Mixing cow, goat and sheep milk is an age-old practice in farmstead cheesemaking. Resourceful rural people always use what they have. That mindset has led to some enduring creations, like the mixed-milk robiolas of northern Italy. But today, cheesemakers are more likely to blend milks out of creative impulse, or to set a new product apart. Five years ago, Hook’s Cheese Company launched Ewe Calf to be Kidding, a three-milk recipe, to acclaim. Now Tony and Julie Hook are at it again.
The husband-and-wife cheesemakers developed Triple Play in 2014, using purchased cow, goat and sheep milk from Wisconsin farms. Tony won’t reveal the ratio, but he will say that the sheep’s milk comes from Hidden Springs Creamery (makers of Ocooch Mountain and other excellent sheep cheeses) and that the goat milk is not a huge component. “We have to stay on the lighter side on goat milk or it would overpower,” says Tony.
As an experiment, the Hooks set aside a few 40-pound rindless blocks of Triple Play for aging beyond the three to six months they were giving it. After 15 months, the blocks developed a few crystals and a Gouda-like aroma. The creamery released Triple Play Extra Innings (pictured above) last year and is ramping up production.
The Hooks make several dozen different cheeses at their Mineral Point, Wisconsin, creamery. They like mixing things up. For Triple Play, they use three different starter cultures, which I’m guessing are Swiss, Cheddar and Gouda cultures. Certainly, Triple Play exhibits characteristics of all three, and Tony acknowledges using a mixed-bag of techniques. The curd isn’t handled like Cheddar, but it is washed to remove lactose, a common Gouda technique.
Buy yourself a nice chunk of Triple Play Extra Innings and turn on a ballgame. (Tony is a Brewers fan.) Firm and pale gold with faint cooked-milk and caramel aromas, the cheese breaks into Cheddar-like nuggets but has no Cheddar tang. It is sweet like a Gouda, nutty like an alpine cheese and creamy like a young Cheddar—a mellow, snackable cheese to serve with cocktails or on a cheese board with red wine. I had it for lunch with Founder’s Porter and couldn’t have been happier.
Tony’s sister, also named Julie, came up with the clever moniker during a brainstorming session. “My suggestion was Triple Threat,” says Tony, “but that’s not a good name for a cheese.”
Look for Triple Play Extra Innings in California at Big John’s Market (Healdsburg, CA); Falletti Foods and Other Avenues (San Francisco); New Moon Natural Foods (Truckee); Oxbow Cheese Merchant (Napa); Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op and Woodlands Market (Kentfield). Other retailers include Cask & Cork (Amarillo, TX); City Vineyards (Billings, MT); Fromagio’s (Anchorage); Scardello (Dallas) and The Pink House (Genoa, NV).
Cheese Class: Cheese with Chardonnay
Thursday, May 17
Trefethen Family Vineyards
1160 Oak Knoll Aveune,
Napa, CA 94558
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m
Join me on Thursday, May 17, for a rare opportunity: a chance to explore cheeses with some of Napa Valley’s most esteemed Chardonnays. You’ve probably heard sommeliers say that cheese pairs best with white wine. We’ll test that theory in this guided tasting with both young and aged Chardonnays from Trefethen Family Vineyards. Trefethen has promised to reach into its collection of prized older vintages—Chardonnays acclaimed by critics for aging gracefully. And I have just the cheeses for them! Seating is limited; reserve here.