Recent Fromagination Cheesemonger Vivien Rendleman – who took copious notes during our visits to producers – wrote our third installment:
Tony Hook has been involved in cheese making since 1970, when he began working for the Monroe Cheese Corporation in Barneveld, the town that now gives his tasty goat milk Blue cheese its name. We visited his own cheese making operation, Hook’s Cheese Company, in the picturesque Mineral Point this spring, which is one of the first facilities to popularize making Blue cheese in Wisconsin in 1997. Tony Hook and his wife Julie know more about the history of the cheese industry in the state than most people, having begun producing cheese before the recent boom of artisan dairy. In fact, the Hooks are responsible for many trends we take for granted now. For instance, in the 1990s, the pair decided to focus on aged cheddars at a time when consumers really could not find anything aged longer than five years. The time invested in aging Hook’s Cheddar has certainly paid off for Julie and Tony, as they produce some of the most popular varieties of aged Cheddars in the state – one batch as old as twenty years!
Today, Hook’s produces over fifty types of cheese, including the Colby that won the World Championship in 1982 (a cheese that Julie entered into the competition). Seven of these cheeses are Blues, produced in the same facility as the famous Hook’s Cheddars. Additionally, the Hooks no longer limit themselves to just cow milk, as they also produce cheeses with sheep milk and goat milk. To keep production running smoothly, the Hooks follow a tight cheese-making schedule, using cow milk on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, sheep milk on Tuesday, goat milk Monday morning, and mixed milk cheeses (which feature all three types of milk) on Tuesday and Wednesday. One of our recent favorites has been one of these mixed-milk cheeses: Hook’s Triple Play Extra Innings, made like an aged Cheddar with sheep, goat, and cow milk. We highly recommend adding this cheese to your aged Cheddar rotation, as well as trying the many other innovative, small-batch cheeses the Hooks are producing!