Like a fine wine, bourbon, balsamic vinegar, your favorite pair of jeans and Grandma’s cast-iron skillet—cheddar cheese gets better with age. Turning young, mild cheddars into sharp, complex gems takes finesse and years of mastery. Here in The State of Cheese, we have cheese-aging gurus like Hook’s® Cheese Company, Carr Valley Cheese and Wisconsin Aging & Grading Cheese, Inc. to coax out the delicious characteristics and heavenly nuances that expertly aged cheddars are appreciated for. We paired their cheddar creations with all things apple to elevate sweet and savory bites.
Hook’s® Cheese Company
Hook’s® Cheese Company’s high-quality cheeses result from years of expert craftsmanship, rigorous testing and monitoring. This includes their 7-Year Sharp Cheddar, an aged cheese with mellowing acidity. Pair it with an apple and walnut fruit relish. A drizzle of warm maple syrup and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes spices up the pairing with sweetness and heat, balancing the cheese’s tanginess. “At seven years old, our sharp cheddars tend to be smoother and a little less acidic,” says owner and award-winning Master Cheesemaker Tony Hook. “They also develop a few calcium lactate crystals.” Hook’s cheddars are aged in cave-like ripening rooms that establish an atmosphere for affinage, which enhances their earthy and complex flavors. “I taste test each batch a couple of times a year to ensure the cheese is developing like we want,” Tony adds. “I want the cheese to have a true cheddar flavor but not off flavors like bitterness. The cheeses become more acidic as they age from one to five years. After five years, they start smoothing out.”
Carr Valley Cheese
When a Wisconsin family has been making cheese for over 100 years, you know you’re in for a treat. “We are still making cheese the old-fashioned way with open vats and milled curd,” reveals Sid Cook, Master Cheesemaker and owner of Carr Valley Cheese. “We still do bandage-wrapped cheddar, daisies, midgets, flats and waxing. Our passion, care and quality milk go a long way in quality cheeses aging out.” The company is best known for producing artisanal aged cheddars. Taste the rich history in a chunk of Carr Valley’s Master’s Reserve Cheddar. It’s a bandage-wrapped cheddar handcrafted in small batches, using unique cultures to amplify its rich, sharp flavors. As a certified Master Cheesemaker variety, this creamy cheddar cheese is aged perfectly and meets the highest standards. Add it to a harvest cheese plate or recreate these sophisticated crostini topped with Sid’s signature cheddar, brandy-soaked apple slices, sliced bresaola and fresh thyme. Also, try them with Carr Valley’s Cave Aged Cheddar, a First Place winner at the 2004 American Cheese Society Cheese Competition. The distinctive, natural rind develops in an open-air cave, and its earthy flavor is reminiscent of the cheese Sid’s family made over a century ago.
Wisconsin Aging & Grading Cheese, Inc. (WAG)
Sharp, nutty and pleasantly acidic, 724 Wisconsin Select 3-Year Aged Cheddar is the ideal starting point for cheese lovers exploring aged cheddars. “You’ll notice how creamy the mouthfeel is and how the flavors don’t overpower each other,” shares Wisconsin Aging & Grading Cheese (WAG) President and CEO Kate Neumeier Clarke. In this sweet and savory pairing, apple cider donuts and warm caramel sauce lend quintessential fall flavors, complementing the cheese’s nuttiness while providing a delectable, sweet counterpoint to its acid note and sharpness. The 724 Wisconsin Select cheddars are pampered and checked regularly for flavor and quality during aging. Some cheddars are skillfully aged up to 15 years, developing an extra sharp and rich-tasting experience. Their cheeses are treated the VIP way; WAG specializes in procuring, affinage and aging high-quality cheddar cheeses and has mastered the nuances of aging cheddars for over two decades and three generations. “We combine the complexity of art and science to create magic during the second transformative stage of cheesemaking,” says Kate. “The aging and affinage helps manage the flavor profile and texture of each piece of cheese many years after it has left the cheesemaker.