Dispatches from Cheese Camp, Part Four: A Girl and Her Truck (#mongeronwheels, Baby)

IMG_2328Stephany Munera, our badass Facilities Manager, had never worked a food truck before. That all changed last week at the American Cheese Society Cheese Camp in Providence, RI, when Steph spearheaded the debut of our #mongeronwheels, the Murray’s Cheese Truck, in all its cheesy glory.

Quick background: This year marks Murray’s Cheese’s 75th anniversary, and we celebrated by slinging cheese, charcuterie, melts and merch from our brand new and shiny cheese truck at ACS Cheese Camp. The American Cheese Society conference and contest is a grand celebration of all things American cheese—here’s a lowdownIMG_2318

Steph was the woman for the job. She took a crash course in all things food truck. Every morning, she woke up at the crack of dawn to get to the parking park and pick up the truck. Every single part had to be strapped down, or else it would rattle around on the roads of Rhode Island.

She drove the truck, with lots of finesse and style, to its starting point, where the Murray’s crew met her to prep for the day. Cheeses and meats had to be sliced, the grilled cheese press revved up, ice stocked, coolers refilled and the day’s goods organized and route planned. Then our team began the hard work of handing out samples, chatting cheese, and selling our delicious wares.

Sound easy? Ha! The truck was hot. So hot that “every surface was scorching.” Steph said. It was so hot that “stepping out of the truck into the 95-degree air felt cool.” IMG_2390

After a long, busy, on-her-feet, super sweaty day and night in the truck, everything had to be cleaned until it sparkled. Then Steph drove back to the parking lot (the truck’s hotel), plugged it in, checked the generator, refilled the gas and oil and emptied the 40-gallon water tank. A cheese truck is a lot of work!

Having never run a food truck before, Steph was justifiably “nervous and scared that something would go wrong.” But things went really right. “We sold a lot of melts,” Steph said, “It was a total adrenaline rush.”

“At the end of the week, I missed the truck. I had come to love it.” Steph sometimes wakes up at night, dreaming of the cheese truck. So do we. Thank you, Steph! You are a true cheese truck hero.

Dispatches from Cheese Camp, Part Three: Our Mojo

11831657_10204748218484809_8955110350048666479_nAmerican Cheese Society Cheese Camp was a great experience for me for a multitude of reasons. We got to hang with our fellow mongers in a relaxed setting focused on American cheese and the community. It did feel like summer camp in a weird way, one that involved sweating, crafts, cheese trucks and beer! I volunteered on Thursday to cut lots and lots of cheese for the cheese sale after the show on Sunday–all proceeds were donated to local charity.

My focus was on the more technical classes for affinage and food safety. Murray’s is a leader in these areas and really doing a lot to promote both. I was able to get a lot of time in with several of our producers and connect with them on our programs and our cheeses. I got the very real sense that we have our Mojo back and are well regarded amongst our peers and our producers.

We entered seven of our own CaveMaster cheeses into the judging, and sadly we did not win a single ribbon. It was nice to see our cheeses on the table at the Festival of Cheese, and we have high hopes for next year and winning some ribbons.

11702858_10153493817372010_5595037122890855136_nThe cheese truck was a challenge and a success and a buzz! It was very much like setting up a shop on wheels for a week and it was a challenge on many fronts from logistics to the incredibly high heat that the city experienced. (Editor’s note: stay tuned for more truck tales!) 

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.

Dispatches from Cheese Camp: Part One

monger on wheels

Quick editor’s note: our team came back from ACS Cheese Camp full of inspiration. This is the first in a series about our experiences and insights on ACS, the state of American cheese and more. Take it away, Lizzie! 

Every year, the American Cheese Society (ACS for short) gets together to celebrate cheese, learn and collaborate with other producers, and (perhaps most importantly) have fun. This year, the festival took place over the course of a week in Providence, Rhode Island and gave attendees the chance to head to Cheese Camp, and Murray’s showed up in full force to experience the best the industry has to offer.

Between seminars and tastings, not to mention catching up with some of our cheese friends, it was a full but fun packed week filled with standby favorites and delicious releases. Beyond the cheese itself, the festival also represents the industry’s broader commitment to education, and nothing better embodies that than the CCP (Certified Cheese Professional) exam. Similar to a master sommelier test, the exam gives the best of the best within the cheese world the chance to put all levels of their cheese knowledge to the test. Murray’s had quite a few folks take the test this year, and we’ll be sitting here with baited breath until the results are released in September!

We couldn’t talk about this year’s festival without mentioning Murray’s own Cheese Truck, which we unveiled at the festival and featured our favorite American cheeses, melts and festival swag. Plus, we were thrilled to have partnered with Rhode Island Food Bank to donate a portion of our proceeds. Good cheese, good friends and a good cause—now that’s a Camp we can get behind.

These Gorgeous Spanish Cheeses Selected by Enric Canut for Murray’s Will Blow your Mind

arzua_ulloaLet’s say you’re throwing a party. You’re planning to wow your guests with gorgeous cheeses, because you’re awesome. It’s our job to make you look great, and it’s a job we take incredibly seriously.

Our buyers constantly scour the world for wonderful, unique cheeses and other deliciousness. Their most recent trip to Spain was a gigantic win. They travelled with Spanish cheese superstar Enric Canut, who Food and Wine calls a “cheese revolutionary turned ambassador.” They came home with magnificent booty.

“After the Civil War and World War II, for a long time Spain was a very poor country,” Canut told Food & Wine. Technocrats associated with Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization that was particularly powerful under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco, required industries to work to minimum production standards. “They said, ‘We don’t need producers of 50 kilos of milk a day; you work 10,000 liters a day or you don’t work at all.”

The sad outcome: Spain’s artisanal cheesemakers went out of business, and a few went underground. Spain lost many of its beloved cheeses, and much of its deep-rooted cheesemaking tradition.

But democracy returned, and with it, the craft of making small-batch cheese. Enric Canut was very much in the center of Spain’s slow yet significant cheesy rebirth. He shepherded the return of the Catalan favorite Garrotxa, and is now a sort of spokesperson for incredible cheese being made throughout the diverse regions of Spain.

He helped introduce us to some of these beauties we brought home from Spain—Enric is also a cheese matchmaker. Some of these cheeses have never set (cheese)foot into the USA until now are not available anywhere else in the country.

All that wouldn’t be so exciting if they weren’t absolute stunners. Their flavors, textures and aromas burst with personality, funk, and love. These are the products of time, place, really hard work, and big imagination.

That character shines through on any cheese plate. Break out some marcona almonds, membrillo and crusty bread—perhaps a cold sherry and some warm friends. Life is good.

Arzua Ulloa

On the banks of the Ulluo River in Galicia, where Arzua Ulloa (pictured above) is made and loved, it is sometimes called queixo do pays, meaning “cheese of the land”. A shining example of Spain’s recent cheese renaissance, Arzua Ulloa is creamy and mild, redolent of freshly warmed cream and toasted walnuts.

Arzua Ulloa is a superstar melter. Make a no-joke grilled cheese, with or without quince paste (we vote with). Or serve with honey and marcona almonds, beside a crisp Albariño.

torta_de_cabraTorta de Cabra

Who needs subtlety? Go for this farmstead, raw milk beauty from Extremadura’s Sierra Suroeste Mountains if you like your cheese briny, goaty, walnutty and fabulously bawdy. It’s handmade and carefully aged in earthenware pots. Toast Spain and break out a cask of sherry.

 

 

 

barra_maduratBauma Madurat 

Cheese pioneer Toni Chueca put goat cheese on the Catalan culinary map with Bauma Madurat. His bright, lemony log is covered in veggie ash, and it’s genius crumbled in salads and omelets. Pop open a bottle of lively Cava, or a crisp Pale Ale.

 

 

 

mahon_meloussaMahon Meloussa

It makes perfect sense that Mahon has been made since Roman times. It’s just so lovable. Is it the balance of salt and sweet toffee? Firm texture and buttery smoothness? Its sheer tastiness?

The DOP regulations allow for a maximum of 5% sheep milk to be used—a throwback to when farmers needed to use whatever milk they had on hand. Mahon DOP Meloussa is made from 95% raw cow’s milk and 5% raw sheep’s milk, and the latter delivers just a hint of briny tang. Serve with juicy figs and a hoppy IPA.

piconPicon Bejes Tresviso

Check out how pretty this is! Piquant teal veins zigzag through Picon’s luxuriously buttery paste. It’s musty and earthy in a way only European cheeses can be—bold and balanced, salty and refined. Serve on baguette with a drizzle of honey for an elegant appetizer. Pair with sherry or tawny port for dessert.