By Andrée Kosak, Trumps Catering
Imagine yourself in a country store during the first part of the 20th century. A bell over the door jingles as you cross the dusty threshold and walk to the dairy counter. You are here to purchase a half pound of cheese for a vegetable casserole you plan to serve for dinner tonight. The grocer positions a wheel of red rind hoop cheese on a cutting counter. He made the cheese himself using fresh cow’s milk. He carefully slices off a wedge of dense, yellow cheese and wraps it in wax paper for you to take home and prepare before it spoils. For those of you who grew up in the Southeastern part of the United States during the first half of the 20th century, this scene may sound familiar.
Drive down any South Georgia backroad and you may luck across a roadside stand selling hoop cheese. Once a pantry staple in the Deep South, hoop cheese is nearly impossible to find in today’s large chain grocery stores. Next time you find yourself passing a roadside stand or near your local Stripling’s General Store, we encourage you to stop in and experience this southern delicacy for yourself.
Hoop cheese is a traditional farmer’s cheese, crafted by pressing the whey out of fresh cottage cheese curds and then forming the mixture in a round mold and preserving it in hardened wax. What sets hoop cheese apart from other firm cheeses is that it contains no salt, meaning it is best served fresh and spoils quickly. Across the Southern states, hoop cheese is considered a firm cheese and is noted for its pronounced, slightly nutty flavor and the creamy texture it lends to casseroles. Great for both snacking and cooking, hoop cheese is typically offered in two varieties, mild (red wax rind) and sharp (black wax rind).
From the early 1900s to late 1950s, hoop cheese was retailed at most grocery stores across the South, cut from the wheel and sold by the pound. During the mid-20th century, big corporate cheesemakers attempted to mechanize the hoop cheese-making process to mass produce it but found themselves unsuccessful. The cheese lacked the appropriate flavor and texture and spoiled too quickly to transport. As a result, hoop cheese never made it to the shelves of today’s large chain grocery stores. Although it decreased in availability, hoop cheese remained a popular product with the generations that grew up with it.
Lucky for us, determined artisans have managed to keep the hoop cheese making tradition alive. Here at Stripling’s General Store, we leave the cheese making up to the experts. We source our hoop cheese from artisan cheesemakers in Wisconsin. Yes, we are aware that Wisconsin is quite far from Georgia, but the Wisconsin cheese industry has an illustrious heritage of more than 160 years of superiority and expertise. Next time you pay a visit to Stripling’s, pick up some hoop cheese to take home.
Ashley Goss is a 2001 graduate UGA with a degree in Marketing. She is 3rd generation employee of Stripling’s and has been involved with the company full time as of 2005.