Monday, February 15, 2010

Geriatric Cheddar

The 2010 Winter Olympics weren't the only competition to kick off last Friday. With the release of a second batch of Hook's 15-Year Cheddar in Wisconsin, the hunt for geriatric cheese is officially on.

In December, cheesemakers Tony & Julie Hook in Mineral Point put 1,200 pounds of their super smooth, crumbly and not-a-bitter-note-to-be-seen-15-year Cheddar on the market. It promptly sold out within two weeks with customers literally fighting over the last wedge at area cheese shops. This time, the Hooks will sell 1,600 pounds, with the majority of it already at area specialty cheese shops and restaurants.

In Madison, the cheese is available at Fromagination, Metcalfe Sentry, Hy-Vee and Whole Foods. If you don't live Wisconsin, do not, I repeat, do not despair. You can order it from Fromagination, which when I breezed in today, was abuzz with phone and mail orders, shipping out blocks of $60-pound Cheddar like it was candy at a parade. Fromagination is also sell a "cheese flight" of 2-, 5-, 10-, 12- and 15-year cheddars, which includes a sheet of tasting notes. Poof! Instant cheese party.

So what's the difference between a 2-Year Cheddar and a 15-Year Cheddar? It's all about intensity of flavor. Good Cheddar will become richer, nuttier and increasingly "sharp" with age. Its firm texture will become more granular and crumbly. By the time it's 12 years old, a good Cheddar will be almost beefy with a caramel tone. At 15-years, it's in a class all its own. Tony compares it to a single-malt scotch, because yes, it's that good.

If you miss this round of 15-year Cheddar, in good news, Tony has another batch aging and expects to release it in December. After that, who knows? Tony says he'll have to continue to taste the current aging cheddars to determine their fate. Let's hope there's some late bloomers in there.

33 comments:

Bill Anderson said...

I'm rooting for Tony to hold some back for a 20 year Cheddar in another 5 years.

I've still got a cryo-vaced pound of his 15 year-cheddar from spring of 2008 (making it now nearly 17 years old) when he just released 80 pounds of it for farmer's market customers only. I'm in no rush to open it.

Robin said...

I just ordered my .5 lb. of Hook's 15 yr cheddar and am really excited to taste it. Thinking I should have ordered an entire pound. Check out The House Mouse blog for my review! Love your blog and added it to my blog roll. Maybe you could check out mine and, if you like it, add me to yours!
www.thehousemouse.wordpress.com

Happy Eating!
Robin "The House Mouse" Karides

Kevin said...

Jeanne:

Is it time to wonder about Hooks and all of the others that have come out of the woodwork in the past few years touting 5,10,15 and soon to be 50 year old cheddar. Two problems. First, putting industrial cheddar in a plastic bag, vacuum sealing it (no air or air flow), placing the bag in a box, sealing the box and putting this whole container in a cooler at near freezing temperatures is not aging. The cheese would, indeed, be old, but not aged. The second point would be authenticity. Who is checking on these ages, no one. I could produce a cheese tomorrow and claim its 5 year old cheddar, who checks. If I lined up a group of these "old" cheeses not one person in 100 could tell me the difference. Even Tony says there is little difference. So I would guess the chances of anyone making cheese today with the plan of tying up a cooler for 10 years is slim. A lot, if not all of them, are scams. A black eye for the cheese industry but a typically American problem. Bigger, better, faster and now older.

Cheers,

Kevin

Jill said...

Twin Citians should note that Surdyk's in Minneapolis is taking pre-orders for Hook's 15-year cheddar!

cheese underground lady said...

I have complete faith in Tony Hook when he says his 15-year cheddar is 15 years old, and I think anyone who knows the Hooks, who have visited their plant or who have eaten their cheese shares that trust. It's all about knowing where your food comes from and my 15-year cheddar comes from Tony Hook.

cheese underground lady said...

Robin -- I really like your House Mouse blog at http://thehousemouse.wordpress.com/

Just added it to my Favorite Links list. Thanks!

s_neuburg87 said...

For those of you who live in the south eastern Wisconsin area (Milwaukee) This cheese should be available at Sendiks Food Market in Mequon very soon. But hurry, quantities will be limited! This is by far the best cheddar that I have ever tasted.

Kevin said...

Jeanne:

It is really great or incredibly niave to "trust" the Hooks. Very nice people do some really bad things at times. I just don't see the viablility in keeping cheese for 15 years. Besides the capital tied up in the cheese with ingredients, materials and labor it also means you have to pay for the space in the cooler, electricity for cooling and inflation for 15 years. This is not Scotch its cheese. Bernie Madoff was the greatest guy in the world until the news broke. With the claims of really old cheese there is no way to know for sure. I guess if you really "trust" the Hooks then you should be putting down your $50 a pound.

You completely skipped over the fact that this cheese is not aged its just old but then that wouldn't fit in with the hand slapping, high fiving cheerleader in you.

A little logic is in order here.

Cheers,

Kevin

Robin said...

Kevin,

While I get that you may doubt the validity of the age of the cheese, but here's a question for you. Do you LIKE cheese and/or know anything about how it's made or aged? It isn't stored in some frigidare on someone's back porch for years. Like prime meats your scotch reference, it is cured, stored and aged in coolers anywhere from 35 to 40 degrees. Like booze, cheese is a living think that pretty much dies when you freeze it (as would any living thing) or at the very least, molds when kept in unfavorable conditions without any care and keeping. While 15yr cheese may sound far fetched and to non-cheese people, just old to us cheese fanatics, its a treasure. Do yourself a favor and read up on the aging process of cheese. You may learn something.

Kevin said...

Robin:

I fear it is you that needs to read up on things. There is no mold involved in this cheese that is on real "cave aged" cheese. This product is vacuumed sealed in a plastic bag. That means there is no air. No air no mold, only anerobic bateria would be able to live and thats not the good kind. Since it is sealed it cannot lose moisture, critical to aging, and it forms no rind, also critical to aging. Finally, 35 degrees pretty much stops all enzyme action so what do we have. Suspended antimation. Freezing, by the way, does not kill most bacteria or molds.

As for booze, I was not sure what you were talking about but wines and scotch are aged at "cave" temperature, about 55 degrees, and have yeast in them not bacteria or mold which are the primary aging agents in cheese aging along with the enzymes released when the lacto bacteria in the cheese dies from lack of food (lactose) and and the increase in the acidity of their enviroment (lactic acid).

I would be happy to go head to head with you any day on knowledge should you choose to do that.

Look at the cheese making industry in Britain, for example, where most of the best cheddars come from. Do you see any 15 year old cheddars there. Look at the cave aged cheddars from Jasper Hill or Bleu Mound Dairy, whats the age.

Nothing happens in that bag, that is the point of cryovac. When that cheddar comes out of that bag it looks exactly the way that it looked when it went into the bag. Your being scammed and you deserve it. It is a typical American grab for the biggest, best, fastest and now oldest. Get real.

Cheers,

Kevin

Sandy said...

Jeanne & Robin -- do NOT waste your time replying to Kevin's comments. He's obviously just a blog troll with nothing better to do than to drag people through the mud. I love both of your blogs. Keep up the great work!

Kevin -- why don't you go back to the cave you crawled out of. Maybe you could wrap yourself in cryovac and see how you age.

Kevin said...

Sandy:

I see that we are a little crabby this evening. I know that it will be hard for you to believe, with a middle name of Polyanna, but there are dishonest people in the world. Not acknowledging that possiblility does not make it go away. Put the blanket back over your head and chomp on your 50 year old cheddar safe in the knowledge that it is the greatest cheese ever made even if Mineral Point is the only place in the universe that can make money sitting on industrial cheddar for years and years. Its probably much better then the cheese from any of the West Country cheesemakers, where cheddar was born, 'cause gosh theirs is only a year old.

Cheers Sandy,

Kevin

Greg Long said...

Wow. Kevin, chill out. What made you hate the Hooks so much? They're honest, hardworking people that a delivering a product which people are willing to buy. And beside that, you're wrong; you CAN taste the difference between different ages of cheddars. Well, I can, I'm not sure if you can.

If you're serious about your comments here, how about you identify yourself? My name is Greg. I'm a cheesemonger at Fromagination in Madison and would love to discuss this with you if you'd like to come visit our store. I'll even let you taste all of Hook's cheeses and see for yourself. Otherwise, stop wasting your time and ours. We're too busy enjoying our delicious cheese!

Kevin said...

Greg:

To begin with, I have nothing against the Hooks. I have never met them but I am sure they are very nice people.

Because you are hardworking and deliver a product that people are willing to buy isn't enough. You have to deliver the product that you say you are delivering without exaggeration, false claims and the like.

Monsanto delivers BGH. Great product, does its job, those people are hard working (on GMO products probably) but hardworking none the less and people are willing to buy their product. Why do so many cheesemakers rave about not using their product. Do you fear that, dare I say it, they lied. Do you ever distrust an "organic" product produced by a company that has 30,000 acres in production. If we are to just trust people why do organic places have a certification from an outside source. Why do dairy plants get inspected or dairy farms for that matter. They wouldn't lie would they? Why do publically traded companies have audits? I guess we can get rid of licensing all together. You say you're a doctor and I believe you, cut away. Oh don't worry dear, I'm sure that guy knows how to fly a plane, just read your magazine feeling safe in the knowledge that we will save a fortune getting rid of the FAA, DATCP, USDA, FDA, SEC, all of that certification stuff is for non-believers.

What I do have a problem with is gross exaggeration which is fraud in my eyes but, apparently, just considered sales and marketing in most peoples eyes. Aging (affinage) is a process where cheese and other products are placed in the enviroment of a cave. Generally this enviroment is about 55 degrees with very high humidity. Where I run into the problem is when you take industrial cheese made in 40 lb blocks, put it in a cryovac bag, vacuum seal it, put that in a cardboard box, seal that, store it at near freezing temperatures and then say that it is aged. Do you see the dilema here or do you accept the explanation that aging just means getting old so no matter what you do it is considered aging. If I froze this cheese would that be alright and would you consider that aging as well? Picasso and Louie that painted my house are both painters. Do you see a difference?

Now my second problem. When this cheese first started coming on to the market the claims were 5 to 8 years. It is possible that, in the words of Sid Cook, "you just found some old cheese that never sold" and decided to put it on the market as aged. There is a marketing axiom for technical equipment that "if you can't fix it feature it" and that may have been the case here...originally. Now we are up to 15 years steadly going for 20 or 50 where is the limit. Vacuum packing creates a lack of oxygen preventing any bacterial action, intense cold preventing enzymatic action and no ability to breathe preventing loss of moisture and rind formation would effectively stop much from happening in that cooler.

Sorry I have apparently suggested the emperor has no clothes when I am supposed to ignore the facts and join the party.

Do you import any 15 year old cheddar from Britain, the home of cheddar. Which 15 year old cheddars do you get from Neal's Yard. Do you get any from Jasper Hill or maybe Bleu Mound.

I shall never suggest research again and will try to accept everyone at face value no matter how preposterous their claims may be. In future I'll invest my money with Bernie Madoff, as he says he's a nice guy. I hope he can get me in Enron. I'll always use Airborne 'cuz it can cure a cold and I'll join the flat earth society because the Catholic Church certainly wouldn't lie.

This messenger is tired of being shot at. I will leave you to it.

Cheers, Greg

Bill Anderson said...

Kevin-

Some of your points are valid, but I think they are being overshadowed by your hostile tone. I don't think the Hooks are lying about this cheese being 15 years old. I've talked to the company who does their cut-and-wrap, and they said they've been cutting this same lot since it was 2 years old.

Personally, the best cheddar I have ever had is neck and neck between Montgomery's Cheddar, and Bleu Mont's reserve raw milk bandaged cheddar.

I've had the 15 year cheddar. It is an impressive cheese. But it is a totally different kind of cheese than the traditional cheddars you are talking about. It is a uniquely Wisconsin thing, and I don't think it is inherintly bad -- it is what it is.

These cheeses do age in the refrigerated cryovac, albiet much slower. The enzymatic activity -- the proteolysis -- does occur. There is no question about this if you were to taste them. The rind formation and aerobic cultures do not. But the blocks form a calcium crust because (for whatever reason) it is attracted to the outside of the cheese.

More generally, though, I would agree with you -- cave aged, raw milk clothbound farmhouse cheddars are the epitome of cheddar.

But that doesn't negate the value of this style of cheddar. It is unique and interesting in its own right. Overrated? Yes. But the cheddar equivilent to Monsanto, BGH, and GMO? No.

Kevin said...

Do yourself a favor and read up on the aging process of cheese. You may learn something. - Robin

Kevin -- why don't you go back to the cave you crawled out of. Maybe you could wrap yourself in cryovac and see how you age. - Sandy

Bill & Greg:

Bill - well said. You are right I was getting hostile and defensive. Above are the responses I received from my suggestions from some of the more learned members of the assembly.

I enjoy "discussing" a subject and am not of the opinion that I am required to follow the line of the blog. I thought one was allowed to disagree and could have a civil discussion. Bill and Greg have affirmed that discussion.

I still have a hard time believing that this cheese is 15 but there you are. If they were cutting the same lot for the past 13 years, as you suggest, then they must have had a hell of a lot of it and according to the internet the Hooks have a very small operation.

I'll leave it at that. Cheers to you all.

Kevin

Bill Anderson said...

Small is a relative term. Smaller than Kraft? Uh... let me think about that one... (excuse the sarcasm)

Smaller than Bleu Mont Dairy? (Willi is my favorite Wisconsin cheesemaker, for those who don't know this already). Fantome Farm? Lovetree? Dream Farm? Uplands Cheese Co. (Pleasant Ridge Reserve)?

No. No. No. No. And probably not.

The Hooks have a pretty big vat there, don't recall the exact size offhand, but they can crank out an awfully big batch of cheddar when they want to... they just only do it one or two times a week. The photo you see in this blog post is of their smaller vat.

s_neuburg87 said...

I'm pretty sure what we have here is a doubting thomas....If you don't trust the product then the solution is really simple, don't buy it and definatley don't try and force your thoughts on anyone else. The is a DISTINCT difference between this aged cheddar and anything else out there. And Kevin, you are wrong in assuming that this cheddar is reject cheddar from earlier years, in fact that is one of the more stupid thoughts that you have brought up. In order for a cheese to be aged it had to pass certain tests with the cheese maker before it goes to that process, the reason that it is so expensive is the time and effort that goes into it in how many ever years that it is sitting basically just aging. They have to test the cheese every few months to see that it hasn't turned bad or gone sour. I suggest that if you don't believe this process actually happens you should go and talk to any cheese maker. I am a cheese monger myself. I love my job and I definatley would put this cheese up against any other aged cheddar out there.

Sarah

Kevin said...

Sorry Sarah, but you haven't got a clue what you are talking about. There is no test to decide whether this cheese should be "aged" it was packaged and tossed into the cooler with all of the other cheese made that day, week and year. The thought on it being reject cheese was not mine it was Sid Cook's and he said that it was found at the back of the cooler after a number of years. I'm sure you have more experience then Sid but I'm going to go with his thought on this. Finally, you are living in a dream world. This cheese is packed in a cryovac bag on the day of production and that bag is never opened until it is sent to cut & wrap for processing. If they did, as you suggest, test it every few months a 40 lb block, which is how industrial cheese is made in a Wilson Hoop, would have 4 trier holes per year for 15 years which would be 60 holes. There would be little left that could be cut. Anyone that is paying you as a cheese monger needs to review their standards and you need to get a grip. If you doubt what I am saying call Hooks and ask them. The cheese business is apparently some kind of a fairy tale for you. This old industrial cheese would not compare to any cave aged cheddar and you are right, it is in a category by itself, what ever that means.

Cheers,

Kevin

cheese underground lady said...

Kevin -- just to clarify, the standard practice for cheesemakers to test their aging cheddars is to keep one 40-pound block from each batch as the test block. They then test this particular block with a cheese trier every few months to see when the cheese is about to peak, and then sell the entire batch at its peak. The test block is usually not sold - it's most likely enjoyed at the cheesemaker's own dinner table.

s_neuburg87 said...

Thank you cheese underground lady...thats what I was trying to say, and essentially what I did say. And Kevin if you like making personal attacks on people questioning what they know and don't know...seriously???

Kevin said...

Jeanne:

You're are correct that they usually keep out a test block and it is, primarily, used to test for coliforms and sampling for clients that are buying cheese. I suppose it is possible that they use it for some other purpose but we never did nor have I heard of anyone else that did. Assuming that you have two vats as the Hooks do, and I assume back when this "old" cheese was made they were making cheese everyday, they would have 2 test blocks per week. Since each is 40 lbs they would have 7840 lbs of cheese per week for their table, wow.

Also, if you were taking this cheese in and out of the cooler and punching holes in it to use the trier you would now be losing a lot of moisture unless you kept repackaging it and even at that it would pick up a lot of moisture being so cold which would quickly make it slimy. I have never seen or heard of that being done either but there you are.

Industrial cheddar made from pasteurised milk is rarely kept for more then 6 months because not much happens once the BF settles down.

I just don't think that cheese has the taste profile that is being sold as and I think that the public is being taken for a ride. I am allowed my opinion but apparently not on your blog so I will be off.

Cheers,

Kevin

Kevin said...

Sorry for the bad math. 14 blocks at 40 lbs each would only be 560 lbs of cheese per week to eat.

Sarah, that was not an attack it was an observation. In my opinion what you were saying was unfounded. Sorry if you took offence.

Ta

Sandy said...

Ahhh .. I stand corrected. Kevin is apparently not a blog troll, he is a disgruntled former cheesemaker. So where did you get fired from making cheese, Kev?

Bill Anderson said...

When a cheddar has been around for 10 years, the cheesemaker doesn't need to try it every few months. They need to try it once a year max to see how it is doing, since changes happen much, much slower at that point. If it is a lot that s/he is selling (as Tony has been selling this lot on and off for most of its life) then s/he is probably tasting it anyways as it is being cut up and sold.

Perhaps we can agree that this 15-year is the epitome of pastuerized industrial cheddar. I believe that is a fair statement, no?

Let's drop the personal insults and hostility, though. They are getting in the way of an otherwise interesting discussion.

Kevein raises a good point here, about accountability. While I believe the Hook's are honest people, they are setting an example that could attract some not so honest people. Surely, others are going to learn from this and try selling very old lots of cheddar. How does one verify their age? Or will this 15 year craze just be a passing fad that goes away in a few years?

Robin said...

Got my "hooks" into some Hook's 15 year cheddar and served it to some big-time foodies the other night. Overall opinion...spectacular! Even non-cheddar folks enjoyed the tangy flavor and mild crystal texture. This cheese is best judged after tasting and not through speculation. Regardless of the true age, it is a fantastic cheese well worth the cost.

Kevin said...

Sandy - is your whole life one big fantasy or just this part of it. I am, in fact, a cheesemaker and it is always difficult to fire the owner. That is why I am so concerned with fraud in cheese marketing. People are really gullible. When I was in working on a boat off of the atlantic coast we would take out whale watchers. If we didn't see any whales we would suggest that we could see minke whales off the fantail. This was a message to the captain that we see nothing as there were no minke whales in these waters. But the tourists would not only see them, but they would take pictures of them. I didn't last long in that job. The point is that people that know little about a subject, be it whales or cheese, want some guidance. If you tell them, as a cheese monger or cheese maker that this is the greatest cheese since Brie was invented they will believe you. Americans are even worse in that they always want to be on the leading edge, biggest, fastest or best and so can easily be lead on the oldest. The fact that the cheese is selling at ridiculous prices doesn't make it right if its fraud. No cheese is worth $60 per pound and you can be sure, as Bill has suggested, that you will attracted the very worst of vendors because of the price. Maybe Hooks cheese is actually 15 years old, although I still doubt it, but it is industrial cheddar made from pasteurised milk. There are far better cheeses on the market.

I am very concerned with the way the market has decided that hype is ok. Because it makes more money is a poor justification for outright lies.

I'm going to move on now as I know longer want to waste my time dealing with children such as Sandy. Bill, good chatting with you.

Cheers,

Kevin

Bill Anderson said...

Kevin-

What kind of cheese do you make? Is it available in the Midwest?

cheese underground lady said...

Quick update on a claim that was made earlier in this comment chain by Kevin, on a conversation he had with Sid Cook about finding the "reject" cheese in the back of the cooler. I am actually at a cheese conference in CA this week and was on a seminar panel with Sid. Apparently word has gotten to Sid about Kevin's comments, and Sid asked me to set the record straight.

Sid says he never made such a statement - he says he's occasionally found cheese in the back of his cooler, but he doesn't recall ever making the comment that Kevin attributed to him and would never call it a "reject." He has only the utmost respect for Tony Hook and his cheese.

Robin said...

That would be me as to how Sid heard about the comments Kevin was making. I contacted him and let him know about the discussion as well as the quote. I have also been in touch with Tony Hook and will be interviewing him next week regarding his cheese and the controversy here created by some. I have also notified several other cheese1makers and cheesemongers regarding the doubt-claims made and most have been pretty upset by the conversations (including Roger at Neal's Yard...in London). I enjoy a healthy debate and am willing to admit when I am wrong about aging processes and such. However, I am always careful when quoting others, researching, tasting, and especially calling someones product into question. It is Journalism 101 and can be the death of a career should major mistakes be made.
Enjoy your conference Jeanne. Wish I was there.

s_neuburg87 said...

Thank you for setting the record straight on the Kevin... I can also enjoy a debate...however, when you start taking it personal and question someone's ability to what they have been doing for years, that's where I have a problem. This not only goes for the comment he made about me, but also the comment that was made about Tony Hook. The solution for Kevin on this issue is to not even worry about it, if it bothers you so much, no one is forcing you to buy the cheese or to even try a taste of it. If you're not convinced that the Hook's are being honest with their product then DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT, and quit trying to cause an issue where there should be none.

On a lighter note, I recieved this cheese in on last Thursday. On Sunday I broke down and put a sample out for customers. I heard nothing but great things on this cheese. I also had one of the guys in the wine department try it. He said that it is unlike anything out on the market and that it truely is a cheese to be savored, especially after dinner with a small glass of port. I agree totally. This is one of the most fabulous foods that I have ever tried. I really do sell it with pride!

Kevin said...

Jeanne:

I never said that this was "reject" cheese, sarah(s_nueberger87) said that. Sid said that "he did not believe that the 10 year old cheddar (it was only being sold as 10 or maybe 12 at that time) was put into the cooler with the intention of aging it 10 years. It was probably an old batch found at the back of the cooler that hadn't sold, we all get that on occasion". I don't know his exact words as I was just listening and did not get to hear the whole discussion as I had a plane to catch. The comment was made at a get together of cheddar makers to discuss aging at the Capital Brewery (I think that is the name) in or around Madison quite a number of years ago. The consensus was that "cave aging" and "cooler aging" need to have different names so that the public knows the difference. I didn't make this up, why would I. I am concerned with the reprecussions if this is found to not be what is being represented. Sorry if it upsets all of you so much that someone would disagree with you.

I'll not return. Have fun in California.

Cheers

Bill Anderson said...

Kevin-

You still haven't answered my question. I gather that you make cheddar, but do you make any other kinds? Is your cheese available in the Midwest?