Straight Outta Comté: A Glimpse Into the Jura

By Amanda Parker

How much moo could a moo-cow moo, if a moo-cow could MOO MOO?

It’s June in eastern France, and I’m the outcast in a group of San Francisco-based food and wine journalists.  Upon arrival in Geneva, Switzerland, we immediately cross the border and begin the winding roads up, over the mountains, into the department of Franche-Comté, and more specifically, into the land of the Jura.   We are in the heart of the land of Comté, here to learn about this very specific and special cheese.

Those in the know speak about Comté with reverence, and, I’ve begun to realize, the rest of us maybe just don’t get it.  I certainly didn’t.  As someone whose knowledge of cheese is broad and horizontal, the idea of this level of concentrated focus on one cheese was, frankly, hard to understand.  How could any one cheese attract a following to the extent of Comté? 

I get it now.  This cheese isn’t just a cheese.  It’s history, of a people and of a land, and it represents a symbiotic relationship—brotherhood, really—that relies on each part of the cycle in order to move forward, and continue this cycle into the future.  The word that keeps coming up is solidarity, and it’s this idea of a shared purpose that unites farmer, cheesemaker, affineur, marketer, retailer—this love of a cheese that propels them together, shoulder to shoulder, in solidarité.

As I tromp through fields of tall, towering yellow buttercup-like flowers, grasses of all kinds, and purple clovers, I understand the diversity of this region and its deep, powerful sense of terroir.  As I follow a proud, aging cheesemaker and his next-generation cheesemaking son through a milking parlor, taste their raw milk, and eat a homemade cookie in their garden while sipping local sparkler Cremant du Jura, I understand the people and their pride.  As I watch the rigorous, constant process of turning milk to curd to cheese, I understand dedication.  And as I think of wheel upon wheel of this one, beloved cheese, sitting on shelf after shelf, being taken care of for month after month as it ages, I understand patience and the quest for perfection.

The magic of cheese is its ability to not only taste like the best thing we’ve put in our mouths, but also the way it transports us with one bite.  It’s the story that each wheel tells, of its origin and people and hard work it took to get it to us, and how knowing this story makes a bit even better.  I am fortunate to see it first hand, and will remember it when I share this with others.  As Max, a young guy about to inherit his father’s dairy farm, shared with us over cherries he climbed a tree to pick, with his mother and father listening quietly, “I hope when you return home, when you taste Comté, you will remember, and you will enjoy it even more.  You will remember being here.  That’s Comté.”

All of the Comte.

Knock on Wood: The FDA vs. Traditional Affinage

Never a dull moment in cheeseland! We’re still recovering from last week’s roller coaster ride; from the FDA’s pronouncement that wooden boards used to age cheese are unsanitary, to the overwhelming backlash from cheesemakers and lovers alike (#SaveOurCheese became the ubiquitous rallying tag on social media), and the final two-part denouement, with the FDA’s first and second retreat (aka “clarifications”)– we’ve been on the edge of our tuffets.

Here are some facts, as quoted by The American Cheese Society:

– Almost 75% of cheese producers in the three largest American producer states age at least some of their cheeses on wood.
– Over 65% of ACS cheesemakers surveyed use  wood for aging
-Cheesemakers in Wisconsin alone age 30 million pounds of cheese on wood annually.
-Over half of all cheeses imported to the US are aged on wood

Many of the cheeses you know and love are aged in special temperature and humidity-controlled rooms where the flavor and rind develop. Cave aging on wooden shelves is a practice that’s been around for many centuries, and without it we wouldn’t have many of the world’s most popular cheeses. Cheeses like Gruyere, clothbound cheddar and Bleu d’Auvergne, are aged on (clean, heat-sanitized)  wooden planks that contribute to maintaining proper humidity levels, flavor complexity, and they actually inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. When a cheese is contaminated, it’s usually a sign that there is something amiss with the cheesemaker’s overall sanitation practices, not the use of wood itself.

We are 100% for upholding the highest standards of sanitation when it comes to food safety and, like thousands of cheesemakers and affineurs the world over, we use wood in our cheese caves.

Want to take a virtual tour of our cheese caves?  Come along with us and Martha Stewart on her recent visit:

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Click here to browse our selection of cave aged cheeses.  

Keep up with the latest news on the issue:

Swiss Opinion on Use of Wooden Shelves in Cheese Ripening

NY Times: FDA Issues Clarification, but Cheese Makers Are Wary (6/12)

FDA’s Clarification on Using Wood Shelving in Artisanal Cheesemaking (6/11)

American Cheese Society Position Statement on the Safety of Aging Cheese on Wood (6/10)

Forbes: FDA Backs Down in Fight Over Cage Aged Cheese (6/10)

The New York Times: F.D.A. Rule May Alter Cheese Aging Process (6/10)

We the People Petition on the American Craft Cheese Industry

Janet Fletcher’s Planet Cheese (6/11)

Cheese Underground




Northern Run: A Trip to Consider Bardwell Farm

By: Brian Ralph, Murray’s Cavemaster


Driving north along the wintery roads of New York, my tasting companion, Steve, and I were set to visit the border farm of Consider Bardwell. Arriving at the farm on that snowy mid-day, we were met by Chris Gray, cheese guru at the creamery who would be are guide for the next 24 hours. Once welcomed to the creamery off came our boots, which were replaced by super-chic white clogs, lunch lady hair nets on our heads, and bodies enrobed in bleached Samurai-style lab coats. Now properly outfitted to enter Consider Bardwell’s series of aging environments, our first and primary mission was to select a Murray’s flavor profile for alpine-style cheese, Rupert.

Once in the Rupert cave, we were met with hundreds of wheels in various shapes and sizes. Chris provided us with an extensive list of batches that were presently in the cave so we could record our tasting notes and select the wheels that would soon become Murray’s. Mouths watering and ready, Chris plugged batch after batch as Steve and I scribbled our tasting notes between bites. Core samples were pulled from one wheel after another and bits of cheese were smashed between thumb and forefinger to judge moisture content; volatile aromas captured with a sniff; and flavors debated—i.e. caramel vs. browned butter, grass vs. hay—to help us pinpoint exactly what we’re tasting so we can keep our offerings consistent from season to season.

Brian steps into the “secret cave”

More than 30 batches were sampled over the next two hours and our preferred profile became apparent: browned butter, pineapple, fresh cut grass to start, and a long finish of savory pork broth, soy sauce, and hay lingering on the tongue. We then learned that, of the ten batches we had selected for Murray’s, all had come from the Larson Farm’s milk supply. Our palates unknowingly chose cheeses made from one of two milk suppliers. Slightly chilled and taste buds fully exhausted, it was time to rest for the night before we completed our time at the farm.

Waking the next morning, Steve and I toured the rest of Consider Bardwell’s aging facilities sampling their other great cheeses. The standout that morning was the limited edition, “Danby”, whose white interior mirrors that of the marble extracted from the eponymous town. Once through the aging facilities, our tour ended by watching milk being transformed into Rupert, which we may one day select to sell on our counters and online, perhaps a year from now. Finally, we had to say our farewells with a quick stop to see the farms month-old, suckling goat kids. Onto the white roads of Vermont once again, we left with renewed appreciation for Consider Bardwell’s distinguished work for the land, animals, and the fine cheese it produces.

Tasting Notes: Rupert

Flavor Profile: Nutty, Sweet, Pineapple, Brothy, Umami

Milk: Raw Jersey Cow
Type: Alpine-style
Rennet: Vegetarian
Beer/ Wine Pairing: Belgian Ale, Gewurztraminer
Food Pairings: Surryano Ham, Apricot Jam, Dried Cherries, Cornichons, Grilled Fennel and Leeks

Fun facts:

  • Rupert has the image of a whale stamped onto each wheel to indicate its Leviathan-like size…a WHALE of a cheese!
  • Named for one of Vermont’s oldest towns.
  • Consider Bardwell Farm was founded as the first cheese-making co-op in Vermont by Consider Stebbins Bardwell in 1864.

    Consider Stebbins Bardwell, may he rest in peace


Curds & Waves: Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar & Mary Quicke


By Tess McNamara, Murray’s Cave Manager

Clothbound cheddar is synonymous with the southwest of England, with the Somerset and Devon regions producing some of the world’s most beloved wheels.  Among the prominent English cheddar makers is Mary Quicke (Mrs. Quicke’s Cheddar), a fourteenth generation farmer at the helm of her family’s 1500-acre dairy farm, Quicke’s Traditional, in the heart of Devonshire.  Born and raised amidst a patchwork of lush rolling hills and rich, red fields, Mary’s path to farming and cheesemaking is as nuanced and bold as her line-up of award-winning cheeses.

For over 450 years, the Quickes have been farming in Newton St. Cyres, a small town complete with thatched roof cottages and two lively local pubs churning out thick cuts of cheddar and chutney.  Mary’s father, Sir John Quicke, is credited with the revival of cheesemaking to the family’s repertoire.  In the 1970s, he set out to make nothing short of spectacular cheddar, prioritizing healthy pasture to ensure the highest quality milk.  Sir John impressed upon each of his six children a profound commitment to the preservation of landscape.  He gave them all surf lessons, too.  By the time Mary was 12, she was catching waves with her father, reveling in beauty of Devon’s two coastlines.

Though Mary takes after her father in height (extraordinarily tall) and wit (razor sharp and sassy), she didn’t follow in his farming footsteps right away.  She left Devon in pursuit of education, ending up in London.  It was at the age of 29, near the end of a Ph.D in literature, that Devon and the farm called her home.  Mary dragged her husband Tom, a London man born and bred, kicking and screaming, insisting that she be the one to step in and help her father in his old age.  To ensure the farm would be in capable hands, Mary worked in a farmhouse creamery in Shropshire, England for a year, before taking full reign of the family farming operations.  Tom eventually settled into his new rural surroundings and applied his skill set in renewable energy and sustainability to the farming practices and infrastructure at Quicke’s Traditional.

An avid surfer, Mary Quicke knows her curds and waves

Today traditional clothbound cheddar, aged up to 24-months, as well as Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, goat’s milk cheddar, whey butter, and ice cream are made by a team of Quicke’s Traditional cheesemakers.  A grass-fed herd of 500 cross-bred Holstein, Ayrshire, and Montbeliarde cows dot the expansive pastureland.  Due to the temperate climate in Devon, grazing is possible almost year-round. 


Quicke’s cheddar is made using a traditional recipe.  Around 4:30am, after milk from the previous day’s milkings is pumped into large stainless steel vats, starter culture is added to increase the acidity.  Rennet follows,  and once the curds are cut to the desired size, they are moved into a cooler tank where whey is drained off.  The curds are then molded into bread loaf size strips and turned repeatedly until a specific (higher) pH is attained and more whey is able to drain.  This is the “cheddaring” process in action.  The curd is flattened into mats through repeated turning and then run through a peg mill to break it up into uniform chunks.  Once salted and mixed through, the curd is pressed into muslin lined molds, where is it pressed and turned daily for the next three days.  On the morning of the third day, each wheel is removed from the mold and brined.  Fresh muslin cloths are then wrapped around each new wheel and sealed with lard.  The cheese ripens on wooden shelves and is turned daily for the first few months to ensure even maturation.  Natural molds soon begin to populate the cloth, forming a mottled rind.  The result of months – and years – of aging is a dense, earthy, crumbly cheddar with hints of lemon and fresh grass.

When Mary isn’t tasting through batches of cheddar in the on-site aging rooms, she’s busy promoting her cheese and judging competitions around the globe.  Her morning walk through the woodlands surrounding the farm is one of her favorite pastimes and a true expression of Devon’s terroir.  Surfing is still high on her priority list, too.  At the age of 59, a great surfing session followed by a hunk of vintage cheddar is Mary Quicke’s ideal Devonshire afternoon. 

Tess and Mary



 Photo credits: Tess McNamara, and


The Birds Behind the Curds: Cypress Grove’s Mary Keehn

You’ve probably tasted some of Cypress Grove’s amazing goat cheeses–Humboldt Fog, with its bright white, cakey paste and gorgeous line of gray ash through the middle tops many people’s Favorite Cheese List–and if you haven’t: get to it. Based in Arcata, California, they’ve been making cheese since the early 1980s. With Mary Keehn at the heart of the operation, the company became one of the country’s foremost artisanal cheesemakers.  We thought you’d like to know a little more about where some truly amazing cheese comes from–and the expert craftswoman behind it.

Esmerelda & Hazel

And let us not forget these ladies behind the cheese…Originally just looking for a healthy source of milk for her family, founder Mary Keehn asked her neighbor, who was using goats as scrub control, if she could have a couple.  The farmer’s response, “Honey, if you can catch ‘em, you can have them.”  Esmeralda and Hazel were the lucky ones that didn’t get away. 

Establishing a Market

Coming from a background in biology, Mary Keehn began breeding her goats in the 1970s, but soon began to dabble in cheese-making.  She was encouraged by a local restaurant and founded Cypress Grove in 1983.  At the time, most goat cheese on the market was French, plastic sealed, and rubbery in texture. After lots of experimentation, Mary created Humboldt Fog, challenging the notion of what good goat cheese was and forever changing the American definition of goat cheese.

Ashes to Ashes

Many people commonly mistake the dark line running through and around Humboldt Fog as blue mold.  In fact, it is an edible ash made from vegetables.  The fresh curd is pressed half-way into a cheesecloth-lined mold and then the powdered ash is sprinkled on top.  The molds are filled the rest of the way with curd and then the outside is generously coated with ash before they begin aging.


Proteolysis is the break down of proteins that occurs just under the rind when cheese ages and is a defining feature in Cypress Grove’s cheeses.  As it ages, this section of the paste transforms from firm, to soft, to oozy liquid gold. It also contributes to the flavor development of the cheese, which grows stronger as it ages.

Building a Better Tomorrow

With help from their parent company, Emmi of Switzerland, Cypress Grove recently built a new dairy just down the road from their creamery.  With sustainability in mind, the new facility features buildings made from recycled steel and fabric covers that help reduce their energy use by 50%.  They are also in the process of building a brand new creamery next to their current one and hope to have it open by this July (2014).

The Bottom Line

Mary Keehn and Cypress Grove were true pioneers in the artisan cheese movement. Their cheeses are an homage to rural Humboldt County, the distinct land where they were born, where the redwoods of California meet the Pacific Ocean.  The white fluffy rind and gray-green ash invoke the fog that continually rolls over the creamery.  There is hardly a more iconic American goat cheese than Humboldt Fog, which is a true testament to the dedication and continued consistency of Cypress Grove. 

The Goods

Humboldt Fog
Pasteurized Goat Milk

With its stark white paste and delicate ash line, Humboldt Fog is one of the prettiest ladies on the block. Looking at the uncut wheel, you’d be forgiven for not knowing if it was a cheese or a cake. The super rich, cakey paste proves why this cheese has been a powerhouse for years. Crack open the wheel and cut yourself a slab.  Then smile as the creamy, tangy paste dissolves on your tongue and the flavor transforms from mild to a mineral, peppery finish.

Truffle Tremor
Pasteurized Goat Milk

Like goat cheese?  What about truffles?  Thought so.  Truffle Tremor is made in the same manner as the Humboldt Fog, but then they throw a curve ball by adding a whole crap ton of truffles into the curd.   The result?  Pure delight.  The fungal earthiness of the truffle blends seamlessly into the rich milk, creating the perfect small indulgence.

By: Lizzie Roller, Murray’s Cheese Wholesale