Get Hooked

Of the countless cheese makers in Wisconsin, I can’t think of any that says “Wisconsin” more than Hook’s Cheese in Mineral Point. Tony and Julie Hook fashion down-to-earth, robust cheeses like colbys, “farmer cheese” and cheddars with immediately appealing flavors that sometimes obscure a deep complexity.

They also craft outstanding blues, which performed well at this year’s World Championship Cheese Contest. My favorite remains their cheddars, especially those over five years old. Impeccably aged, the flavors are both profound and delicious, and they deserve the best wine you can serve with them.

World Championship Colby & Chanrion “Côte de Brouilly” Beaujolais 2008, $20
Remarkable for its texture and depth of flavor, Hook’s colby works best with soft, fruity reds. Beaujolais from the underrated 2008 vintage brings out the sweetness of the cheese, which in turn exposes a pleasing earthiness in the wine.

7- and 10-Year-Old Cheddars & Graham’s 10-Year-Old Tawny Port $30
The nuttiness and caramel notes of Tawny Port are magical with old cheddars. Aged in barrels most of their lives, Tawny Ports undergo a gentle oxidation that yields a dried fruit flavor—dates come to mind—that’s marvelous with a mature cheddar.

Little Boy Blue & Sierra Cantabria “Privada” Rioja, Spain, 2006, $45
Made from sheep’s milk, it crumbles but has a firm curd. It has a lovely balance of salt, acidity and sweetness that lifts the fruit of the Rioja. Sierra Cantabria is one of the greats, but most any oaky Rioja will do.

Tilston Point Blue & Elderton “Botrytis Semillon” Riverina, Australia, 2008, $27 (half bottle)
A blue for lovers of pungent cheese. Very sweet whites made from grapes affected by noble rot—that late season mold that shrivels grapes and yields flavors of honey—are a great poetic and gastronomic

Available at Madison’s finer wine stores. If unavailable, most purveyors will special order from their wholesalers if requested. Michael Kwas is wine director at L’Etoile restaurant. He writes this column monthly.

Read more Off the Vine columns here.

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