We know that the world of cheese can be pretty daunting: so many different styles and types, not to mention different countries of origin. This nifty map from Smithsonian is an amazing tool to help discover the world of cheese, for novice and curd nerds alike! While it’s no surprise that France is the largest consumer of cheese, did you know that the US is by far the largest producer!? In Mauritania, Camel cheese is all the rage, while in the Philippines, fresh Buffalo milk is the curd of choice. You learn something new every day!
We’ve all been there, keeled over in a pool of our own regret, shame, and poor decisions. A debaucherous lifestyle comes with a hefty price tag. Working in the cheese biz, we’ve known for a long time that a little hunk of queso can do wonders for the wrath of the worst hangover, and the fine folks at Vice explain why cheese makes such a great hangover cure:
Cheese is filled with all kinds of great things: calcium, enzymes, protein; it has the incredible property to coat things, so it soothes your tummy. Cheese is made of milk, and milk is good for you (it helps strengthen your bones and all that jazz). Good quality dairy comes from happy animals whose rich, liquid lovin’ is the base of the best stuff out there. Cows give forth some incredibly buttery and sweet milk, so cheese developed from cow’s milk can become all nutty and caramel-y. Think aged Gruyere or Comté. Goats have that lush, tangy, slightly barny milk that can develop into a rich, petting-zoo-esque floral creation like the famed Crottin or St. Maure. Sheep have the fattiest and flintiest milk out there and can create some great, wooly, slightly floral treats like the incredible Abbaye de Belloc or Ossau Iraty. Buffalo give forth a yogurt-y, tangy, ultra fatty milk that screams to be pulled out into some fresh mozzarella, all creamy and seductive.
So, next Saturday morning when you’re trying to piece together the long string of mistakes you made the night before, get down to Murray’s and grab yourself a wedge. We get it, you’re hungover…we probably are, too.
By: Lizzie Roller
Most people know that Murray’s has caves where we age a wide variety of cheeses. But we would bet that only a few people really know what’s going on back there. So we talked to the man behind the curtain: Brian. He’s our cavemaster, and he’s here to tell you a little bit more about Murray’s caves, the 3 most important types of mold, and why patience is the greatest of all virtues (when it comes to aging cheese, that is).
Mold and Bacteria Farmers
Meet Brian, Murray’s Cavemaster—or, in his words—a mold and bacteria farmer. His day consists of a lot of ritual, mostly comprised of repetitive tasks that are a mix of old-world traditions and modern technology. Brian’s primary job is to maintain the cheese at its highest level. This encompasses patting and flipping the bloomies, washing the alpines and stinkers, flipping and brushing the natural rinds and, in general, cleaning the space and making sure everything is in tip top form. The timing of all of these activities is super important as well. The end goal of all these tasks is to keep the rinds happy, which is not as simple as it might seem.
Sadly this is not an actual type of mold. But there are tons of different molds that make up the micro flora of our caves: Sporendonema Casei, Chrysosporium Sulfereum and Geotrichum Candidum are just a few that help make our cheeses what they are. We dare you to say all of those five times fast! Brian’s favorite, the S. Casei, is a naturally occurring mold that is bright orange and brings with it flavors of damp forest and fresh mushroom.
Brian stresses that affinage (the technical and French word for the aging or refining of cheeses) is a balancing act between art and science…or sciart. Brian explains that tasting the developing flavors all day and associating them to molecules and compounds can be very interesting. But at the end of the day you want to be moved by the product both emotionally and intellectually.
While most mongers would claim picking a favorite cheese to be a super hard task, our cave guru was able to make it happen. Brian equates this task to picking a favorite child…aaaaaand then he proclaimed that Greensward (our Cavemaster Reserve cheese created especially for New York City restaurant Eleven Madison Park) had stolen his heart. He loves it for the texture, flavor, and complexity. As he says, “his cheese is not only fantastic by itself, but can make any pairing look and taste good. Emotionally, working with it has had its up and downs, but totally worth it!”
My Day Job is Real, Darn it!
We asked Brian about misconceptions people have with their jobs, and he pointed to the issue of affinage. What’s the issue of affinage? Brian explained that to him, a cheese cave should be built with the intention of a) maturing a product from a young age until it is almost ready for sale or b) enhancing the overall quality of the product if it already is somewhat matured. He explains that “the reality is that some caves are better set ups than others; some people say they have caves but are really just show rooms.”
Soooooo, What Do You Do?
Reactions when these Brian explains his job to others run from the mundane (“Cool…”) to the absurd (“So, you’re like a Cheese Warden? Like, you fondle rinds all day?”).
Above All Else
Working in the caves is a workout, a physically demanding job that at the end of the day leaves you reeking of cheese (Wondering what that smells is on the subway? Stop looking around, it’s you). But the one thing Brian says is the most important, as well as the hardest part of the his job, can be summed up in one word: PATIENCE.
Ed note: Loyal blog readers may remember this story from Hanukkah 2013. We’re republishing it this year because…well, because it’s an amazing story of how cheese saved the day, and we can’t get enough of those.
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the “Festival of Lights” better than a big old wedge of curd. Every year, I make the schlep down to south Florida where the whole family gathers to enjoy a week of family time and fried food. And every year I brave the death-stares of fellow travels as I stink up the 3 hour flight with an insane amount of cheese stashed in my carry on. Although in my house I can’t guarantee that these treats will make it 8 days…48 hours would be a real miracle.
Until recently, I didn’t know that cheese, at one time, was part of traditional Hanukkah food celebrations. And just like any food tradition in the Jewish faith, there is a neat little story that will help us rationalize 8 days of gorging ourselves on some fantastic fromage. While this part of the Hanukkah story has become mostly forgotten in modern culture, it’s a great tale of heroism and the perfect excuse to munch on some curd, or gift a little wedge. It goes something like this:
Judith was a strikingly beautiful widow from the town of Bethulia in sixth century BC Israel. Her community came under siege, and annihilation looked inevitable. That is, until Judith came to the rescue. She put together a spread of wine and cheese and entered the enemy camp. The leader, Holofernes, was so smitten by her beauty, he couldn’t resist her offering of ripe cheese and intoxicating wine. He got bombed. I mean really, really drunk, like me at any Bar Mitzvah I have attended in the last 6 years. He was so wasted that Judith reacted in the most natural of ways: she stole his sword and cut of his head.
Jewish heroines really know how to bring the badass.
While this story takes place centuries after the Maccabees and their “Miracle of Light”, for many years it was incorporated into the Hanukkah celebration. Judith’s heroism was celebrated along with the Maccabees victory as an example of the perseverance of the Jewish people. But stories and cultures are not static, and this exciting tale has slowly been abandoned for the the modern Hanukkah story and celebration.
So, now that you know that it is not only acceptable, but encouraged that you get some cheese for Hanukkah, you might want a few suggestions for the platz-worthy wedge. The time and location that Judith’s story takes place would undoubtedly be a land full of goat and sheep milk cheeses. Allison Hooper, from Vermont Creamery, is what many consider the heroin of American goat cheese. She has helped to create the American market for goat cheese, and explored techniques and methods that have helped shaped a quality driven landscape of cheesemakers across the United States. Try some velvety and tangy Coupole or some fudgy and lemony Torus (and a dollop of their Crème Fraîche is a wonderful substitute for sour cream with your latkes). Nutty and grassy Ossau Iraty with a schmear of Seashore Honey will drive your great-aunts taste buds mashugganah, and a beautiful wheel of Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower will insure your eternal reputation as a real mensch.
One final piece of interesting cheese and Hanukkah knowledge. You know those potato latkes that Bubbie spends all day frying up? Potatoes were not brought over to Europe until the colonization of the American continent, but Jews had been making fried latkes for centuries. Guess what the original latke was made of? You guessed it…CHEESE!
Regardless how you celebrate Hanukkah this year, Murray’s hopes it is a fun and full of friends and family. Here is to the festival of lights, and really good cheese! L’chaim, y’all!