This June, the coveted 15-year-aged Hook's cheddar will have a new, older sibling.
Hook's Cheese in Mineral Point recently announced that it will release a 20-year-aged cheddar to limited markets on Monday, June 1.
A story in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that just two days after Larry's Market in Brown Deer started taking pre-orders of quarter- and half-pound chunks of the cheddar, the store had already sold six pounds at $209/pound.
"There's less than 500 pounds of this. That's why the price is so high," said Tony Hook, who with his wife, Julie, founded Hook's Cheese in 1976. "At this point I can't tell you who's going to get what."
In Madison, two Metcalfe's Markets (plus a third in Wauwatosa) and Fromagination will likely get the cheese. In the Milwaukee area, Sendik's and the West Allis Cheese & Sausage Shoppe are likely to sell it. Hy-Vee stores have stocked the 15-year and may get some of the 20-year as well.
"We are hoping to get 15 lbs. total," said Jeanne Carpenter, specialty cheese manager at Metcalfe's in Hilldale. "We understand that (Tony Hook) wants to spread it out to retailers across the country."
The 15-year cheddar usually sells for about $50/lb. Wholesale price for the 20-year is $180/pound. Like Larry's, Metcalfe's will sell it for $209 per pound with a minimum order of one quarter pound.
"Most cheese people buy has a serious mark-up," Carpenter said. "If I was to put my regular mark-up on this cheese it would be $360/lb.
"That's not the goal. The goal is to help Hook's sell this cheese, celebrate this milestone in the industry and get it out to as many people as we can."
The price is dear enough that there will be no tastings of the 20-year-aged cheddar. The 15-year, with its sharp edges, creaminess, and crystals (from calcium lactate) provides some clues.
The older cheese "tastes pretty smooth, with good cheddar flavor," Hook said. "At this point, aged out that far, some people would expect it would have such a bite because it's old. But it smooths out as it gets older."
Hook's uses the same recipe for all of its cheddars, which are made at higher moisture levels than most cheesemakers might recommend.
"Each vat is a little bit different," Hook said. "Once in awhile you'll get something drier at seven years or ten years. We've found we get nicer flavor and consistency if we run at about 37 percent moisture, which means nothing to most people ... but ours ends up most of the time being more creamy."
At Metcalfe's, Carpenter is taking pre-orders for quarter pounds, which about a dozen people have asked for already.
"We're not doing that to be difficult," Carpenter said. "I am expecting this cheese to be pretty crumbly. I am not confident that I can cut it smaller than one quarter pound without being crumbs.
"We might have to sell it in bowls," she joked. "I hope I can keep it intact."
A new 15-year cheddar will continue to be released every fall, Hook said. But the 20-year is "a one-time shot."
"We don't have any more set aside at this point," he said. "If you want to try it, you can buy it and try it. It is pricey."
But it might be worth it for fans of those glorious crystals, which the 20-year has even more of.
"A lot of people think they're salt crystals but they aren't," Hook said, noting that the difference is in the texture.
"Who expects crunchy cheese, right?"