Lou's chalkboard wall shows where the restaurant sources its meats and cheeeses
One of the coolest things about being a food blogger (well, besides eating lots of tacos and the occasional free artisanal chocolates) is the chance to meet people who actually create great ingredients. Thanks to the Cheese Impresario, I've been able to meet several cheesemakers, and Monday I was invited to Lou for a Slow Food-sponsored Cheesemaker's dinner with Tony and Julie Hook from Hook's Cheese Company in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. I never even liked cheddar until I tasted Wisconsin aged cheddar, and we got to sample Hook's cheddar in two dishes, and talk to Tony and Julie about how they got started making cheese.
First up were crostini made with Lou's house-cured duck ham and Hook's 12 year old cheddar, and that smoky, dense duck ham was one of the best things I've eaten in a long time, complemented by the pungent cheddar. A refreshing salad followed, with frisee, apples, walnuts and Hook's Tilston Point Blue cheese. I had never had beer and cheese soup before, but Lou's "fancy pants" version with Reinaert Wild Ale and Hook's 10 year old cheddar was a standout version, topped with 12 year Cheddar cheese popcorn -- why don't more people use popcorn in cooking? The blue cheeses continued with a Niman ranch flat iron steak with Hook's blue paradise and a Sauternes-poached pear for dessert with Hook's original blue. My favorite wine of the evening, even though I'm not normally a white lover, was the Scholium Project Gemella 2006 with just a hint of raisiny sweetness ("aroma of sticky bun," says the website).
Hook's cheeses are available at Cheese Shops of Silver Lake and Beverly Hills, Artisan Cheese in Studio City and some Whole Foods, so if you haven't had a 12 year cheddar lately, I think it's high time.
And check back with Slow Food and Lou for more artisanal producer dinners, because it's fun to meet the people who slave in humid cheese barns all day so we can eat well.