The Lunch Packer’s Guide to a Real Food Lunch, with Nina Planck

nina_kitchen_smile_carroll_20151-702x336Back to school time is either right around the corner or right now, depending on where you live. Lunch is officially on the to-do list.

If you’re anything like us, you really (really! really!) care about food. But, your’e also too busy to spend gobs of time slaving over a hot lunchbox. Skip the same ol’ sandwiches and upgrade to these simple, nourishing, day-making delicacies.

real food cookbookNina Planck wrote the book on Real Food. Literally. Nina is a farmer’s daughter, food writer and advocate for traditional food. (Oh, and did we mention she is the wonderful wife of Murray’s Big Cheese, Rob Kaufelt?) Plus, she lives what she writes–a life of real and wonderful food. Here’s what she’s packing in her three kids’ lunch boxes this fall:

Kids need protein. Nina and Rob’s kids eat Prosciutto di Parma, made in essentially the same way since the Romans: by massaging the hind legs of whey-fed hogs (leftover from the production of Parmigiano Reggiano) with salt, washing, then dry-aging the meat for 10-12 months, and sometimes even longer. The flavor is perfumy and sweet, beloved by kids and adults alike. We’re all about serving it for lunch with chunks of Pamigiano Reggiano, or pressed into panini. More of Nina’s protein-rich picks: boiled eggs and chef Amy’s egg salad, available at the Bleecker Street store.

blue_jasper_hill_bayley_hazenKids need calcium and high quality butterfat for vitamins A and D. Nina packs Swiss cheese and good Irish cheddar, Wisconsin cheese curds and Cambozola Blue or Jasper Hill Bayley Hazen with honey.

Kids need fresh fruit and veggies. Plus all this calls for a little crunch, so they eat pickles. We love Crisp and Co. pickles, which are snappy, friendly and complex enough for kids and grown-ups. Founder Thomas Peter of Hockessin, DE, uses his background — a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, a former career as a cancer researcher and passion for molecular gastronomy — to create pickle perfection.

Welcome back to fall, a new school year, and lots of real and delicious food to fuel your full and amazing life…and your kids’ minds, bodies and tummies.

For more real food inspiration, head to Nina’s site. Or better yet, read her books!

Congratulations to our New Certified Cheese Professionals + Why the Cheese Test Is A Big Deal

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Wine has sommeliers, beer has cicerones, and now…cheese has Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPs). Today we’re congratulating eight Murray’s cheese whizzes and 20 Kroger Red Jacket team members for becoming CCPs and achieving the ultimate in cheese recognition. They join four Murray’s folks and 20 Kroger employees who hold this distinguished standing…for a total of 52 CCPs in our Murray’s community.

“The opportunity to work with and learn from who I consider to be the best minds in cheese today has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me,” says Connor Pelcher, who works in our Wholesale department and just got the news of his CCP status. (Congrats, Connor!).

The exam was first given in 2012, and it reflects a recent groundswell of professionalism in our world – cheese land. According to a 2012 report from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade, cheese is the largest specialty food category in the US. Murray’s is at the forefront of establishing, growing and supporting a career path (a multitude of career paths!) in cheese.

“The ACS CCP Certification is a mark of excellence and achievement that reflects a commitment to the best possible care for cheese and service to those that love it,” says the American Cheese Society. Passing the American Cheese Society’s CCP exam is no small feat. Before being allowed to sit for the exam, cheese people must have 4,000 hours of work and/or formal education in the cheese-field under their belt.

ACS_CCPE-logo_Final_smallThen, they’re tested for three hours on the ins and outs of all things cheese: chesemaking and aging, storage and handling, nutrition, history, distribution, categorization…whew. It’s a rigorous test of cheese knowledge across all areas of our field. This is the very highest standard for cheese professionals.

“When I started on the counter at Murray’s 25 years ago, the job of cheesemonger didn’t formally exist,” says Rob Kaufelt, Murray’s Owner and President. “And if it did, it was certainly not at the level of a butcher, let alone a chef or sommelier. That is, we were not a profession at all back then. Now I’m proud to say that Murray’s, with the help of the ACS and Kroger supermarkets, is well on its way to establishing a proud, new, traditional line of work in the food industry. We are leading the country toward a new and respected profession with a formal certificate of recognition.”

I feel connected to a larger community of cheese nerds like myself,” says Summer Babiarz, one of Murray’s wonderful trainers and part of the newest class of designated CCPs. “Plus, it’s fun to learn things you don’t know.”

“It will be nice for people to have a more systemized way to learn their industry, rather than getting their info from word of mouth,” Summer says. We’re proud of instructing and empowering passionate, knowledgeable and inspiring cheese professionals – by the end of this year, we will have 3,000 Red Jackets in 250 stores around the country. We’re deeply committed to spreading the curd, and supporting and training those who make it their life’s work to do so.

“I truly hope that I am able to pass down what I’ve learned to our next generation of CCPs with as much grace and passion as my peers have shown me,” Connor says. Congratulations to the new CCPs, and best of luck to our many, many future cheese stars.




The Badass Buffalo Brothers: Bruno & Alfio Gritti Make Beautiful Buffalo Milk Cheese

baby buff cheesesBruno and Alfio Gritti grew up on a dairy farm—a cow dairy farm— near Bergamo, in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. It was their dad, Renato Gritti, who founded the dairy in 1968. In 2000, “we made a conscious decision to change something big,” said Bruno Gritti, who came to hang out with Murray’s on Bleecker Street and taste his buffalo milk beauties with us.

And so: water buffalo! The brothers bought 40 fine animals from a neighboring farm, and Caseificio Quattro Portoni as we know it today was born. The transition was a long, arduous process. “First we had to get to know the animal,” Bruno told us. Buffalos give six or seven liters of milk a day, in comparison to the cow’s 28. Buffalo is “a poor animal,” Bruno said. And yet buffalos live about twice as long as cows. “The buffalo is a work animal, a hearty animal, an animal that doesn’t require a lot.”


Today, the brothers’ herd numbers a thousand. For a time, Bruno and Alfio acquired more buffalo, but a thousand seemed to be the ideal number. “We rather keep the herd small, happier and healthier.” Caring for buffalo is a costly process. They eat a GMO and soy free diet, with lots of fresh hay and sorghum. The animals need a lot of TLC.

All the work is worth it. The herd’s milk is wildly sweet, rich, and delicate. There’s an abundance of casein, fat, and protein, and no carotene, so the color of the cheese is super white and nearly translucent.

In Southern Italy, fresh buffalo milk cheeses like mozzarella and stracciatella are ubiquitous and beloved. But in Lombardy, in the North, the cheese tradition is a vastly different animal (pun intended). Grana Padano, Gorgonzola, and Taleggio (cow’s milk, cow’s milk, and cow’s milk) hail from this region.

making buff milk cheeseNo one had ever thought of making aged cheese with buffalo milk before,” Bruno said. But the Gritti brothers thought of it, and we are thrilled that they did. They’ve harnessed the magical elixir that is their highest quality buffalo milk and turned it into nearly twenty gorgeous, unique cheeses, many inspired by the time-honored cheeses of their region. Behold, brilliant innovation meets tradition. The result: truly fantastic cheese. 

Sound easy? Not so much. Everything about making buffalo milk cheese is different than making cheese from cow’s milk: “different temperature, different rennet, different recipes.” It took the Grittis years and years of work, sweat and tears to land upon recipes and processes that produce incredible, original cheeses. And like all serious cheesemaking, crafting these goodies requires an epic amount of precision, dedication and effort.

brie_creamy_casatica_di_bufalaMaking cheese, like caring for buffalo “is all in the small details,” Bruno says. With an eye towards detail and deliciousness, they’ve created these life-changing treats:

Casatica di Bufala

This soft-ripened stracchino-style is a zaftig, custardy little beauty, barely restrained by its bloomy rind. Its rich and creamy, which means you want something bubbly & acidic. Prosecco fits the bill nicely.

stinky_quadrello_di_bufalaQuadrello di Bufala

The Gritti bro’s update on a classic Lombardian Taleggio recipe. It combines the borrowed recipe with something old and something new to create something distinctly buffalo. Creamy, sweet, and robustly pungent, after a round in our own caves there’s plenty of salt, mushroom funk and tang. A perfect match with a hefty Barbera. blue_blu_di_bufala


Blu di Bufala

Say ”Yes!” to decadence. This high-fat (like half-and-half), high-style (cube-shaped) cheese uses an ancient recipe that lends an ever-changing texture to their wheels, but their attention to detail consistently results in superbly aged cheeses. We age each wheel to buttery perfection and to punchy blueing that keeps us coming back for more. For snacking, salads and topping crostini. Perfect with Moscato d’Asti.

Dispatches from Cheese Camp, Part Six: Cheese Superfan Number One

tastingIt is not always easy to explain to everyone why you are so passionate about cheese. In fact, sometimes you are hit with a blazing moment of clarity that most people go whole days, weeks even months without really considering this culinary miracle. Friends politely nod their head while you work into a lather over the place of wooden boards in aging facilities. Siblings smirk lovingly as the beloved processed cheese casseroles are slowly replaced by raw milk farmstead cheeses. Parents scratch their heads and admit defeat over ever being able to predict anyone’s career path. Husbands and kids lovingly support you as you nervously flip through CCP Exam flashcards.

Cheese folk of all kinds typically work long hours, many weekends, evenings and almost no one gets rich. So why do it? Yes we love cheese- of course! But hey- I love potato chips too. It goes a little deeper for most people. When I really think about it, I love being part of something bigger- a better connection to food. I have this faith that if we all connected more to our food we would be happier, more responsible and have better lives.

IMG_5509Meeting cheesemakers at American Cheese Society for people like me is kind of like a 14 year old kid being let lose backstage at a concert. You have known their names, farms, animal breeds, herding practices and product lines. You talk about them all day to thousands of customers a year. So when Allison Hooper from Vermont Creamery is just sitting at a table checking her email or Andy Hatch is buying a cup of coffee next to you- its pretty easy to feel like fanning out like the David Bowe superfan from Almost Famous.

Of course from their perspective they are up to their necks in milk and cheese all day in a place beautiful but remote. So the idea of being a rockstar is a bit hilarious and I’m sure even a little unnerving. But in a culture that really seems to keep getting something out of the contributions that Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump this is comforting. I love that there is a place where Jasper Hill and Consider Bardwell are “trending”. I love that there exists a little tiny curd nerd community in which something that you make with your hands that feeds people makes you a celebrity.

From now on when people wonder how I could love cheese so much I can just say “Hey I met the lady that made this”. Yep- that will be a lot easier- thanks ACS and Murray’s!

Dispatches from Cheese Camp, Part Two: Cheese Camp is the Best Camp

photo 2The theme of this year’s American Cheese Society conference, held annually in the hottest part of midsummer in a slew of rotating small cities across America, was Cheese Camp.

A wink and a nod to the affectionate nickname used by many to describe this weeklong coming together of friends industry-wide, mixed with a hefty dose of the nostalgia associated with that childhood escape to the woods in the summer, Cheese Camp 2015 made it official. A giddy, dizzying deep dive into the world of American cheese in all forms and fashions, this was a time focused on—in fact, heralded in the tagline for the conference itself—our community.

photo 3 (1)Cheese people are funny. I don’t doubt that many industries have their own quirky qualities and cast of characters, but I truly believe that we represent the most colorful of them, all passionate and geeky and whip-smart and party animals. It never ceases to amaze me how multifaceted our crew is, able to shift, chameleon-like, from early morning sessions with the FDA—the Goliath to our David of small artisans hell-bent on protecting their traditions—to a deep dive into the microbiological similarities of those happy, fuzzy molds that grow on the rinds of our beloved bloomy cheeses with mushrooms—complete with a fungal tasting indeed—to the pink-lit, swampy-hot karaoke rooms of a local, trendy hotel—cheesemakers, importers, mongers, and skeptical onlookers alike belting out their favorite 80s power ballads. (Note to Northeastern readers: should you find yourself in Providence, get thee to the Boom Box at the Dean Hotel. Order a cat-shaped tiki drink. Sing. Repeat. You’ll thank me.)

As a co-chair of the conference this year, I spent Saturday night winding down with other coordinators and American Cheese Society staff. We agreed this year had been better than ever, undoubtedly—hopefully!—what we’ll say each year, but all muddling why this year felt so spot-on. For some, it was the educational seminars. For others, the number of new attendees adding new energy and drive to the industry, and shepherding in a new generation of future cheese rock stars.

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For me, it was the insane energy of my week, packing each day with setting up our truly badass cheese truck—perhaps the first pop up shop on wheels—educating our nearly 60 students from across the country, preparing to take the Certified Cheese Professional exam, speaking on a panel in a seminar on careers in this industry I hold so dear, and heading daily into the constant meet-and-greet of seeing 1200 of your favorite caseophiles. But for all, it was this celebration of community, woven together like a camp lanyard from the many people who gather and eat and learn and teach and discuss and argue and drink, all tied by—quite frankly, we think the coolest thing to hold people together— cheese. 

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As a child, I would spend my summers at camp among the pine trees and clear lakes of Maine. After several weeks of rec hall theatre, bug juice and arts and crafts, I would say goodbye to friends seen only once a year and promptly burst into exhausted tears for the long drive home. My mother would dutifully listen to story after story of the fun I had and gossip that meant nothing to her, patient and indulgent of my emotional response to leaving this magical place. Leaving Cheese Camp felt the same, and I found myself hugging colleagues and new friends tightly as I slipped away on Sunday morning, unwilling to shed a tear, but instead looking ahead to the next summer, and hoping Des Moines in 2016 can handle this bunch.