HANNIBAL, Mo. (AP) — “It is turning out to be much bigger than I would have ever thought,” said Linda Coleberd, about the popularity of the cheese that is aged in Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal.

The cheese is produced at Heartland Creamery at Newark in northeast Missouri. After being aged in the cave, it is returned to Heartland for packaging as Mark Twain Cave Aged Cheese and nationwide distribution.

The cave is a perfect place to age cheese, Coleberd said, because “it is absolutely perfect temperature and it is constant temperature.” The cave temperature remains at 52 degrees.

Coleberd, the owner of Mark Twain Cave, first heard about cave-aged cheese at a cave convention.

After mentioning this idea to operators of Heartland Creamery, she received a positive response and was soon working with them to determine the best location in Mark Twain Cave to use.

For aging the cheese, she explained, “there is a stainless steel metal box that has just electricity for lights. It is the ambient temperature of the cave that chills that stainless steel box.”

The location is not along the route of cave tours, she added. “People touring the cave do not see where we age it.”

The cheese is transported to and from Hannibal without any handling by the cave personnel, she said. “I do not touch it. They bring it down and let it age at least 31 days to be called aged, and they transport it back to Heartland for packaging and distribution.”

Both cow cheese and goat cheese are aged in the cave, and the cows are all fed naturally, she said. “It does not have hormones or any artificial preservative.”

Out of the types and flavors that are available, Coleberd chose white cow cheddar as her favorite, reporting, “It is rich tasting and good.”

“I have cow cheddar and goat cheddar and spreadable goat cheese called chevre in four different flavors,” Coleberd reported.

The goat cheese flavors are natural, cranberry pecan, herb and honey almond.

The cave-aged cheese is sold in 192 stores nationwide, she said. However, in Hannibal it is sold exclusively at Mark Twain Cave.

The nearest location to Hannibal is in St. Louis, where it is available at Schnucks and Dierbergs stores. “And it will go to Costco before long,” she added.

At the cave, “it is a very good seller,” Coleberd said. “We have had very good response. We have had it since Memorial Day weekend.”

Hannibalians do not always go to the cave to take home this special cave-aged cheese, if they attend Hannibal Cavemen home games at Clemens Field (the Cavemen are a summer college baseball team).

As a fan and supporter of the Cavemen, Coleberd said that at each home game she provides four chunks of cheese to be given to people attending.

“Pebbles and Bamm Bamm throw out Mark Twain Cave Aged Cheese to the crowd after the coach determines the two picture-perfect plays.” Why cheese? “Because they say cheese when pictures are taken.”

© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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