- Elizabeth Gomez
- 40-year-old cheddar
That’s all Ed Zahn had to say about the taste of his 40-year-old cheddar that was sold like a precious metal yesterday at the Wisconsin Cheese Mart in Milwaukee—the oldest commercially available cheese in the world, while it lasted.
Mart owner Ken McNulty put it a different way. “It’s definitely an extreme food. It’s barely edible.” He wasn’t criticizing. He was trying to sell the stuff, after all. He just meant that the concentrated sharpness of the 40-pound block that had been aging in the back of a cooler in Oconto, Wisconsin, since the Nixon administration could only be taken in small doses.
Zahn, 73, made the cheese, along with a batch that’s now 28 years old, while he was working at a now defunct cheese company. Later, when he ran his own shop in Oconto, the plastic-encased cheese housed in wooden boxes got pushed to the back of a cooler and forgotten. This year he was in the process of shutting the place down when he rediscovered the boxes—along with a 34-year-old batch—and began quietly selling it off to locals. His son then contacted McNulty, who bought the whole lot of it.