The second stop on the Wisconsin Cheese Tour on June 1st included heading out to the historic “Shake Rag” district of beautiful Mineral Point to check out Hook’s Cheese company. They make over 30 different types of award-winning cheeses and have been doing so for 40 years.
I wished I had more time to check out Mineral Point because it looked so cute.
Tony Hook gave us a tour while his wife Julie spiced and bagged cheese curds in the background!
We went in the “cave,” which was naturally really cold and made it hard to snap photos!
You could walk in and purchase cheese in the store on-site.
Like all of the cheese companies we toured, Hooks had won many awards over the years. Julie Hook is the only woman to have won the World championship, which was in 1982 for a Colby variety.
Finally it was a food blogger’s favorite part of a cheese company tour–time to taste the delicious cheese! I especially loved the cheddar varieties. Hook’s uses a special aging process to make sure that the 5, 7 and 10 year old cheddar cheeses are always moist and creamy.
While most bloggers seemed to stay away from it, I had some of the blue and found it to be very tasty and unique. I like it best on salads. Hook’s Blue cheese is prized by chefs.
Even though Tony explained it during our tour, I found a good explanation summarizing how blue cheese is made:
Blue cheese starts out like any other cheese: Cow’s, goat’s or sheep’s milk is curdled. Then moldy bread is ground into fine dust and mixed into the curds as a starter for the mold. Whey is removed from the curds, and the product is pressed and drained. Some recipes induce the mold after formation by making holes in the cheese and injecting the penicillium roqueforti bacteria. Then the cheese is aged; many are still aged in caves enriched with the moldy bacteria. The ripening of the cheese allows the bacteria and microbes to act on the curds of the cheese changing its structure. Mold forms and breaks complex molecules into simple ones, which smooths out the fibrous structure of the cheese and provides its pungent odor and sharp, salty flavor.
This machine drills holes into the cheese for the blue cheese making process.
Tony clearly loves his job. He was so smiley and happy the entire time we toured. Thanks to Tony and Julie for letting us bloggers invade your creamery and check out the production!
On Saturday morning, a few of us stopped by the Hook’s booth at the Madison Farmers market to say hi and purchase some cheese. I got some curds to bring back. They were really fresh and squeaky (in my opinion, the sign of a good curd). Tony and Julie are there every Saturday, so if you’re in the area, be sure to support a really wonderful local cheese!
Thanks to the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board for sponsoring my trip to this cheese company. The opinions expressed in this post are my own.