MILWAUKEE - Adventuresome cheese tasters sampled 40-year-old cheddar Saturday, never batting an eye that it had been on this earth longer than some of them.
And they loved it.
"The 40-year-old was probably the highlight of my life in a while," said Ashley Mikkelson, 28, who drove with her husband, Ryan, 32, from Minneapolis for the tasting at Wisconsin Cheese Mart in Milwaukee.
The store described the vintage cheese on its website as "the oldest cheese commercially available in the world." Its rarity meant the tasting was limited and sold out — only about 15 people were able to attend.
The Mikkelsons described the taste as smooth.
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"It was creamy, it was sharp, it was real sharp," Ryan Mikkelson said.
Neither had any qualms about eating something older than them.
"Not even the slightest," said Ashley Mikkelson, who joked that she loved cheese so much she would marry it if she could.
The 40-year-old cheddar, as well as samples of a 28-year-old cheddar, were made by Ed Zahn, the former owner of Z's Cheese Shoppe in Oconto. He was at Saturday's tasting.
Zahn, 73, said he found the cheese in his walk-in cooler this spring when he was closing his store, stored in several wooden boxes and hidden from plain sight. He blamed it on a lack of space and employees who didn't notice its age.
"Truthfully it's a little embarrassing. We weren't watching our inventory," he said with a laugh.
Zahn, who got his cheesemaker's license in 1956, said he sold much of the 40-year-old cheddar at his store for over $40 a pound. But Ken McNulty, owner of the Wisconsin Cheese Mart, bought the remaining 10 pounds of the 40-year-old cheddar and 240 pounds of 28-year cheddar.
Cheese is often sold by the pound, but McNulty sold the 40-year-old cheddar for $10 an ounce so more people could have a taste. He sold 40 ounces in the first half-hour Saturday, and saved the rest he saved for four tastings.
The 28-year-old cheese was going for $48 per half-pound — he only had 100 pounds left by Saturday evening.
McNulty inspected the blocks before he bought them, not knowing what condition they might be in, he said.
"We do have some that are brown, green, blue all that stuff," he said. "It was dependent on the individual block. There are some out there that are quite repulsive."
Some blocks looked normal after he cut off the mold, he said.
Saturday's tasting also featured 1-year-old cheddar, 2-year-old cheddar and 5-year-old cheddar, all paired with beer, wine or bourbon.
Deana Dearry, 42, of Milwaukee, said she came to the tasting because she wanted to be part of a once-in-a-lifetime experience. She said it started out smooth, had a clean finish and wasn't sharp like others had said.
"The texture, there's not much moisture left in it so the texture is unique," she said. "It's a testament to how it's made to be that good."