Hoop cheese is a simple, traditional cheese made only from milk, where the whey has been totally pressed out. It differs from traditional farmer's cheese in that that it contains no cream and salt. The cheese is placed in a round mold called a hoop and is sold in the form of large wheels coated with red wax. Basically, it's a mild type of cheddar cheese and is sold fresh in a semisoft condition. Sometimes, the cheese is allowed to age a bit to increase its firmness.
It used to be a staple in southern cuisine in the United States but is difficult to find commercially for a variety of reasons. First, it's hard to automate the manufacturing process. It also spoils very fast and isn't as flavorful when compared to other cheeses available. In earlier times, it was made far more than other types of cheese, but at present, it can only be found in small grocery shops, restaurants, and gas stations in the southern part of the United States. Often, the farmer or grocer makes it at the back of the store and sells the cheese fresh off the wheel.
Typically, hoop cheese keeps for about a week or two, so grocers try to sell it as fast as possible. Additionally, cutting the cheese off the wheel increases the surface area exposed to air, which reduces its spoilage time. It was such a fast-selling item in the late 19th century that cheese makers created a special hoop cheese cutter just to slice it up. The cutter takes the form of a turntable and has a knife attached to it. Companies used to make this cutter to be able to allow sellers to cut out the exact amount of cheese requested by the customer.
Connoisseurs recommend eating hoop cheese at room temperature. It's a mild cheese that's slightly rubbery when fresh but becomes more crumbly and sharp in texture if allowed to age. It has a rich, yellow color and a nutty flavor that's also subtle, making it an excellent cooking ingredient. Some cooks use hoop cheese to give a creamy texture to cheese-based dishes without increasing the flavor of it sharply or making the dish more sticky. It tastes great on crackers or with fruits, and some use it to make grilled sandwiches or staple dishes like macaroni and cheese.
This cheese has very little moisture, so it ages well if allowed to. To age this cheese, the wedges should be vacuum sealed and kept in the refrigerator. If a whole cheese wheel is aged, there's no need to vacuum seal it because the wax coating keeps all the bacteria out. The cheese develops a sharper flavor after about three months. Hoop cheese can still be found at present in farmer's markets and out-of-the-way locations in the south — the practice of eating it is kept alive solely through tradition.