Notes from our Cave Master: Some Amazing Health Benefits of Cheese

cheese tastingNote: We’re cheese people, not doctors, but we have a deep conviction that cheese is healthy. More and more, science is backing us up. This is our second post in a series on why eating cheese is good for you. (The delicious part needs no proof.) PJ runs our Cheese Caves, and has a rich background in biology. PJ, take it away! 

The practice of turning nutrient-rich milk into cheese is thought to date back to 10,000 BC. At that time nutrition had a slightly different connotation than it does today. Having enough protein and fat in your diet was the difference between life and death. Milk from recently domesticated sheep and goats was essential to meeting these simple nutritional needs. The problem of counting on milk to fulfill these needs in an age without refrigeration or pasteurization is very rapid perishability. It is believed that very simple cheeses were made to preserve this vital protein/fat source.

The life of an artisan cheese-eating human in the 21st century has different nutritional needs to worry about. Fat is usually seen as an indulgence instead as a necessity and protein consumption is rarely an issue among meat eating individuals. With basic nutritional needs fulfilled, are there still health benefits of eating cheese? The simple answer is yes. In today’s society, food that most people consider healthy can also be categorized as functional. Functional foods are foods that have health benefits beyond the basic needs of nutrition; ultimately promoting health and/or reducing the risk of disease. Recent research has revealed functional components of cheese. I will discuss a few of the functional properties of cheese protein and peptides.

Different cheese varieties vary in their protein content. Cream cheese contains roughly 3.1% protein, while parmesan contains roughly 36.2% protein. As cheese ages, enzymes will break the protein down into peptides and amino acids. These protein fragments are essential to cheese flavor. We are more recently discovering their contribution to health.

One way of promoting health is to prevent disease. We live in an age where most people expect their food to be safe. The reality is that there will always be a certain degree of risk when consuming food. Particular cheeses might have a built-in defense system. Peptides isolated from certain cheese varieties have been shown to have antibacterial properties. Potentially, these peptides could protect the product from pathogenic bacteria.

Antibacterial peptides have been found in different Italian cheese varieties (including Caciocavallo and Mozzarella)1, different Cheddar cheese varieties2, and others. It has also been discovered that certain strains of Brevibacterium Linens (a bacteria commonly found on washed rind cheeses) produce antimicrobial peptides3. As more research on this topic comes to light, it is looking more and more likely that certain cheeses have the ability to defend themselves.

Breakdown of protein during cheese aging could also have positive effects on blood pressure. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) is an enzyme in the human body that constricts blood vessels and increases blood pressure. Inhibition of this enzyme has a positive effect on hypertension. Much research has been done over the years regarding peptides that inhibit ACE, and many ACE-inhibitors have been found in food products. Cheese is one of these products. Two very potent ACE-Inhibiting peptides; valyl-prolyl-proline and isoleucyl-prolyl-proline are common amino acid sequences in cheese proteins. L. Helveticus (a lactic acid bacteria used in cheesemaking) has the potential to release these sequences in cheese. ACE-inhibiting peptides have been found in Gouda4, Manchego5, Roncal, Cabrales6, and others.

A third advantage of certain cheese peptides is the ability to act as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are chemicals that neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are formed when an atom or molecule gains or loses an electron. These charged atoms/molecules go on to damage different parts of human cells. It’s possible that the damage will lead to health complications or cancer. Cheese peptides found in cheddar2 are able to act as antioxidants. It’s also been discovered that different milk-derived peptides provide antioxidant properties7. It is very likely that these antioxidant-peptides are common among different cheese varieties.

It is becoming clear that the peptides formed by protein breakdown during cheese aging have beneficial health effects. Cheese peptides can be antioxidants, they can lower blood pressure, and they can fight disease. As more research comes out on this subject, our views on cheese and health might change.

1Rizzello, C.G. et al. (2015). Antibacterial Activities of Peptides from the Water-Soluble Extracts of Italian Cheese Varieties. Journal of Dairy Science , 88(7) , 2348 – 2360.
2Pritchard S.R., Phillips M., & Kailasapathy k. (2010). Identification of bioactive peptides in commercial Cheddar cheese. Food Research International, 43(5), 1545-1548.
3Motta, A.S. and Brandelli, A. (2002), Characterization of an antibacterial peptide produced by Brevibacterium linens. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 92: 63–70.
4Saito, T. et al. (2000). Isolation and Structural Analysis of Antihypertensive Peptides That Exist Naturally in Gouda Cheese. Journal of Dairy Science. 83(7), 1434-1440.
5Gomez-Ruiz J.A., Ramos M., & Recio I. (2002) Angiotensin-converting enzyme-inhibitory peptides in Manchego cheeses manufactured with different starter cultures. International Dairy Journal. 12(8), 697-706.
6Gomez-Ruiz J.A. et al. (2006). Identification of ACE-inhibitory peptides in different Spanish cheeses by tandem mass spectrometry. European Food Research and Technology. 223(5), 595-601.
7Korhonen H. (2009). Milk-derived bioactive peptides: From science to applications. Journal of Functional Foods. 1(2), 177-187.

Celebrate 75 Years of Murray’s Cheese With Us!

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 2.54.48 PMMurray’s, New York’s oldest cheese shop, is celebrating our 75th anniversary from October 12 – October 25. We’re busy with special dinners, promotions, classes and giveaways–please join us! Check out our lineup here.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth in the past few years,” notes Murray’s President Rob Kaufelt, “but to those of us on staff, it still has the feel of a mom and pop business.”

We have grown from 3 stores in 2008 to nearly 250 stores today, and we continue to grow every day. By 2016, we will have 350 Murray’s stores within Kroger supermarkets throughout the country. We sell 6 million pounds of cheese a year. That’s a whole lot of cheese.

barden blue

We’ve kept our neighborhood soul, while becoming the national cheese brand. We’ve opened a shop in Grand Central Market, created state-of-the-art caves to ripen cheese to perfection, launched a beloved cheese bar, and built a rich and growing partnership with The Kroger Company.

What is the Murray’s experience? It’s about sharing the cheeses (more than 150 varieties in any given store!) and many other artisan-made goods that we find across the world. It’s about teaching you cheese through tasting and introducing you to your cheesemaker. It’s about spreading joy via cheese. We’ll never stop learning and sharing cheese with you, every day of the year.

You–our customers, our community, our fellow cheese-lovers–are what makes us great. Thank you for a wonderful 75 years. Here’s to 75 more!

Holland: the Land of Tall People and Bountiful Cheese


Note: We’re cheese people, not doctors, but we have a deep conviction that cheese is healthy. More and more, science is backing us up. This is our first in a series on why eating cheese is good for you. (The delicious part needs no proof.) 

The Dutch are the world’s tallest nation. They are also serious cheese-eaters. Coincidence? Maybe not.

“In a typical year, the average Dutch person consumes more than 25% more milk-based products than their British, American or German counterparts,” the BBC reports. “Dutch cattle produce more than 12 million tonnes of milk each year and some 800,000 tonnes of cheese – more than twice as much as the UK.” Pretty impressive for a country with a population of about one sixth of the UK’s.


Cheese is at the heart of Holland’s culture. The Dutch have been making cheese since pre-Christian times. Hundreds of years ago, an enormous amount of resources and effort were spent digging canals and  draining bogs in order to turn Holland’s marshy, wet land into livable, workable soil. By the Middle Ages, cheesemaking flourished, especially in towns like Gouda and Edam. Lush grass, temperate conditions, and all of that blood, sweat and tears created fertile pastures ideal for grazing cows. Milk flowed. And the best way to preserve sweet milk? Make cheese!

The Dutch didn’t just make cheese, they packaged, marketed and exported their bounty. In Cheese and Culture, Paul Kindstedt calls Holland “cheese provisioner of all Europe.” The country’s cheesemakers “created new markets for their cheeses through entrepreneurial innovation.” The nation has long ranked among the top exporters of cheese in the world- The Netherlands exported $4.5 billion of cheese in 2014.

But what stays at home is beloved and feasted upon. “These days, the average Dutchman is more than 6 ft tall, and the average Dutch woman about 5 ft 7in. The Dutch have gone from being among the shortest people in Europe to being the tallest in the world,” says the BBC. Of course, non-cheese factors matter, too. Holland is a wealthy country with fantastic healthcare and great overall nutrition. But then, there’s cheese.

(P.S. Inspired by the cheesefruits of Holland? Dig into some crystallized, butterscotchy Roomano, or sweep sheep’s milk Gouda.)


All Hail the King of Cheese: Murray’s Select Parmigiano Reggiano

Quick editor’s note: our team came back from Italy full of inspiration. This is the first in a series about our experiences and insights on our Italian adventures, findings, cheese and more. Take it away, Andrew!

My journey to the Italian countryside, somewhere between Reggio Emilia and Parma, began 4 years ago.  Before any of the aging, gorgeous wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano had begun their life as milk, before the cows had eaten the lush grasses growing nearby, before Riccio and his team heated the milk, added the rennet and salt, cut the curds, formed the wheels and then brined them.  My journey began before all of that, in a dimly lit conference room upstairs at Murray’s HQ, with a dozen of my coworkers.

On that afternoon four years ago, as we filed into the room, over thirty different plates of Parmigiano Reggiano were arrayed across the room and we were given simple instructions:  pick the best one.

The art of picking parm———————————————————————————————————-

Parmigiano Reggiano, the King of Cheese, is PDO, or protected designation of origin.  That means that any Italian cheese maker who makes it, must follow the same recipe and they must live within a very specific geographic area.

With aged cheeses, the goal is to get as much moisture out of the curds as possible so that the aging process goes smoothly and without spoiling.  There are multiple different ways to remove moisture from curds:  salt, heat, and cutting the curds.  The salt works through osmosis, pulling liquid out of the curds while adding salt back into them.  The heat causes evaporation.  Cutting the curds smaller and smaller removes any pockets that moisture could hide in.  In making Parmigiano Reggiano, they do all three.

It starts with combining skimmed milk from the previous evening with whole milk from the morning milking.  From there, the new partially-skimmed milk gets pumped into giant copper vats where it is heated, rennet is added, the milk becomes curds and whey, the curds are cut, the vat is heated, and then the curds are hooped together.  No cheese maker who makes PDO Parmigiano Reggiano can do this differently and that’s what guarantees consistency when you buy Parmigiano Reggiano at your local market.


Why go through this exercise 4 years ago?  Shouldn’t they all taste the same?  Yes and no.  The PDO helps to guarantee that the cheese you are getting conforms to certain requirements, but there are other factors at play in cheese making.  The specific feed of the cows, minuscule variations in temperature and time between cheese makers and in the aging process, and where the cows are in their reproductive cycle .  All of these pieces, when put together, can lead to dramatic differences.  So we tasted through the 30 different options, and we narrowed it down.

And then a few months later, we did it again.1

By repeating the tasting, we got to try wheels from different parts of the year and slightly different ages.  We tasted wheels that tended towards the nuttier side, we tasted wheels that were overwhelmingly fruity, we tasted wheels that had a distinctly “broccoli-ish” flavor, if my tasting notes are to be believed.

Each subsequent tasting helped us to narrow it down and finally we honed in on a favorite.  A perfect balance of nutty and fruity, salty and sweet, savory and umami.  Then we reached out to the farm, we locked in the entire production, and we had Murray’s Parmigiano Reggiano.


For a cheesemonger, the first time you crack open a wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano is always a memorable experience.  I remember my first perfectly.  I was helping to train some new cheesemongers in Cincinnati and was told to show them how to crack open Parm.  No problem!  But the beautiful thing about cracking a wheel of Parm happens every single time one gets opened up.  Milk, at most 14-16 hours old goes through the cheese making process, and once that wheel is put into its mold, the milk on the inside begins a two-year long journey.  When a cheesemonger cracks a wheel, that milk is seeing the light of day for the first time in over 730 days.  It is a beautiful and delicious moment and one that you can experience at Murray’s stores around the country this Saturday, October 3rd.


And finally, we’re walking in to the cheese making room where our Parm is made.  I’ve cracked many wheels of Parm, but this was going to be my first time seeing that milk in liquid form.


The first room we walked into, the cheese making room, was hot and humid and bustling with activity.  We walked through and into the refrigerated milk room, where the milk comes in each evening to sit and await the morning milk the next day.  All of the activity and heat of the make room are left behind as the milk quietly and peacefully enjoys the views.


Back into the humidity and heat, and we got to meet Riccio and watch him and his team make Parmigiano Reggiano.

From heating up the milk, to adding the rennet, to cutting the curds, to gathering the curds, to putting the curds into the forms and then pressing them, Riccio walked us through the whole process as he and his crew worked.


After settling into their final shape, the wheels take a 20-day bath in a salt brine to help further reduce internal moisture and bring the saltiness of the cheese up to the levels that we know and love.


And then, they wait.  And 2 years later, you get shelves and shelves full of the King of Cheese with our dynamic cheese maker!


Passion, Tradition & Love of Cheese: Stories of Italian Cheesemakers

Quick editor’s note: our team came back from Italy full of inspiration. This is the first in a series about our experiences and insights on our Italian adventures, findings, cheese and more. Take it away, Andrea! 

Italians are very proud of their cheese and rightly so, for it is treasured throughout the world.  But their pride doesn’t come with arrogance, but rather a passion for carrying out tradition and history of their beloved country.  After spending a few days traveling throughout Italy, it was clear that Italian cuisine was full of history.  I was awe-inspired by cheesemakers who shared their stories with me.  Stories, about the passion, tradition, and of course… love of cheese!

From Finance to Formaggio

“I believe in Italy” cheesemaker Guido Pallini exclaimed when I asked him what he loved most about working on his family farm in the Maremma region in Tuscany.  After leaving his job as an investment banker in London, Pallini made a decision to return to his roots at the family livestock farm, a business of breeding water buffalo for milk production and farming land to grow crops.  Pallini had a vision of turning this quickly declining livestock farm into a cheese making business.  Integrating other activities into their operation would help make the family business more sustainable.

DSC_0815_blog5Today, La Maremmana is a fulling functioning cheese factory of buffalo milk cheese made solely from the milk of their livestock.  From Mozzarella di Buffala to Burrata to fresh Ricotta, Pallini’s dream of saving the family business came true.  “I felt a responsibility to support a community that was generations old.”  It’s easy to taste his passion and love in his cheese; unmistakably rich, delicate and full of flavor.


Guido Pallini isn’t stopping there.  He is also experimenting with a few “non-typical” cheeses to Tuscany with the hopes encouraging his local customer base to explore new and exciting cheeses, like Blu del Granduca and Gran Gessato Maremmano.  He’s also using the milk of his livestock to create beauty products!


With a full stomach and a sample of his new buffalo milk haircare product (a new business venture Pallini is working on) I was off to the next interview, full of inspiration about the love and passion of keeping Italian tradition alive!



The Head, the Hands & the Heart

Eros Buratti has dedicated his life to bringing his community extraordinary cheese.  Working as the local stagionatura (ager) at La Casera, his small family-run cheese shop in the Piedmont region of Italy, Buratti focuses on collecting, aging and retailing regional cheeses.  For over seventeen years he has brought exceptional cheese to his community.  I was honored to taste through his creations during my travels and get a deeper understanding of his passion, love and philosophy of cheese!


Cheese making, Buratti explained, is all about purpose.  Without a purpose there is no need to create.  His desire to create new, delicious cheese comes directly from the feedback he gets from the people who eat it and he is personally invested in creating unique cheese for all to enjoy.  “I make cheese that I like. That the people will like. I will always listen to them.”  The choices he makes in aging & collecting cheese are based on the community, one that is deeply rooted in Italian tradition.


At last, it was time to taste through his amazing cheese. The most memorable for me was his collection of Robiola, a classic Italian soft-ripened cheese of the Stracchino family, all of which were different.  I have tasted this cheese before, but this was so much fuller of purpose.  As we ate each cheese, Buratti explained how one of his workers from Gambia hand-wrapped each of the Robiola in fig, chestnut or cabbage leaves, making each a different and special.  He explained that this man came from a hard life and through the education of cheese making; he has made his life better.  “Cheese making is not just about the business, it is about putting the head, the hands and the heart into what you are creating.”  The head: to think about what it is you are trying to create, the hands: to make the cheese itself, and the heart: to put passion, love and purpose into what you are doing.  His words were inspiring.  As I was finishing up the interview and saying my goodbyes to Eros, thanking him for the truly memorable experience, he introduced me to the man who hand-wrapped the cheese.  He repeated Buratti’s words, “the head, the hands and the heart” and I will remember that advice forever!