MURRAY’S CAVE AGED PROGRAM
Murray’s Cave Aged Program includes hundreds of cheeses ripened to perfection in our state-of-the-art caves. Our caves allow us to mature cheese right here in New York City, so you can enjoy our cheeses when they’re at the peak of ripeness.
For centuries, caves – being cool in temperature and high and steady in humidity – have provided an optimal aging facility for cheese. Common throughout Europe, the practice of aging cheese, was relatively unknown domestically until we built our first set of caves in 2004. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about the best methods for cheese ripening, from both our cave practices and through fostering relationships with cheesemakers and affineurs (experts in cheese aging).
Our cheese caves were built to maintain and enhance the quality of our products, though we also think of them as a representation our commitment to honoring the craft of each cheesemaker. To that end, we’ve designed each cave to ensure every wheel of cheese matures in its ideal environment. Specifically, we’ve calibrated each cave to be a chamber where temperature, humidity and microbial activity (mold, bacteria, etc.) can all be controlled and monitored with greater precision. And yes, to some degree quality control of this nature involves tasting a lot of cheese before it goes home with you – this hard effort is for quality assurance purposes, of course.
CONSTRUCTION & OPERATION OF THE CAVES
In 2004, we constructed cheese caves beneath Bleecker Street, and in 2013, we expanded our Cave Aged program to our production facility in Long Island City, which is now home to four more sizable caves and a drying room. Brian Ralph, our Cavemaster, works from both a scientific and a sensory point of view to ensure that you can tell what a difference a cave environment makes in terms of texture, aroma, and flavor.
All of our caves were designed to combine modern technology with old world knowledge. We rely on humidifiers regulated by sensors to aid in humidity retention. Our porous cement walls are breathable and work to promote each cave’s microbial community. Lastly, low velocity fans round out our caves by providing proper air flow and preventing condensation.
Let us take you on a virtual tour of our caves.
WASHED RIND CAVE
The Stink Tank
Prepare for a whole lot of funk! Murray’s washed rind room is an environment for cheese requiring a water, brine, or alcohol bath a few times each week. Most cheese in this room comes to us in an aged form and it is our job to maintain the rind development and external ripening of desired bacteria towards the paste.
These bacterial communities are primarily responsible for the ripe, pungent, meaty, unctuous smells and flavors that are exhibited by this style of cheese as a byproduct of their consumption of nutrients from the paste. By washing these cheeses with solutions made in the caves, these rinds will continue to develop such complexities in flavors, which in turn will help give each of these cheeses their own distinct taste.
Warmer temperatures in our Washed Rind Cave help the bacteria flourish, and high humidity keeps the rinds supple and delicate, as opposed to cracked and dry.
BLOOMY RIND CAVE
This cave environment is best suited to bloomy rind cheeses of various types. This may be our most meditative cave, a forest of delicate cloud-like, brainy rinds blooming right before your eyes.
Several molds and yeasts are responsible for soft-ripening the cheese in this cave. Geotrichum Candidum is off-white in color, results in a ‘brainy’ appearance, and can be found on cheeses such as those from the Loire Valley in France. Penicillium Candidum is a strain of fluffy white mold that appeara on cheeses in the same family as brie or camembert. In the case of our Caves, many of the bloomy rind cheeses arrive fresh and without a rind, allowing us to monitor mold growth in-house and develop higher quality rinds.
During the cheesemaking process, the cheese is inoculated with mold spores. We then purchase our cheese young (aka “green”) and develop the rinds in our cave by providing an optimal environment for mold to flourish. Ambient molds in the cave also help to create a signature flavor unique to Murray’s.
In addition, we monitor temperature and humidity carefully. We keep the Bloomy Rind Cave slightly cooler and drier than other caves to prevent rampant mold growth and rind slippage. If the cave is too warm or moist the molds can grow too quickly and pull away from the paste or become too thick. This environment is ideal for small format goat’s milk cheeses that are produced everywhere from France to Colorado. Our youngest and softest cheeses live here, so it’s no wonder we refer to them as our babies.
NATURAL RIND CAVE
Ahh… this is the place where natural rinds go to relax and freely express their mold tendencies.
Like the washed and bloomy caves, the natural rind cave is actively ripening cheese from the outside in. If the rinds are mottled and multicolored, this indicates spontaneous growth from a well-seasoned cave (Yep, just like a cast iron skillet). Some cheeses may be brushed to keep mold growth to a minimum, allowing internal enzymes to work on the cheese instead.
A wide and colorful variety of microorganisms can be found on the rinds in this cave: gray-brown Mucor racemosus; golden yellow Sporotrichum aureum; red-orange Oidium aurautiacum; off-white Geotrichum candidum; and blue-green Penicillium roquefortii, just to name a few.
High humidity keeps the young, developing rinds alive in the Natural Rind Cave, whereas temperature is slightly colder to ensure the cheeses do not ripen too quickly, which may cause bitterness and an ammoniated flavor.
The Gentle Giants
We’ve saved our strong, silent heavyweights for last, weighing in at anywhere from 10 to 200 pounds, our alpine cheeses are as large and majestic in size as they are in flavor. Our biggest, sturdiest wheels of cheese live here, continually wooing us with their increasingly nutty, grassy, caramelized milk traits. Imagine wooden shelves lined with mammoth wheels that only your cave masters can wrap their arms around.
The Alpine style of cheese is traditionally made at high-altitude from the milk of animals grazing on prolific pastures. For efficiency purposes, cheesemakers began making large format cheeses to reduce the number of wheels they’d eventually lug down the mountain. The daily milk was cooked in vast quantities and then pressed into large molds. Today the altitude might not always be possible, but the cheesemaking technique remains strong.
In the Alpine Cave, we nurture low moisture washed rind cheeses made to age for long periods of time. These alpine/mountain cheeses are the slowly developing cheeses; all with natural rinds, and some with oiled or bandaged coats. Depending on the time of year, this cave is home to clothbounds, larger format European wheels, and other domestic cheeses made in the alpine style.
Alpine style cheeses are usually washed at some point during the ripening process, which does directly affect flavor, as does the cloth binding on some cheeses. We wash the rinds of cheeses in this cave to keep them from drying out and cracking. The rinds are largely there to protect the cheese from moisture loss and inappropriate molds – the rinds are not as prominent in ripening as the cheeses in other caves.
The warmer temperature in the Alpine Cave helps to spur on the enzymatic action deep within the cheese, which continues to develop complex flavors over time. We can keep larger quantities of cheese here, because of this style’s extended shelf life and aging possibilities. The higher temperatures and combined with humidity create a tranquil mist in our Alpine Cave. Breathe deep and you might feel like you’re walking into a high-altitude fog blanket teeming with wild grasses and herbs.