewy. By 12 hours they’re just aged chewy mild cheese, IMHO. The best thing is to drive through Wisconsin, find a cheese factory about 10-Noon and ask if they have fresh curds. Buy some and they’ll be calling your name until they’re gone. Yes – you can buy them in grocery stores and at farmer’s markets – but ask when they were made. Ideal answer: “this morning”. “Fresh” is a favorite term of desperate curd sellers. They’ll tell you to pop them in a micro for 10-30 seconds to get them warm & (somewhat) squeaky – but it’s like day old steak: maybe flavorful, but nowhere near what it was at its best.

    Enjoy!

    Gary

  18. 18

    Gary: Thank you so much for all that great info! Especially the ”Cheese Curds 101.” Thanks to your advice, I will shun any I see at the grocery store and hold out for REAL fresh-made ones. “Squeaky fresh,” huh? That sounds like cheese heaven.

    As for Julie Hook’s singular triumph in the World Cheese Championship, I salute her. A shining example of true girl power! ;)

  19. 19

    wonderful gift. i would love to try the cheddar. i once did a cheese tour in wisconsin. learned a lot…great experience!

  20. 20

    I heard about this cheese on NPR–Thanks for all the good information! I’m definitely going to try to order some.

  21. 21

    I really enjoyed this post. I enjoy your blog in general, but this one makes me swoon with cheesy worship.

    Laura

  22. 22

    This cheddar is incredible – complimented by the fact that Tony and Julie Hook are down to earth, unassuming people that quietly go about their business of making some of the best cheese in the world. This couldn’t happen to better people….I’m thrilled!

  23. 23

    How neat, this cheddar sounds awesome, I would have loved to try it!

  24. 24

    I love the post! And you’re really making me want to try some of that cheese! :)

  25. 25

    I just picked up a new batch of Hook’s 15-year Cheddar at West Allis Cheese at the Milwaukee Public Market. They charged $61.99/lb, sold as half-pound blocks! Can’t wait to try it, but I’m waiting til my mom flies into town in 3 weeks…YAY

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