Hooks Donate $40,000 from 20-Year Cheddar

During the next few days, you’re going to hear a lot about Hook’s 20-year Cheddar.

You’re going to hear about how it debuted at a fancy dinner at L’Etoile in downtown Madison, where three James Beard award-winning chefs prepared a seven-course dinner for 70 people.

You’re going to hear about how expensive it is – $209 a pound – and how there’s very little to be had, because most of it is pre-sold or already reserved.

You’re going to hear about how surprisingly creamy it is for a 20-year piece of Cheddar, and how the calcium lactate crystals crunch in your mouth like pop rocks. And guess what? All of these things are true.

What you’re likely to hear less about, is that tonight, Tony and Julie Hook donated $40,000 – half of all proceeds from their 20-year cheddar — to the new Babcock Hall/Center for Dairy Research Building Fund at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“I said when we started this, that if I got a cheddar to make it to 20 years, I’d donate half the money to the Center for Dairy Research,” Tony said. “Well, I meant it. We’re proud of the work they’re doing and looking forward to a new facility.”

Ground is expected to be broken this summer on the new Babcock Hall, which will be a state-of-the-art facility at UW-Madison with 20,000 square feet dedicated to a new Center for Dairy Research and dairy processing space with specialty ripening rooms to manufacture and experiment with mold and surface ripened cheeses. The building is expected to be finished in 2018.

Many, many thanks to the Hook’s team for making such an amazing cheese and for their generosity to the the industry. And a big thank you to chefs Tory Miller, Justin Aprahamian and Justin Carlisle for a fabulous dinner with seven courses featuring Hook’s Cheddar from young to old.

First off, all three chefs each created a cheese curd dish: top right with Kimchi by Miller, bottom with pesto and pickled rhubarb by Aprahamian, and left with truffles, Buddha’s hand and koshu from Carlisle.

Next, Miller created a 2-year Hook’s Cheddar “nacho” with chorizo, picled jalapeno and cilantro.

The first official course (the previous were bonus starter courses) was charred asparagus, rhubarb-hickory nut salumera and shaved 5-year Hook’s Cheddar from Miller.

Second course was one of my top 10 favorite dishes ever: Hook’s 10-Year Cheddar soup, with pepper, beer vinegar, popcorn wafers and chives by Carlisle.

Third course: 15-year Hook’s Cheddar with roasted veal breast, apricot and turnip by Aprahamian. One of our table mates had to stop mid-chew because he was “having a moment” and never wanted this dish to end.

Cheese course: Hook’s 20-year Cheddar. The dining room applauded after the first taste (and Wisconsin Foodie recorded our reactions).

Dessert: curd cheesecake with rhubarb, meringue, basil and delicious mystery pink ice by Carlisle.

Many, many thanks to all three chefs, L’Etoile, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board and the Hook’s Cheese team for making tonight’s dinner happen. Wisconsin salutes you!

Wisconsin Cheese & Sommelier-Mixologist Duel

Sommeliers Ruben “Biggest Toad in the Puddle” Mendez
and Aaron “Burr” Johnson

Every once in a while I luck out and happen to be in the right place at the right time. Lucky for me, last night was one of those rare whiles.

After spending an hour on the capital square persuading total strangers to wear cheeseheads and stroll casually behind a staged shot of Wisconsin cheesemakers Chris Roelli, Andy Hatch and Willi Lehner waiting at a bus stop (we were shooting video for the official 2013 American Cheese Society introductory film, but more on that later), I tagged along to an event at L’Etoile where the trio were the guests of honor.

Fortunately, I was already gussied up for the video shoot, which turned out to be a good thing, as little did I know I was walking into a sold-out, 45-person sit-down Wisconsin Cheese and Sommelier-Mixologist Duel in the private back room at one of the best restaurants in America.

Holy crap. These are not typically the kinds of things I attend, as I a) usually drink Diet Coke and b) usually wear flip flops. But thanks to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board, I found a seat at the Texas Stagecoach table and listened to directions that seemed to require me tasting six cheeses (no problem), six glasses of wine (could be a problem) and six alcoholic mixed beverages (yes, Houston, we have a definite problem). 

Mixologists Casey “The Kid” Kammel and
Nic “The Quick & The Dead” Waerzeggers

The event was billed as a duel between what paired best with cheese: wine or chemical cocktails. On on the sommelier side, our hosts were Aaron “Burr” Johnson and Ruben “Biggest Toad in the Puddle” Mendez. On the Mixologist side were Carey “The Kid” Kammel and Nic “The Quick & The Dead” Waerzeggers. At my right was cheesemaker Andy Hatch, who seemed as baffled by the event as I was. I looked to my right, where cheesemaker Willi Lehner was sitting, trying to make small talk with guests at the High Noon table, and behind me, where Chris Roelli was seated at the Dusty Tumbleweeds table. We all shrugged our shoulders, as if to say, well, what the hell, and plowed in. 

First up: Uplands 10-month Pleasant Ridge Reserve, paired with what I think was a Pinot Noir (In good news, Lindsay Christians from 77 Square was also at the event, so be sure to read her future musings, as my beverage expertise is pretty much limited to diet soda), and a drink called “Once Upon A Time in Wisconsin”, which consisted of Lillet Blonde, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup and Lakefront Wisconsinite beer. (Andy and I decided it tasted like a Mimosa). So far, so good.

Next was Roelli Cheese Marigold, a clothbound, cave-aged, jack-style cheese with the nuttiness of an Alpine cheese. Made from grazed milk, the cheese carries a deep yellow color (hence its name) and is not yet on the market. Look for it closer to the holidays. Marigold was paired with (again, I really have no idea) some white wine, which was very good, and a concoction that tasted somewhere between root beer and bacon. Let’s just say the cheese was the highlight of this particular pairing.

Third was a Bleu Mont “Mystery Cheese,” which was actually a sheep’s milk cheese inspired by Willi’s recent trip to Italy and Switzerland. This is the first time he’s made cheese with sheep milk. At just 60 days told, this raw milk beauty will be even better in another month. It was paired with Gruner Veltliner from Austria and Kita’s Wry Redemption (perhaps a play on Willi’s partner’s name Q’itas), consisting of Redemption Rye, St. Germain, soda water and a lavender dip.

Then it was intermission. Which meant Arthur Ircink (the genius behind the camera at Wisconsin Foodie) and I rushed out to get a shot of my car’s license plate driving away while it was still light out (again this was for the aforementioned ACS video, but more on that later). After “driving away” six or seven times and then backing up into my original parking spot, we hoofed it back to L’Etoile in time for the fourth pairing, which was Uplands 24-month Pleasant Ridge Reserve (an OMG this is so good cheese), paired with a Sangiovese and a drink called “.01 Parts Wine”, which was actually part champagne currant, Ransom Old Tom Gin, Galliano-Tart Cherry pipette and Sauvignon Blanc. Awesome pairing. Hands down, my favorite.

Moving into the home stretch, we had two pairings left. At this point, I have to admit things get a little fuzzy and my notes seem to end. Turns out chemical cocktails are WAY stronger than my usual Diet Coke, so I didn’t even get a picture of the Bleu Mont Reserve Bandaged Cheddar and “Fist Full of Blueberries” drink, or the Roelli Dunbarton Blue and Pintar a Cambechana, which was a mixture of cherry-ginger sauce painted on the inside of a wine glass, mixed with Caonton ginger Cognac, rum, and Mexican Coke. I do remember it was very pretty.

All in all, it was an amazing night, and I had a ton of fun with some of my favorite people, including some intense giggling with Sara Hill, seated on my left, who assured me it was perfectly okay to dip my cheese into a glass of wine to get the full effect of a pairing. I have no idea which pairing actually won and who left with the adorable miniature silver trophies, but it was all in good fun.

As for the American Cheese Society video shoot — well, you’ll have just have to wait until the video’s premier in Raleigh, North Carolina in three weeks, when Sara Hill, Bob Wills and I introduce it at this year’s American Cheese Society, and prepare to welcome 1,000 people to Madison in 2013, when the conference is hosted at Monona Terrace. Until then, I leave you with this parting shot. Who says Wisconsin cheesemakers don’t have a sense of humor?