Holland: the Land of Tall People and Bountiful Cheese


Note: We’re cheese people, not doctors, but we have a deep conviction that cheese is healthy. More and more, science is backing us up. This is our first in a series on why eating cheese is good for you. (The delicious part needs no proof.) 

The Dutch are the world’s tallest nation. They are also serious cheese-eaters. Coincidence? Maybe not.

“In a typical year, the average Dutch person consumes more than 25% more milk-based products than their British, American or German counterparts,” the BBC reports. “Dutch cattle produce more than 12 million tonnes of milk each year and some 800,000 tonnes of cheese – more than twice as much as the UK.” Pretty impressive for a country with a population of about one sixth of the UK’s.


Cheese is at the heart of Holland’s culture. The Dutch have been making cheese since pre-Christian times. Hundreds of years ago, an enormous amount of resources and effort were spent digging canals and  draining bogs in order to turn Holland’s marshy, wet land into livable, workable soil. By the Middle Ages, cheesemaking flourished, especially in towns like Gouda and Edam. Lush grass, temperate conditions, and all of that blood, sweat and tears created fertile pastures ideal for grazing cows. Milk flowed. And the best way to preserve sweet milk? Make cheese!

The Dutch didn’t just make cheese, they packaged, marketed and exported their bounty. In Cheese and Culture, Paul Kindstedt calls Holland “cheese provisioner of all Europe.” The country’s cheesemakers “created new markets for their cheeses through entrepreneurial innovation.” The nation has long ranked among the top exporters of cheese in the world- The Netherlands exported $4.5 billion of cheese in 2014.

But what stays at home is beloved and feasted upon. “These days, the average Dutchman is more than 6 ft tall, and the average Dutch woman about 5 ft 7in. The Dutch have gone from being among the shortest people in Europe to being the tallest in the world,” says the BBC. Of course, non-cheese factors matter, too. Holland is a wealthy country with fantastic healthcare and great overall nutrition. But then, there’s cheese.

(P.S. Inspired by the cheesefruits of Holland? Dig into some crystallized, butterscotchy Roomano, or sweep sheep’s milk Gouda.)


Passion, Tradition & Love of Cheese: Stories of Italian Cheesemakers

Quick editor’s note: our team came back from Italy full of inspiration. This is the first in a series about our experiences and insights on our Italian adventures, findings, cheese and more. Take it away, Andrea! 

Italians are very proud of their cheese and rightly so, for it is treasured throughout the world.  But their pride doesn’t come with arrogance, but rather a passion for carrying out tradition and history of their beloved country.  After spending a few days traveling throughout Italy, it was clear that Italian cuisine was full of history.  I was awe-inspired by cheesemakers who shared their stories with me.  Stories, about the passion, tradition, and of course… love of cheese!

From Finance to Formaggio

“I believe in Italy” cheesemaker Guido Pallini exclaimed when I asked him what he loved most about working on his family farm in the Maremma region in Tuscany.  After leaving his job as an investment banker in London, Pallini made a decision to return to his roots at the family livestock farm, a business of breeding water buffalo for milk production and farming land to grow crops.  Pallini had a vision of turning this quickly declining livestock farm into a cheese making business.  Integrating other activities into their operation would help make the family business more sustainable.

DSC_0815_blog5Today, La Maremmana is a fulling functioning cheese factory of buffalo milk cheese made solely from the milk of their livestock.  From Mozzarella di Buffala to Burrata to fresh Ricotta, Pallini’s dream of saving the family business came true.  “I felt a responsibility to support a community that was generations old.”  It’s easy to taste his passion and love in his cheese; unmistakably rich, delicate and full of flavor.


Guido Pallini isn’t stopping there.  He is also experimenting with a few “non-typical” cheeses to Tuscany with the hopes encouraging his local customer base to explore new and exciting cheeses, like Blu del Granduca and Gran Gessato Maremmano.  He’s also using the milk of his livestock to create beauty products!


With a full stomach and a sample of his new buffalo milk haircare product (a new business venture Pallini is working on) I was off to the next interview, full of inspiration about the love and passion of keeping Italian tradition alive!



The Head, the Hands & the Heart

Eros Buratti has dedicated his life to bringing his community extraordinary cheese.  Working as the local stagionatura (ager) at La Casera, his small family-run cheese shop in the Piedmont region of Italy, Buratti focuses on collecting, aging and retailing regional cheeses.  For over seventeen years he has brought exceptional cheese to his community.  I was honored to taste through his creations during my travels and get a deeper understanding of his passion, love and philosophy of cheese!


Cheese making, Buratti explained, is all about purpose.  Without a purpose there is no need to create.  His desire to create new, delicious cheese comes directly from the feedback he gets from the people who eat it and he is personally invested in creating unique cheese for all to enjoy.  “I make cheese that I like. That the people will like. I will always listen to them.”  The choices he makes in aging & collecting cheese are based on the community, one that is deeply rooted in Italian tradition.


At last, it was time to taste through his amazing cheese. The most memorable for me was his collection of Robiola, a classic Italian soft-ripened cheese of the Stracchino family, all of which were different.  I have tasted this cheese before, but this was so much fuller of purpose.  As we ate each cheese, Buratti explained how one of his workers from Gambia hand-wrapped each of the Robiola in fig, chestnut or cabbage leaves, making each a different and special.  He explained that this man came from a hard life and through the education of cheese making; he has made his life better.  “Cheese making is not just about the business, it is about putting the head, the hands and the heart into what you are creating.”  The head: to think about what it is you are trying to create, the hands: to make the cheese itself, and the heart: to put passion, love and purpose into what you are doing.  His words were inspiring.  As I was finishing up the interview and saying my goodbyes to Eros, thanking him for the truly memorable experience, he introduced me to the man who hand-wrapped the cheese.  He repeated Buratti’s words, “the head, the hands and the heart” and I will remember that advice forever!


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.