The "thriving metropolis" of Twin Grove, Wis. is actually home to only a tavern, a lumberyard, 14 houses, and Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative. It's the kind of place where if there are two cars at the town intersection, "It's a traffic jam," says Master Cheesemaker Jeff Wideman.
And while Twin Grove doesn't even show up on most maps -- you'll find "Monroe, Wis." listed as the cheese plant's official address -- this itty bitty berg has been making cheese since 1910, when a group of local family farmers met to establish a consistent, trustworthy market for their milk and Maple Leaf Cheese Cooperative was born.
Today, Maple Leaf is still locally-farmer owned, and some of the dairy farm families who ship their milk to the cheese plant are now in their second and third generations. While time may appear to have passed by Twin Grove, don't let this little land of Wisconsin Mayberry fool you, because Maple Leaf Cheese doesn't stand still. Home to the 2008 World Champion 1-Year Aged Cheddar, it boasts two master cheesemakers who continue to roll out quality cheese.
My favorite cheese from Maple Hollow is the aforementioned World Champion, and it's called English Hollow. The name struck me as a bit strange, as Monroe, Wis. is extremely well known for its Swiss heritage -- come to Cheese Days this fall and you'll see what I mean -- so I asked Jeff: okay, so everyone knows cheddar originated in the English village of Cheddar, in Somerset, but really, how do you get away with calling your aged cheddar "English Hollow" in a community ruled by the Swiss Mafia?
Turns out there really is an "English Hollow" in Wisconsin. In fact, the area where Maple Leaf is located is smack dab in the middle of it, and Jeff actually grew up on a dairy farm nearby. The area got its name from the high number of dairy farms owned by English immigrants, Jeff says, so it was only natural for him to return to his roots and try making an English cheddar.
Boy, did he succeed. At 12 months, this hand-turned, rind-formed wheel of Cheddar boasts a complex and pleasant flavor. I can see why it won its class at the World Championship.
So I bet you're thinking, wow, I'm going to run out and buy this cheese right away.
Well, good luck. Because once a cheese wins "World Champion" status, it pretty much sells out. And because Jeff didn't know it was going to win the title, he only made about 20 wheels of it a little over a year ago.
However, fear not -- many more wheels are currently in Maple Leaf's curing room as we speak and will be ready for you next year. So remember "English Hollow" the next time you're in the cheese aisle -- if you're feeling lucky, you just might find it.