Where The Action Is
Take a single step into Hook’s Cheese Company in the historic Shake Rag district of Mineral Point, Wisconsin, and you’re right in the middle of the action.
Past the towering chalkboard listing just a handful of nearly 70 artisan cheeses made right here, you can peek into the vats of milk bathed in sunlight from the make room windows.
All that you see is tended by the ever-watchful eye of renowned cheesemaker Tony Hook.
Sure, Hook’s is small. But that’s exactly how Tony likes it.
A Closer Connection
“It’s easier to be more creative,” says Tony. He co-owns Hook’s with his wife and fellow cheesemaker, Julie, and together they’ve decided to forgo big distributors to keep a closer connection with their customers. “We don't have a plant where there's multiple rooms of make vats or make tanks – it’s all done right in that one room.”
And a whole lot of incredible cheese comes out of that one room. Take, for example, Hook’s 10-year aged cheddar, which Madison-based farm-to-table restaurant Graze uses to make their renowned take on mac and cheese.
“You won't find a better mac and cheese,” Tony says of the bread crumb-topped, ooey-gooey comfort dish.
Graze sits just across the street from the state capitol building, where Tony and his team set up shop every weekend for the Dane County Farmers' Market – the largest producers-only farmers market in the country.
“The nicest thing about selling up there is you get feedback directly from the person that's buying,” Tony says. “It really helps you know what you're doing is something people enjoy. And it also helps you improve what you're making.”
Perfecting and Testing
He’s found the connection with his customers extremely helpful, not only in perfecting his existing cheeses but also testing out new ideas. “We didn't really get into the blue cheese until we started it at the Dane County Farmers' Market,” Tony says.
Today, blue is a staple of Hook’s business, with a full lineup of eight varieties including a ridiculously rich, bold Double Cream Tilston Point Blue that’s their take on a Stilton.
Back at the factory, Tony and Julie managed to find space for carefully temperature-controlled curing caves, where their blue cheese and aged cheddar masterpieces age to perfection.
Those aged beauties rely on the highest-quality milk to grow up just right, which is one of the many reasons Tony counts himself so extremely lucky to be based in America’s Dairyland.
“The land itself lent such a good flavor to the milk and, ultimately, the cheese, so it’s worked out for all of Wisconsin,” he says. “It's just something to be proud of. For all of us cheesemakers.”