15-year Cheddar: The cheese equivalent of Colombian heroin
|February 28, 2010||Posted by Kristin under Gluten-Free, Reviews and Restaurants, Vegetarian|
I’ll be honest. I am n0t entirely sure where to start describing the 15-year cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company, based in Mineral Point, Wisc.
It’s already a pretty famous cheese. Once you get the swanky Beverly Hills cheese shops praising your product, the opinion of a girl who grew up on Kraft American singles probably will not add much to the growing legend of this cheese.
But, I will provide my admittedly somewhat amateurish take on this cheese because I think there is some value in hearing about it from someone who does not consider herself a cheese expert.
First: How I came to acquire this cheese. While I tend to be frugal in nearly all of my food purchases and recipes, as I have mentioned, cheese is one of the few areas where I treat myself regularly. Thanks to the divine cheese display at Trader Joe’s in Madison, I’ve become very good friends with high-quality, semi-soft cheeses like Port Salut and raclette, among others, and my idea of the perfect no-cooking-required meal is to go pick up a fresh baguette and a small block of cheese and dig in. In short, I’ve come a long way from Kraft singles (although I still keep those around for grilled cheese and egg sandwiches).
So, when I heard about this mythical 15-year cheddar, the oldest currently on the market, my interest was piqued. In addition to semi-soft cheeses, I love sharp cheeses, from feta to blue cheese to Irish white cheddar — I’ve never met a cheese too strong for my palate. In particular, I love the acute but delightful pang I get in my throat glands when I eat a really great piece of sharp cheese. It’s just a wonderful feeling that is hard to replicate with any other type of food.
To say eating this 15-year cheddar was like the feeling of eating any other sharp cheese, though, would be a travesty. One of my biggest fears with this cheese was that paying $60 a pound for it would heighten my expectations too much and that no cheese could live up to that. I now realize what a foolish sentiment that was. It was, quite simply, sublime.
While unparalleled, it is somewhat hard (ironically) to get the full effect of how great this cheese is without a basis for comparison. So, if you’re biting the bullet to pay $50 or $60 per pound for this cheese, pick up a small piece of one of Hook’s other fine cheddars, as well. In my case, Lindsay and I decided on the 7-year cheddar, which was the oldest the Willy Street Co-op in Madison had.
The 7-year cheddar was a great cheese, firm and somewhat dry, like most sharp cheddars, with a pleasing tanginess that got my throat tingling for the 15-year cheddar. If the 7-year were the only cheese I had to consume that evening, though, I would have been more than satisfied.
However, the 15-year cheese was not only on another level — it was in another galaxy, possibly Heaven itself. Compared to the 7-year cheddar, the 15-year was cheese on steroids — the intensity of the flavor seemed way more than even doubling for its age could account for. This may sound dumb, but it reminded me a bit of the Cheez-it commercials that show a huge block of cheese getting put into every Cheez-it cracker.
Except, this was like a million, bajillion times better than eating a Cheez-it. As my co-worker Katjusa tweeted, the 15-year cheddar was the “cheese equivalent of pure, uncut Colombian heroin.” It had a strength and sophistication of flavor like no other I have experienced. When cut off the block, the cheese crumbled, but it was not remotely dry. The texture actually seemed a bit more moist than the 7-year, and it reminded me somewhat of the Cray-Pas oil pastels that I used to use in art class — both dry and moist, crumbly and yet silky smooth, with the occasional, delicious spark of a crystal from the aging process that went off like a firecracker in my mouth.
I am the queen of condiments — I pile extras on my sandwiches, salads, pizza and hamburgers like it’s going out of style — but I didn’t even want to mar the flavor of this cheese with baguette. It’s that perfect. The 7-year, while delicious in its own right, was quickly relegated to the corner of the cheese plate — switching back from the 15-year to the 7-year only resulted in unfavorable remarks, which is not what that cheese deserved.
As we continued to nibble our way through the 15-year block over the next week, I began to feel pangs of loss each time I ate some — while each bite was incredible, Lindsay and I both expressed sorrow that it also brought us closer to the end of the supply. Now that it’s gone, I would like to say that this cheese was a great one-time splurge and that if offered again, I wouldn’t pay another $15 for a quarter-pound.
That’s what I expected this experience to be like — worth it just to try to say I tried it, but not something I would regularly buy. But, that would be incorrect. If the Hooks decided to make this cheese a regular part of their repertoire, I would have a very hard time passing it up again. In fact, it’s probably better for my bank account that the cheese is limited-time only — but that doesn’t mean I won’t be on the look-out for it to come out again.
More information: The 5-year cheddar (which Barriques uses on its amazing grilled cheese sandwiches) got a write up in the San Francisco Chronicle. Even NPR took notice, interviewing Tony Hook (who confessed on the program that he has a 17-year cheddar back there that’s “only for family”) on “All Things Considered.”