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.

You Feta Believe It: Eat Real Greek Feta to Support Greece (And Because It’s Delicious)

greek feta
First: feta is the best. The ancient Greeks are behind the Olympics and democracy. But they’re also responsible for feta—creamy, salty, tangy goodness. A gift to salads everywhere. A summertime delight.

I’m not talking just any feta. I’m talking Real Greek Feta. Real deal feta comes with a “protected designation of origin” (POD) certification. Only 2% of feta consumed in the U.S. actually hails from Greece. The rest is made in Bulgaria, Denmark, even the USA. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with the feta wannabes. They’re often briny, yummy and satisfying.

But the real thing is singularly wondrous. Sourcing pure sheep milk directly from the ancient regions of Thessaly and Macedonia, our Greek artisans follow the original, millennia-old recipe—compressing fresh cheese curds and brining them for preservation (and welcome saltiness), then carefully aging in wooden barrels for sixty days, resulting in a decadent texture and lovely citrus notes. Thank you, Greece.

If you haven’t been hiding in a hole, you know Greece has been in a downward, unhappy economic spiral. Its economy shrunk by a quarter in the past five years, one in four Greeks are unemployed, and as of 2013, 44 percent of Greeks were living below the poverty line, writes New York Magazine.

Hard times for Greece mean hard times for feta. “Feta cheese, which is increasingly popular throughout the world, is mandated by an E.U. ruling to come from Greece,” wrote Adam Davidson from The New York Times. “Yet somehow Greece has only 28 percent of the global feta market.”

Perhaps feta is a key to Greece’s recovery of economics and morale. “The greatest returns may come from investing in things the Greeks already know how to do — no matter how distressed or unloved they have become,” says Davidson. “This could have a significant impact. Greece is a small country with 11 million people and 5 million workers. Reasonable success in a few sectors could create decent jobs and more tax revenue. Greece could start to grow again.”

watermelon salad

In the meantime, scoop up some Real Greek Feta. Maybe toss some in pasta with chicken and artichokes, or into an herb-laced omelet, or crumble with chunks of juicy watermelon for a salty-sweet delight. (Check out Leo’s watermelon and feta salad recipe. You’ll be glad you did.) Take advantage of summer’s bounty with these recipes: a strawberry spinach salad, and a feta dip to make celebrating your summer veggies feta-betta.

Buy real feta. Support Greece. Bask in summer.

Baby Spinach, Feta and Strawberry Salad

Serves: 6 – 8

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1 small shallot, minced

2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

12 cups spinach

1 quart strawberries, hulled and quartered

4 ounces Real Greek Feta

1 cup roasted almonds, or marcona almonds, chopped

  1. Stir together the mustard, honey, shallot and vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Place the strawberries, feta and almonds in a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing atop the salad, toss well and serve.

Easy Herby Feta Dip

Serves: 6 for dipping


8 ounces Real Greek Feta, crumbled

1/2 cup plain Green yogurt

1 small garlic clove

1/4 cup fresh dill

2 tablespoons chives, snipped

Freshly ground pepper

  1. Combine the feta, yogurt and garlic in a food processer and blend until smooth.
  2. Add the dill and chives and pulse until the herbs are chopped. Season to taste with pepper. Serve with veggies, crackers, toasted baguette—or slather on sandwiches.


Vermont: Land of Cheese, Promise and HAY

hay pic

Mateo, Big Cheese at Jasper Hill, is showing off his hay. We’re moved. Really.

It’s all about they hay. Hay hay hay.

On Thursday, five of us from Murray’s packed a car full of cheese and took off northward, towards Vermont. Our plan: spend time at Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery before heading to celebrate all things Vermont Cheese at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival.

The cuteness is extreme.

The cuteness is extreme.

Come Saturday, we had spent a whirlwind 48 hours driving, hanging out with so-cute-it-hurts goats and their kids and whey-eating piglets, getting up before the crack of dawn to make Rupert (ok, mostly watching the lovely cheesemakers at Consider Bardwell make Rupert), tasting through so many batches of Bayley Hazen our tongues got all tingly, walking through farms, suiting up for the caves…and eating cheese and more cheese, and then some more cheese. Some Vermont beer to watch it down. Then more cheese.

Rupert is happening! Circa 6 AM on Friday.

Rupert is happening! Circa 6 AM on Friday.

We’re all happy, excited and fired up. The postcard-worthy, saturated green landscapes of Vermont never get boring. Vermont summer is truly magnificent. At night, us city kids ogle a blanket of stars, deep quiet. At Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery the cheeseheads are so ridiculously generous with their time and knowledge that I’m inspired to be a better human being.


But hay! I digress.

Before this weekend, I spent approximately zero time thinking about hay. It was Mateo Kehler, who started and runs Jasper Hill with his brother Andy, who urged us to wake up early (so early!) and see his newest treasure: a hay drier. It didn’t really sound sexy. Sleep sounded better than a hay drier. But Mateo was pumped up, and so hay it was.

“It smells so good,” he said, that some time in and around his fragrant hay would make everyone want us. When we opened the car doors, the heady fragrance hit us. Long inhales. Like just-mown lawn and wildflowers and sunshine…it was a magic smell.


Great cheese starts with great milk. Great milk comes from happy cows. Mateo and his team at Jasper Hill have pioneered hay drying technology to feed their herd (really) well in the winter.

“The microbial quality of the milk is the sum total of all the practices on the farm,” he told us around some of his super fragrant hay. We kept sniffing. Rachel, Murray’s Cheese Bar’s cheese goddess, was getting inspired about cooking with hay. Mateo gave her a few baggies to take home. As I write, she’s experiment in the kitchen. Stay tuned.


I didn’t know hay is so hard to come by. The fields need three or four consecutive days without rain for the grass to be dry enough to gather and make hay. And cheese requires a gigantic amount of hay. One ton of hay yields about 850 pounds of milk, which makes about 100 pounds of cheese. That comes out to 20 pounds of hay for one pound of cheese.


Beautiful Bayley

Mateo’s hay drier is the first of its kind in North America. It means fields can be harvested after just two dry days, rather than four. It means he doesn’t have to rely on hay from Canada, or even worse, fermented silage, which is tough on cow tummies and makes less wonderful milk. “The health benefits for our animals are huge,” Mateo told us. “It’s about preserving the biology of grass on the field. Everything–ecology, bedding, eating, milking–everything effects the quality of the milk.”

“What we’re really doing is supporting a farm and a community. Cheese is the vehicle by which we do so.” We could feel that in Vermont. We met farmers, milkers, cheesemakers, affineurs, cheese-lovers, their family, their friends…a true community. It all starts with the hay. And these people. And their love.


Fighting the Good Fight for Raw Milk Cheese & Small Cheesemakers


“How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle famously inquired.

“Today it might be just as hard to govern the country, but it has nothing to do with cheese – because 90% of the producers have either gone to the wall or are in the hands of the dairy giants,” Ana Pouvreau and Mark Porter wrote for Newseek in their 2014 article.

A year later, the sad state of French cheese continues, perhaps even intensifies. In the motherland of bountiful, rich-historied fromage, giant companies are taking over. Small cheesemakers are vanishing, and with them, their traditions and sublime cheese. Raw milk cheese—whose flavors are more complex than their pasteurized brethren—are endangered.

Big producers “are determined to impose a bland homogeneity upon the consumer – cheese shaped objects with a mediocre taste and of poor quality because the pasteurisation process kills the product,” Véronique Richez-Lerouge, founder of France’s Unpasteurised Cheese Association, told Newseek. We at Murray’s agree.

“Just like wood is good, raw milk is too,” says Steve Millard, Murray’s VP of Merchandising. “We all generally prefer raw milk cheeses to their pasteurized impostors. What do we stand on when the name controlled protections cave and allow pasteurized versions? We support tradition, we support clean cheesemakers, and we support allowing the little guy the chance to continue making traditional raw milk cheeses.” Murray’s stands with the little guys and gals.

It’s easy to get depressed. But there is hope. Cheesemakers, mongers, and lovers are fighting the good fight. At Murray’s, we’re fighting! You’re fighting, dear raw/quality/real cheese lover, every time you take home a wheel made with two hardworking hands, and every time you care. When artisanal cheese is lovingly made and joyfully eaten, the world is a better place. Full stop.

“When people like Sébastien Paire, with his 100 sheep in the hills above Nice, continue to make fabulous cheese, there is always hope,” says a cheese shop proprietor in Cannes. Our hope comes from working with small craftsmen and women making life-changing cheese in Europe and in the USA, and spreading and seeing passion for the delicious fruits of their labor.

“Although we have little hope of ever selling young raw milk cheeses in the states, to lose the heritage in France is bad enough, and the countertrend cited should must be encouraged by mongers the world over,” says Rob, Murray’s Big Cheese. “Have I made our position clear? We stand for something, and if we water down the message enough, then we are part of the problem.”

“We shall soldier on, career artisan master cheesemongers such as myself, Matthew Rubiner of Stockbridge, Max McCalman, and Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s, and we will beat back the forces of evil via our buying power, our constant proselytizing, our data, and principally via YOU, our partners in ‘crime’,” says cheese maestro Steven Jenkins.

Soldier on with us. Celebrate Bastille Day with great cheese made by great people. Join us in the fight for cheese freedom!