September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.

Cheese: This aged cheddar is a mouthful of hollers

By Ron Johnson- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

I'm pecking away at this column on a rainy June evening. Thunderbumpers have been banging across Wisconsin for the last three days.
Their three-plus (so far) inches of rain have made my garden into a muddy, messy, morass. I can do nothing out there but sink to my knees in brown, Crawford County soil.
Neither can I cut the grass. Hughie, our largely spineless lawn tractor, slips and slides and spins if a gnat so much as spits on the lawn. Besides, the wet plants would assuredly choke him, and I would waste many frustrating minutes trying to clean out his blade-laden innards.
So that brings me to - cheese. Yes, cheese.
I have, on a small, light blue, vintage Fiestaware plate before me a tiny hunk of heaven on earth. Yes, I use those words to describe cheese.
This is no ordinary fragment of fromage. It is a sample of cheddar. Better still, it is a sample of cheddar that has quietly aged and grown in taste and stature for six long years.
Yes, I know there are cheddars out and about that are far, far older. And far, far more expensive.
I've written about cheddars that were lovingly tended and turned for 15 - even 20 - years. But they have never touched my tongue, never titillated my taste buds.
Why? Because they were both physically and financially unattainable. Securing even one precious pound would have entailed a long journey. And, securing even one precious pound would have entailed forking over fifty dollars or more.
I'm not saying those fine cheeses are not worth the money. But both my parents struggled through the Great Depression, and some of their frugality rubbed off on me. That's especially evident when it comes to $3.12 an ounce for cheese - or for anything, for that matter.
To compare, gasoline - vital to most of us - costs only a bit more than 31 cents per ounce. That's based on a price of four dollars a gallon.
When I contemplate fifty or twenty-five dollars for a pound of anything, I remember my dear mother's stories of trying to support three children while she labored in a button factory in northwest Indiana. I remember my Swedish immigrant father speaking of how he lost everything because of the stock market crash of 1929, and how he left his broken Chicago construction business with nothing but $500 and a pickup truck.
I remember my Uncle Oscar, also an immigrant from Sweden. He scrimped and saved for more than 40 years and always drove a used car. In short, I simply cannot imagine any of them spending more than a few bucks on cheese.
Don't get me wrong. I like cheese.
That was not always the case. In grade school and high school, I turned my finicky nose up at cheese in all shapes and forms. No cheeseburgers for me; no macaroni and cheese; no grilled cheese sandwiches.
I'm not sure when my attitude changed. Maybe it happened during my starving college years, when I logged many miles on my feet as I lugged a backpack groaning with books around the campuses at Richland Center and Madison.
Whenever it happened - however it happened - I at long last tried cheese and discovered that, hey, it ain't bad. Now I'll even gnaw on a hunk of naked cheese, with not so much as a stale cracker to clothe the taste.
Now for the grand unveiling. The six-year-old cheddar I wrote so glowingly about was made from milk the Old Order Amish of Vernon, Monroe and Richland counties ship to their own Old Country Farmers' Cooperative. The cheese is made by K&K Cheese and is available at a store named Old Country Cheese. The factory and store are in the same building, just south of Cashton, Wis., on County Road D in northern Vernon County.
I don't know whether it's the freshness of the milk, what the cows eat, or the fact that they're milked by hand. I do know that the pound of six-year-old cheddar I bought a couple of weeks ago is bursting with flavor.
Famous Dave, the owner of the restaurant chain of the same name, is fond of using this description for great-tasting food: "It's a mouthful of hollers!" This cheese is most definitely a mouthful of hollers.
I have an article about the Amish co-op, the cheese factory and the store in this issue of Dairy Star. That story provides information about how to get your hands on some of that six-year-old cheddar.
And if the taste of that cheese isn't enough to prompt you to turn handsprings - or at least think about trying - get this: I paid just $7.99 for a pound.
If you're a fan of aged cheddar cheese, maybe a drive to that part of Wisconsin's Amish farming country should be on your summer to-do list.
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