You can’t be a blue cheese lover in Wisconsin without tasting Hook’s, a cheese company out of Mineral Point that always garners lavish praise from heartland caseophiles. The Hook’s stand at the Dane County Farmers’ Market in Madison – reputedly the largest market in the country – is always surrounded by people waving toothpicks, eager to hawk-dive into the sample bins. Tony and Julie Hook produce five, yes FIVE, different blues, and last weekend I was one of those clucking toothpick-wavers, eager to assemble a blue cheese tasting board from Wisconsin.
You bet I tried all five blues, beginning with their original, a Danish-style blue that has received a series of awards at the Cheese Championships hosted by the Wisconsin Cheesemakers Association. What a nicely balanced cheese – sweet, perky, sharp, with a slightly vinegary finish. Still, the one that made me swoon was Hook's Blue Paradise, a pungent double-cream with notes of sour cherry and a cucumbery finish. Talk about a spreadable, edible cheese. It reminded me of some of the Irish blues I’ve been trying on the sly.
Hook’s Tilston Point, a crumbly wonder-thug of a cheese (bold, grainy, salty, pasturey), knocked me out of my hammock. The long-lasting flavor reminded me of the Rolf-Beeler Thurblau I tried a few weeks ago, a terrific raw-milk blue from Switzerland. Hook's Tilston is an English-style washed-rind blue, and it's certainly the most interesting and robust cheese in Hook’s blue pack. Would you believe I bought all three of these cheeses at the farmers' market for a grand total of about ten bucks? Talk about dairy value. If you want to host a cheese party, Hook's offers an economical way to sample a wide range of blues.