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!

Rob’s Top Picks from the Cheese Festival

Every two years, Slow Food’s hometown of Bra, Italy, in the region of Piemonte, holds its annual cheese festival, and purveyors and buyers of fine cheese flock from all over Europe to come and taste and buy. Back in ’99, I got a call from a friend asking me if I’d like to come and teach some classes there on American farmhouse cheeses. I said yes and they put me up in a charming apartment in the old town for a week. There, I got to know the wonderful staff of Slow Food, and especially the visionary founder Carlo Petrini.

Two years later, I was out for a morning run in downtown Manhattan where I live and work when the planes struck the towers and I watched as the terrible events unfolded from a few blocks away. When it was clear the hospital in my neighborhood was not going to see much action, and did not need my help, I flew to Italy to help in the first-ever American cheese booth. The day of the opening ceremonies the few of us who’d made the trip over were sitting in the front row of the town square as the officials gave their opening ceremony speeches. We were introduced in Italian and when we turned around we saw the crowd of a thousand standing and giving us an ovation simply because we were the Americans and had the world on our side. The greatest tragedy of the decade is that this intense feeling of goodwill did not survive.

Since the Wall Street Journal presented our dispatch from the festival — our top 5 cheese picks (and trust me – you don’t want to miss ‘em) — I instead present my top 5 moments from Cheese:

-Visiting with Carlo Petrini, who bought us a lunch of tasty bombette, little pork snacks from Puglia and arranged for us to visit the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.

-Catching up with old friends Zoltan Bogathy, who opened Culinaris in Budapest many years ago; Mama Gisella, my self-proclaimed Italian Mamma, who took me around Italy when I knew no one and knew little about Italian cheese.

-Seeing Murray’s alums Zoe at Jasper Hill and Tom and Staci at Rogue Creamery in Oregon, and the founding mothers of cheese like Allison Hooper and Mary Keehne.

-Eating Favorites: the fabulous vitello tonnato at Floris in Turin; the Nebbiolo Risotto at Agrifoglio, also in Turin; the delicious gianduja gelato at Riverno; and the feast celebrating the american cheesemakers at the fabulous Ca’ del Re at Castello di Verduno, where we’d had such a memorable meal six years earlier.

-The American Cheese booth! We were there with Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Cypress Grove, Rogue Creamery, the Cellars at Jasper Hill, Uplands Cheese Co. and Cowgirl Creamery.

Everyone’s A Winner At The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Stephanie Butler was the grand prize winner of our Facebook contest for a trip to Vermont to attend the VT Cheesemakers Festival. She was gracious enough to contribute this blog post about her experience on the trip. Thank you, Stephanie – we’re glad you had such a great time!

If you’ve never eaten a half-pound of cheese on a tour bus in a McDonald’s parking lot in Nowheresville, Massachusetts, then obviously you’ve never gone on a trip with the Murray’s Cheese crew. I was lucky enough to win two tickets to the Vermont Whey-cation, and my boyfriend and I spent a whirlwind 40 hours tasting cheese, smelling cheese – by Sunday night I think we were even exuding the stuff through our pores.

Aging facility at Spring Brook Farm

Our trip started with a tour of Spring Brook Farm’s Cheese House. Lead cheese maker Jeremy Stephenson took the time to guide us through each aspect of the 18-month-long process it takes to create one wheel of their tasty Tarentaise. Their cheese caves were something to see: twelve rows of wooden shelves with hundreds of cheeses waiting their turn to be washed and rotated. After the tour we got some time to sightsee around the beautiful grounds, where I met and fell in love with a sweet Jersey named Daisy.

Stephanie at the farm!

On to dinner at Bluebird Tavern, where we were treated to a feast of Vermont’s finest foods. Allison Hooper, the founder of the Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, joined us for the meal, where each dish included one of her cheeses as an ingredient. My favorite had to be the whole roast pig on grilled bread with baked goat cheese and pickled blueberries, but the heirloom tomatoes with basil and mascarpone were certainly a close second. I washed everything down with pints of Hill Farmstead Brewery’s Edward, an American Pale Ale I can’t wait to try to track down here in Brooklyn. Add some banana pudding with whipped goat cheese in individual jelly jars for dessert, and I slept that night like a bump on a Vermont log.

Approaching Shelbourne Farm

We awoke the next morning eager to truck off to our ultimate destination: the Vermont Cheesemakers’ Festival at Shelburne Farms. I expected the festival grounds to be gorgeous (it was originally a summer home for the Vanderbilts), but I really didn’t have any idea just how beautiful it would be. Right on the shores of Lake Champlain, with the hazy Adirondacks across the water, I was ready to make plans to move to Burlington right then and there. The festival more than lived up to the setting, with cheese makers sampling their wares next to truffle makers, beer brewers, picklers, and bakers. Non-cheese highlights for me were the Vermont Smoke and Cure booth,  which gave away generous samples of delicious pepperoni (available at Murray’s!), Red Hen Baking Company’s yummy wholegrain loaf (we bought the last one), and the kind ladies at the Vermont Maple Foundation booth who gave us tastes of maple cheesecake. As for cheeses, I loved the creamy ricotta from Narragansett Creamery, Vermont Shepherd’s rich and tangy sheep cheeses (ed. note: Vermont Shepherd cheeses will be available this fall), and just about everything from the Cellars at Jasper Hill.

So much cheese!

After taking in the festival barn, we adjoined to the huge waterfront lawn, where fellow picnickers had set up blankets, wine buckets, and hiking chairs. It was an idyllic scene, for sure, with barefoot children running around, 4-H teenagers showing off their baby goats, and a gentle breeze floating over our heads. I lunched on some Vermont pizza while my boyfriend chowed on a grass fed hamburger, and we toasted our sample wine glasses full of local rosé. “To the good life!” we said, and, for two days in Vermont, it certainly was.

Beth Ann from Murray’s Wholesale department makes friends with a goat.

To stay up to date on the latest news from Murray’s Cheese and hear about contests like the Vermont Wheycation Giveaway that Stephanie won, be sure to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!


baby cow!

Who You Callin’ A Hooligan?

by Anuradha Jayakrishnan, Head Cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in Grand Central Terminal

Have you ever wanted to get your hands on a Hooligan? No, I don’t mean one of us cheesemongers behind the counter, I mean a REAL Hooligan, like the ones we made at Cato Corner Farm on a recent Thursday.  If you love cheese as much as we do at Murray’s, you’ve got to know a cheese’s ins and outs, its story, it’s SOURCE. So, sinking our hands right into the cheesemaking process was, in fact, wonderfully appropriate.

The Murray’s crew and I departed Bleecker Street and headed across state lines to farm country, also known as Connecticut. We arrived at Cato Corner Farm just after noon that Bloomsday and a small gang of friendly but boisterous dogs heralded our arrival. As we poured out of the mini-van, the smell of hay, barn and warm sunshine welcomed us without words; it was going to be a good day.

The cows at Cato Corner gave a warm welcome.

Liz, owner of the farm, greeted us with a grin, and a laugh, “You must be from Murray’s.” I was sure my Ray Bans, beat-up Beatles t-shirt, and red cut-offs would make me look farm chic, but alas, I fear my oversized flower tote containing bronzer and sunscreen gave me away. We freshened up and then met Mark, Liz’s son who oversees the farm’s cheesemaking. He took us underground to see affinage at work in their aging facility, which was not unlike the cheese caves beneath our Bleecker Street store. I was amazed by the sheer number of cheeses being aged at one time in the small farm’s complex. Shelves of old and young wheels formed passageways that towered over us like halls of an antique library (and the smell wasn’t that dissimilar either). Incredibly enough, the thick, dull brown rinds on the large wheels and the (almost cute) furry blue and grey rinds on the smaller wheels were derived from ambient molds that occur naturally in the caves themselves (local mold makes local gold! Ha!).

Yours truly, in good company!

Next up on the docket was cheesemaking. Now, if you’re as big of a cheese nerd as I am, you’d understand why I was giggling through the whole sanitizing process. There I was, every appendage covered in plastic yet I couldn’t help but clap with joy in a ruffled frenzy at the thought of molding curd with my own fingers. We surrounded the enormous bath tub (at least it look like one) filled half way with what looked like an untouched layer of plain yogurt. Having added the rennet an hour before, Mark said, the milk  should be firm enough to cut by now – and with that, he pierced the creamy film, and to my amazement, it didn’t blob into a soft creamy mess, but yielded to the knife like a limber slice of tofu. The curd was ready. He began slicing the curd into half inch pieces using a large wire cutter. Then we took turns dipping our hands into the vat and milling the curds into finer, more even bits. The curd itself tasted like sweet, warm milk Jell-o, but in the best way. After draining the whey, we scooped the curds into baskets, piling the milled bits into heaping snow cone-esque forms for further drainage and shaping. Minutes later, we popped the curds out of the molds and voila – curds in their perfect form, ready to join their comrades in the aging room, but with the added touch of Murray’s handiwork; hooligans indeed.

Stirring the curd that will later be molded into Hooligan.

We concluded our cheese-making escapade with a picnic lunch outside where we all enjoyed sandwiches, charcuterie, pickles, farm fresh fruits and veggies, and of course, cheese. We tried a very special cheese only available at the farm, the 1 year aged Anniversary Bloomsday, made a year ago to the day! It was nutty and sharp with crystalline pops of sweetness and a pale, custard yellow paste that sang of summer sun and happy cows.  Naturally, we also sampled Hooligan, a large muffin shaped cheese with a dense, flaky center and mildly pungent rind. We finished with Misty Morning, a creamy, earthy blue that was lovely with bites of freshly picked strawberries.

The finished product, after aging: Funky funky hooligan

After touring the farm and thanking the cows for their generous bounties, we climbed back into the mini-van, ripe Hooligans in tow (think ripe plus hot cramped car… serious funky town), and headed back to the West Village. Great cheese and great people; I could not have asked for a better Bloomsday.

Murray’s Goes Global: Buffalo Will

Murray’s Grand Central Store Director, Will Whitlow, took a trip this October to Salone del Gusto in Northern Italy. On his trip he made a stop at Quattro Portoni, one of Italy’s premier water buffalo farms.

What comes to mind when you think of Italian cheese?  The great cow’s milk cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano?  Or the thousands of sheep milk pecorinos?  Eventually you will probably think of mozzarella from the south of Italy.  But is it really made from water buffalo milk?  You can’t imagine how often we’re asked just that.  Yes, the large, black, big-horned and wooly creatures produce astounding milk for cheesemaking.

Last week, I visited a unique farm in the province of Bergamo in Lombardy called Quattro Portoni.  In the last 10 years, the Gritti brothers, Alfio and Bruno, have transformed their family’s cow dairy into one of the standout water buffalo dairies in Italy.  Located in the heart of the Taleggio-making area, they were looking to distinguish their farm from those that sell milk to the big cheese plants that surround them.  Bringing the southern tradition of water buffalo to the north was exactly the right choice.

Quattro Portoni, or Four Gates, is named after the 13th century gates into their moat-encircled town of Cologno al Serio.  And a couple of their new, modern cheeses carry the names of those ancient, individual gates…Casatica and Moringhello.  Quadrello is their spin on Taleggio, the classic cheese of their region.  It’s creamy, sometimes gooey and always rich and a bit pungent.  Gran Bu, the big buffalo, is just that, a physically big and big flavored firm cheese with sweet and nutty overtones.

One thousand water buffalo live on the farm.  Of those, 270 are being milked for cheesemaking.  Since water buffalo only give about two gallons of milk per day (cows can give up to four gallons), it takes many more water buffalo to have enough milk for a thriving cheese business.  Everything from breeding to calving happens on the Quattro Portoni farm, and most of the crops they feed the buffalo are grown there too, with the addition of some of the spent barley from the beer producer down the road. Theirs is a fairly self-sustainable operation.

The day of my visit, the pristinely clean and shiny cheesemaking room was busy with 2 cheesemakers and 4 helpers making Blu di Bufala, their cube-shaped blue with light veining, a rich, fatty mouthfeel and a minerally tang at the finish.  The buffalo had been milked at 4pm the previous day and 4am that morning.  The milk from both milkings was pasteurized and in the vat by 6am.  They work in three small open vats because buffalo milk is a bit more delicate and feeble than cows.  It’s easier on the milk to work it in small batches.  The milk for Blu di Bufala is coagulated and cut in the vat, then the curds are drained on worktables (the whey is used for fresh ricotta).  Once the curds have drained, they are cut into slabs about 1”x3”x8” and layered loosely into the forms.  This is a laborious task and all of the cheesemakers and helpers must work together quickly to get all of the curds into forms.  Once all of the forms are full, they will rest for a few hours, be flipped twice and left to sit at room temperature overnight while gas is produced inside the “wheel” making little spaces for the blue to grow.  The following day, they’ll be flipped again and brined.  About 120 wheels were made from this batch and they are now aging in the farm’s temperature and humidity controlled aging rooms.

 

This is old-school, hands-on cheesemaking.  The cheese plant down the road making 100 times more cheese has the same number of cheesemakers.  Machines cannot make cheeses like those produced by Quattro Portoni.