The Milking: Straight Outta Comté, Part 2

By: Amanda Parker

The Montbéliarde is an elegant, pampered cow.  Covered in wide swaths of dappled chestnut brown and cream, she is the foundation of Comté, the source of the raw material that will, when transformed, become cheese.   She is cared for, fed, by farmers across this countryside, making her way gracefully through the bright landscape of the Jura Massif. 

The first step in the three-part chain of Comté, the dairy farm is crucial for the production of the best quality raw milk.  Under the set of regulations for the cheese’s Protected Designation of Origin that maintains the tradition and quality of the cheese—known here as the cahier des charges—a farm must provide an animal with the right environment that will make the best milk to be made into cheese.  In the Jura, this means that Montbéliarde cows, required by law to constitute 95% of the milk used for Comté, must have their own grazing area—1 hectare, to be precise, made up of the plants that make this region so full of biodiversity.  Under the cahier des charges, these lucky ladies can graze on pastures filled with grasses and flowers native to these high hills, part of the terroir that speaks itself in floral pops and verdant flavors of a wheel of Comté.

In the winter, and during especially dry summers, the cows will eat hay, dried from the spring and summer before and stacked high in bales in the barn.  Jean-François, our farmer friend at Villette-les-Dole, is especially proud of his hay.  He encourages us to climb a ladder and see!  See how the air circulates, the hay dries, la griffe (a large, scary-looking claw-like machine whose name seems to escape us all in English) distributes to the Montbéliardes, who graze now in the hot summer sun but line up in our imaginations during the chilly months, always choosing the same spot in the barn.  He grabs big handfuls of le foin and le regain, the first and second cuttings of grass for hay, and waves them under our noses, explaining the concentration of tall, waving stalks of grain in the first and the lower, buzz-cut of grasses and flowers in the second.  Jean-Francois’ son, Max, steps up and quietly, romantically, tell us that when they are cutting hay, the village smells of it, this foin and regain, and if you sleep with the windows open, you will dream of hay that night. 

High up in the Jura Mountains, now in the Doubs region—next to the Jura, and included in the designated area of Comté production—this landscape of dusty yellows and flat plains gives way to a second plateau.  Moving our way higher in altitude, the temperature has dropped and a new microclimate is immediately evident—broad pines surrounding wide, sloping fields brimming with some of the 576 grasses and wildflowers so engrained in the sense of this region’s terroir.  After a lunch of Comté fondue—more on that later!—and potato rösti, influenced by the Swiss border just a minute or two away, we walk the property of a classic chalet.  No cows are milked here, but Norbert practices the ancient art of shepherding—he is a berger, here in these hills to take care of a 60-head herd of local farms’ heifers between a year and a year and a half.   We tramp through hip-high waving grains and stop every few minutes to identify flowers in some pidgin French-English-botanical Latin language—gentian, whose roots Norbert carves into small, bitter bites for us to taste, the basis of the local liqueur,  daisies, local native orchids, clovers of all colors, small buttercups, native herbs.   

If this level of specificity seems, well, specific, it is.  Consider the result—raw milk, as it must be raw milk, held no more than 24 hours between milking and cheesemaking, teeming with microflora that will contribute to the vast array of flavors and aromas in a wheel of Comté.  Jean-Francois, clucking at our American pasteurization, explains “le Comté, il est fabriqué avec lait qui vit;”  Comté is made with living milk.  The French—and this story takes place, ironically, less than a kilometer away from the birthplace of Louis Pasteur—carry with them their microbial convictions, believing that the bacteria in the air, in the land, on the udders of the cows being milked, are the living, breathing foundation of great cheese.  A ladle of this morning’s raw milk makes us believers—a little sweet, like a wheat field in the sun, the dried grassiness of hay, and just a touch of clean animal—it’s the pure illustration of the land we walked and cows we (I) bumped heads with.  A drizzle of raw cream over a fruit tart is just insane.  Ridiculously indulgent, rich, so thick it seems almost cultured, like liquid crème fraiche.

From these hills and plains, cows and the people who tend them, comes milk, complex and ready for the next step in its journey to becoming a wheel of Comté—onward to the cheesemakers, the fruitieres that take this primordial liquid and transform it, into cheese. 

Meet the Meats: La Quercia

Shop Murray’s Cheese for La Quercia Artisan Meats Now!

How did a family in Norwalk, Iowa come to produce some of the best cured meats in the world? It started with tradition: After three and a half years in Parma, Italy, Herb and Kathy Eckhouse brought classic techniques back home to create their signature salumi, something they say “expresses our appreciation for the beauty and bounty of Iowa”. Adding responsible sourcing and sustainability to the recipe means that their products don’t just taste great, they’re also produced with the highest standards and best quality ingredients around.

 

With the demand for awesome American meat constantly growing, Murray’s and La Quercia are now teaming up to help more people get a bite of the good stuff. We will now be stocking even more of their products, and helping Herb distribute his goods to more people. Here are some new products that you have to taste:

Tamworth Bacon – This is the “end all, be all” Bacon. Produced from the belly of the Tamworth pig, this Bacon is full of well-balanced smoky and fatty flavors. Tamworth pigs snack on acorn for a few months which leaves a smooth, lingering nutty flavor on your tongue after the fat melts away.

Pancetta – This pancetta is the perfect balance of herbaceous and fatty sweetness. Perfect for flavoring a dish, bright notes of Juniper and Bay leaf will immediately stand out. Making pasta for dinner? Throw in a bit of Pancetta to bring it to the next level.

Prosciutto – Finding a cured ham that can compete with the Europeans can be tricky, but La Quercia gives even the Italians a run for their money. Nutty, fruity, and slightly sweet, this prosciutto will easily convert the most devoted Italophile.

Lomo Americano – Unlike most cured meats, Lomo is produced from pork tenderloin. This makes Lomo slightly less fatty than some other cuts, but it sure doesn’t lack in flavor. Rubbed with pimento and cocoa, slightly spicy and has incredible depth. This guy is the perfect prosciutto substitute, and plays well with wine.

Speck – Some hams are smoked, others cured. Speck has the distinct honor of receiving both treatments. The smokiness and saltiness combined perfectly to create a meat that is made for pairing. From dense aged cheeses, to bright, tangy, fresh ones; speck can easily transition into many roles.

Iowa White Spread – Like Buttered bread? Yea, me too. But when I tried a schmear of this stuff on a toasted baguette, my world changed. White Spread is basically prosciutto fat that has been cured, and then ground leaving it smooth like velvet. Think porky butter.

Guanciale – Meaning check in Italian, this cured pork jowl is anything but cheeky. The jowl holds some of the pigs most highly concentrated flavors, making Guanciale perfect for cooking with.

 

– LEO RUBIN

When Leo is not mongering behind the counter at Grand Central he is pursuing his Food Studies degree at the New School or interning in the Murray’s Marketing Department or developing new recipes for the store or managing an event or eating cheese.

The Story of Torus, Our Newest Cavemaster Reserve Cheese

by Adeline Druart, Master Cheesemaker & Operations Manager at Vermont Butter & Cheese Company

 

At Vermont Creamery we are known for making the best fresh and aged goat cheese in the country. We’ve been in business since 1984, and have been working with Murray’s for almost that long – way back when Rob, Frankie and Cielo were all behind the counter at the tiny shop on the corner of Bleecker Street. Our creamery crème fraiche, butter, and fresh goat cheese became a staple at the store, as did our small geo-rinded cheeses (the brainy-looking cheeses that are made with Geotrichum candidum mold). Over the years we’ve shared cheese beyond the shop, too – teaching classes, visiting restaurants, even hosting a bus of cheeselovers on a trip to the Vermont Cheesemakers’ Festival.

As Murray’s and Vermont Creamery continued to grow, what was left to do but create a brand new cheese, one that was made in Vermont and sent to age in the caves below Murray’s in New York City? Since we are known for our geo-rinded cheeses, it made sense to make an un-aged, or “green,” geo cheese for Murray’s to age – and that’s just what we did.

Vermont Creamery cheesemaker, Adeline Druart gathered the wish list from Murrays: Size? Small. Shape? Round. Ash? Nah. Creamy? YES. Yeasty-sweet-earthy-complex? Obviously. And yup, that signature brain-y Geotrichum rind, please. Our cheese expert friend from Australia, Will Studd put in his two cents and suggested we cut out the center, making a donut to create even more surface area for a yummy rind throughout. And with that brilliant idea, Torus was born.

Sounds easy enough? Not so. Adeline and the Murray’s cave master Brian Ralph worked for a year to perfect this little “donut.” Moisture and salt levels had to be just right. The milk had to be selected to accommodate the natural climate in the cave. The cave master had to “wake up” the dormant yeast and cheese cultures inside the carefully packaged and cooled cheeses to assure that the rind would grow properly in the cave. Luckily, with time we got it right. The result is a quintessential Geo goat cheese, with a flavor and texture unique to Murray’s and Vermont Creamery’s partnership.

What’s in a name?  Donuts make us think of Homer Price. And Homer Simpson. But we would like to think that making a good cheese requires more savoir faire. After lists of names by many, Murray’s buyer Aaron Foster came up with “Torus,” the geometric term for the ring shape of the cheese.  Indeed an artisanal replica of a geometric torus, we also think of Taurus the bull, an equally appropriate image for this cheese that required tenacity and drive to create such a satisfying reward. Vermont Creamery has spent years developing the Geotrichum category of goat cheese in America, both in perfecting the cheese and also in educating the market.  We are delighted to share the challenge with Murray’s who will serve their customers with a unique taste of Vermont and Manhattan terroir this holiday season.

Read more about Torus in the Wall Street Journal

Meet the Maker: A Visit from Andy Hatch of Uplands Cheese

We could begin every blog with the same sentence, but here it feels especially appropriate: My job is awesome.  Really, awesome.   Not only am I able – nay, encouraged – to taste the best cheeses from across the US and the world on a daily basis, I get to share the results of that grueling work with people every day in our classroom.  And sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I get to hang out in a room with the best cheesemaker in the United States, and hear from the maker’s mouth how those cheeses get so darn good.

Last week, we were treated to a visit from Andy Hatch, Cheesemaker and Manager of Uplands Cheese.  Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands is the most decorated and celebrated American cheese, having won the American Cheese Society’s Best in Show award more times than any other cheese in the history of the competition.  And for good reason- Pleasant Ridge is a perfect cheese, redolent of toasted hazelnuts and fresh mango, transitioning from bright and fruity to deep and brothy through the season with grace.  After ten years of making and mastering Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Uplands added a second cheese, a custardy bacon bomb wrapped in spruce bark known as Rush Creek Reserve, a cheese often spoken of by our mongers with a series of sighs and googly eyed gazes.

As our staff sat with rapt attention, Andy lead us through the history of Uplands from the Ice Age glaciers that left the Driftless Region of Wisconsin with a distinctive rolling landscape perfect for smaller scale farming to Uplands’ founding in 2000 by two adjacent farming families, Mike and Carol Gingrich and Dan and Jeanne Patenaude.  We had lots of questions for Andy, from the beneficial microflora in the milk, cheese, and caves to the diet of the cows, but more than anything, our mongers wanted to know how, just exactly how, the cheese is always so. damn. good.  Andy fielded our rapid questions with aplomb, and explained what we had suspected about the cheese’s quality: great fields with great cows lead to great milk, great milk and great cheesemaking lead to great cheeses, and when great cheeses are given great care in the cave, they only get better.  It’s a simple equation, but when all of the variables are controlled for greatness, you can’t go wrong.

After our training, staff members lingered with questions: questions about the future of cheesemaking in Wisconsin, about the breeds of cows used at Uplands (crossbreeds of a variety of cows for better milk, naturally), and several expressions of undying love for two of our favorite cheeses.  We’re lucky folk at Murray’s, surrounded by the world’s best cheeses day in and day out, and we’re even luckier when we come face to face with the people who make those cheeses.

 

Sascha Anderson is the Director of Education at Murray’s Cheese and has never met a cheese fact she didn’t want to know.

Murray’s Takes a Field Trip: Twin Maple Farm

Elizabeth Chubbuck is the Associate Director of Wholesale at Murray’s Cheese. If you’ve eaten a delicious cheese at a restaurant, chances are she had a hand in getting it on your plate. Her passion for all things cheesy is rivaled only by her near encyclopedic knowledge of the same. She recently visited Twin Maple Farm and learned the fascinating story behind the cheese we love so much.

A photo of Twin Maple Farm should be printed in the dictionary next to “bucolic.”  The land, continuously farmed since 1801, is rolling, green and tucked away on a narrow, winding road in New York’s Hudson Valley.  The old farmhouse still stands upright and resolute, and the hills are dotted with Jersey Cows. It’s also where Hudson Red, one of our favorite cave aged cheeses, is made. We’ll get to that later… first, a story!

Two years ago, childhood friends Matt Scott and Dan Berman bought Twin Maple farm and retrofitted the original red dairy barn to accommodate cheese production and aging. Not content to sit back and enjoy the view, they embarked on a larger project to help rebuild the rural landscape and economy of the Hudson Valley.  Armed with a vision of supporting family farms, they created The Pampered Cow, a company dedicated to providing sales and distribution solutions for farms throughout the region.

Sales and distribution solutions, you say?  Sure, it might sound a bit city-slicker when paired with the rural beauty of the land, but for small-scale, family-owned dairies outside marketing and distribution solutions can allow them to focus energy on creating better cheeses, slowly increasing production, and eventually moving from Farmer’s Market-only sales into a slightly larger arena where more people can enjoy their cheese.

Increased production also means more jobs in rural communities where opportunities can be scarce.  It means that more cows are out to pasture, which means more fields are green with grass and hay farmers stay in business. Starting to get the picture? With time, cheesemakers no longer have to work around the clock, 7 days a week, just to scrape by. It’s still hard work, but their lives become more balanced and sustainable, their cheese more delicious and reliable.

So, where does that delicious Hudson Red fit into all of this? About a year after the Pampered Cow started working to improve the lifestyle of local farmers, Hudson Red came into existence.  Their original cheese maker spent time in Italy working with Italian producers before returning to the Hudson Valley to make cheese at Twin Maple.  Inspired by Italian Taleggio and Alsatian Munster, Hudson Red is a funky, washed-rind, raw cow’s milk cheese.  The dense, fudgy paste becomes silken and pudding-like with careful washing and aging in our caves. The funky, wild flavor that develops echoes the rugged, rural landscapes that inspired it. Wash it down with a glass of New York Riesling for the Empire State’s quintessential terroir-based pairing. You’ll make Matt Scott – and a lot of local farmers – proud!