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.

Chocolate & Cheese: A Pairing to Please All Your Senses

By Rainer Burrow

“I don’t like to be gratuitous with chocolate.  I like for it to be meaningful.”  Chef Sarah Langan explained her philosophy on cooking with chocolate to a full tent as she and her assistants gracefully whipped up a 3 course cooking demo on a beautiful Vermont summer day.  The theme for the tasting: chocolate and cheese; what 2 things are easier to love?

Chef Langan is the chef and educator at South End Kitchen in Burlington, Vermont.  South End Kitchen is a café located in Burlington Vermont owned by Lake Champlain Chocolates, a chocolate producer that has been in operation on Lake Champlain since 1983.  Lake Champlaign Chocolates is a top- quality producer, and a true gem in the state of Vermont.  The company uses local Vermont products to make their chocolates, doesn’t add preservatives or additives, are committed to sourcing non-GMO ingredients, and are champions of fair trade.  These factors combine to make high-quality chocolates, which are featured in various ways at South End Kitchen.

For the first course, Chef Langan chose to do a very simple chocolate and cheese pairing using Lake Champlain’s Blue Bandana 70% Guatemala Chocolate and Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche.  Both products are beautiful and intricate on their own, married very well on the palate to completely enhance the flavor experience.  The chocolate was chalky, fruity, and initially sweet with a solid acidity.  The Cheese Was acidic and moldy, mild with a great funk presence.  Eating them together brought me back to Ratatouille swirling colors around his head as he is pairing scraps on the yard of his farm.  Together the acidity and mold went down, the fruit notes really shined through, and both products mellowed out a little bit.  It was an excellent pairing and an excellent start to the demo.

As Chef Langan segued into the second course, she introduced a reflection on how we as humans react to the five tastes (sweet sour salty bitter and umami).  She stated “When you can have all 5 tastes in one dish, you will satisfy yourself.  When your palate is missing one, you will crave more.”  It was with this philosophy in mind that she created her second course, a rustic tart consisting of arugula, pancetta crisps, Vermont Creamery’s Cremont, Fig & honey spread, lemon vinaigrette, and a chocolate emulsion all over a tart dough.  With sweet from the fig and honey, salty from the Cremont and pancetta, bitter form the arugula and chocolate, acidity from Cremont and the vinaigrette, and umami from the pancetta, it was perfectly complete.  I felt distinctly happy and satiated after consuming it.

Finally, for the third course (and dessert), Chef Langan severed a Chocolate Chevre Cheesecake.  It was a beautiful conclusion to the cooking demo: woodsy, tangy, fatty, soft, great in acidity, and rich in chocolate.  Of the three courses, this was definitely my favorite, but I have a sweet tooth and I love chocolate.

I left the tasting feeling educated, satiated, and happy to be alive.  There’s nothing better than great cheese and expert culinary execution.  If the food at South End Kitchen is anything like the tasting, it’s definitely worth a visit.








Turophile Heaven: The Festival of Cheese

by Walshe Birney


The American Cheese Society’s 2014 conference in Sacramento was a whirlwind of fantastic panels, networking events, and, for some of us, the CCP exam, a difficult test of all that we’ve learned throughout our years in the cheese business. On the second to last day, these experiences culminated in the Awards Ceremony, where the best American cheesemakers were honored for their outstanding products. As exciting and emotional as the Ceremony was, the real fun occurred on the last day of the conference, the Festival of Cheese. Here, every entry to the Awards Ceremony was available to taste, not just those that won a ribbon.

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the conference hall was filled with towers of Alpine-style cheeses, smorgasbords of oozy bloomy-rinds and mountains of meaty, pungent washed rinds. Entire rows devoted just to flavored cheeses, smoked cheeses, hispanic-style cheeses; the Festival was truly a turophile’s heaven. As a buyer at Murray’s, I am lucky to have the opportunity everyday to try all manner of tremendous cheese from across the globe, but it’s staggering just how many fantastic new and established American cheeses were present, especially when seeing them all in one place. There is no doubt that our domestic industry is robust and healthy, and leading the way globally in innovation and quality.


After being presented with a plate and wine glass (everything one needs for a successful cheese tasting), our first stop took us to the Alpine-style table to taste the winner for best-in-show, Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise Reserve. Modelled after the Alpine cheeses of eastern France, such as Abondance and Beaufort, Tarentaise has long been a staple on Murray’s counter, and the 2-year extra-aged version is a thing of beauty: a pronounced and lingering sweetness, an underlying current of roasted hazelnuts and brown butter, and satisfying crystallization. Truly a world-class cheese, on par with the best extra-aged Comtes and Gruyeres. Look for a special Tarentaise aged in our caves to hit our counters at the end of August, with a profile between the reserve and the original, exclusive to Murray’s.

After refilling our glasses with some terrific dry cider from Oregon’s Aengus Ciderworks, we visited our own Murray’s award winners, Hudson Flower (our collaboration with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company) and Torus (our collaboration with Vermont Creamery). These cheeses mark our first ribbons at the festival, taking second place in their respective categories. While we’ve long been known for our cave-aging, this marks the first time that affinage-specific collaborations have been honored at the festival. These partnerships with some of our favorite creameries have been very successful, and we can’t wait to roll out more Cavemaster Reserve cheeses soon. And hopefully we’ll have wins for Greensward, our collaboration with Jasper Hill, and Barden Blue, our collaboration with Consider Bardwell, next year!

With the multitude of choices on offer, at this point we started bouncing around from table to table, trying whatever caught our eyes. Some of the best cheese new to me were the amazingly nuanced washed rind goat cheeses from Briar Rose Creamery, and Bleating Heart’s stunningly sheepy tommes and blues. We also had a chance to nibble on goodies from some of my favorite charcuterie purveyors, Olympic Provisions and Fra’mani, whose cured meats provided perfect counterpoints to mountains of dairy products filling the conference hall.

As our stomachs grew full and the conference wound down, I began to reflect on all the amazing experiences our team had at the conference this year. We had our wills and knowledge tested in the CCP exam, learned a tremendous amount from the stellar panels, and had a lot of fun relaxing and hanging out with our colleagues from around the country, but what will stick with me the most is the incredible talent, passion and love that American cheesemakers and retailers have for these amazing products, and the change they are affecting across the American culinary landscape. The Festival of Cheese was the perfect encapsulation of this, and a fitting end to an unbelievably successful American Cheese Society conference. I can’t wait for next year’s in Rhode Island!




Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

By Caitlin Bower


Let’s get vertical.

Vertical tasting explores the history of a cheese: how it starts (as milk, as curd, as a fresh cheese, as a toddler) to how it ends up in its final expression. It is the most immediate and accessible way to taste and understand affinage. By eating a cheese at different stages of its development, you taste the flavors that can develop with careful treatment, age and time. While attending July’s Vermont Cheesemaker Festival, I attended a seminar in which three featured cheesemakers chose a different way to explore this process, and with different milk types.

1. Fresh Curd vs. 1 year old (pasteurized and raw cow) – Plymouth Artisan Cheeses

Granular curd cheesemaking is the rare, work-intensive process that Plymouth Artisan Cheese owner, Jesse Werner, was able to showcase with his fresh curd and year-old Plymouth “The Original” side by side. From an 1890’s recipe, the curd was squeaky, delicious and a tiny bit tangy. The “Original” is made with those same curds and has a bright, acidic, cheddary flavor, much altered by age and process.

The Mozzarella Making class at Murray’s also offers the opportunity to taste both curd and cheese, with a fun, hands-on addition of making your own mozzarella in the classroom.

2. Young Bloomy vs Aged Alpine (sheep) – Woodcock Farm Cheese Co

This vertical pair explored the same milk type expressed in two styles: one younger and soft, one older and hard.

Summer Snow vs. the Wheston Wheel – you can even hear it in the name; the first cheese is a delicate, exuberant, young, soft cheese with a tender, slightly squeaky rind while the second is nuttier, sweeter, complex and more robust.


3. Fresh vs. Mold Ripened (goat) – Vermont Creamery

crottin, a super-fresh goat milk button

bijou is lightly aged, which gives it time to develop its silk rind

From fresh chèvre to brain like and acidic, the Crottin’s final form is the Bijou. The first cheese has a tiny amount of the geotrichum, which adds a slight yeasty flavor at a day old, develops into a full rind by the second week to become an entirely different cheese. This vertical pairing is a perfect example of how much a cheese can change in just two short weeks, and how both can be delicious in their own right.






Try out a vertical taste test on your own!

Cellars at Jasper Hill: Harbison vs. Cavemaster Reserve Greensward

1 year Comte vs. 2 or 3 year Comte

And for a triple-header, go for the Murray’s Cavemaster trio: Kinderhook Creek vs. Hudson Flower vs. C Local