Serve cheese like a pro at your holiday party

It’s true: The easiest, tastiest way to host your friends and family for the holidays is with a fantastic cheese spread.  Whether you’re a cheese newbie or a fromage fanatic, this season’s latest and greatest party cheeses will help you plan your most delicious gathering.  So sit back, let your mind drift to the gooey, the crumbly, the yummiest cheeses of the season.

Getting started: A great party spread has up to 6 cheeses of all different styles and milk types.  We suggest delighting your guests with a mix of buttery, grassy, pungent or caramelly tastes.

More than just cheese: When picking accompaniments, from wine to nuts, pick a pairing principle:

  • Choose items that are complementary – pair similar flavors together, like a flavorful cheddar with a bold wine;
  • That old adage is true with cheese, too:  opposites attract.  Don’t be shy about mixing sweet with salty;
  • What grows together goes together – you can’t go wrong with cheese and pairings from the same neck of the woods.

Not sure how much to buy?  Our rule of thumb is 1-2 oz per cheese, per person for a party or an appetizer spread before dinner. (most of our assortments serve up to10)

Serving Sense: Cheese tastes better at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge one hour before serving.  For a party, set out on a board with one knife per cheese – start cutting into each piece to get it started, then let your guests go to town.

Sommelier for a day:  Want to impress by pairing cheese with wine or beer like an expert?  Click here to view our full beverage pairing guide.

Learn even more by going reading our Cheese Basics.

New assortment for the holiday season: Cheeselovers Anonymous

Cheeselovers Anonymous (pictured above) features a complete tasting through all of the cheese styles – we couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect party package!

STAFF PICKS: What’s On Our Thanksgiving Cheese Plates

Nobody knows cheese like the mongers at Murray’s. That’s why we asked 10 cheesemongers what they’re bringing to Thanksgiving Dinner this week. Here are their recommendations, straight from the red jackets themselves!

Cielo – Keely’s Across the Pond*. God Bless America!

James – Jasper Hill Harbison has been tasting amazing, with a really delicate mustard flavor.

Eric – River’s Edge Up In Smoke, for post-Thanksgiving breakfast with turkey and stuffing!

Sydney – St. Maure*. They are super gooey right now, and the creamy texture means the flavor is even stronger.

Brian, Caves Manager at Murray’s Cheese – (Let it be noted that he had a very hard time deciding.) Consider Bardwell Pawlett*, because it’s savory with flavors of sauteed garlic and onion, and a slight tangy-ness. It’s a beautiful table cheese, on point right now, and a total crowd-pleaser.

Joshua – Colston Bassett Stilton, because it is just delicious.

Sarah – Tomme Chevre Aydius*. It’s light enough that it is a perfect appetizer, especially with crostini.

Kevin – Etivaz, it is a super-delicious flavor explosion!

Brian – Quadrello di Bufala is sweet and meaty like many Thanksgiving dishes. Most people don’t serve Italian cheese at Thanksgiving, so it’s nice to bring something unique and unexpected to the table.

Adam – Spring Brook Tarentaise, my baby. It’s a lovely, hearty cheese and is always great this time of year.

*These cheeses are available in our NYC retail stores but are not currently available for online purchase.

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.

Prairie Breeze Mac and Cheese

Prairie Breeze Macaroni and Cheese   Serves 12

(Adapted from Martha Stewart’s recipe)

It’s often said that a dish is only as good as its ingredients, and that’s never more true than when you’re making something simple like mac and cheese.

Our newest cheddar, Prairie Breeze, is loaded with flavor, hitting just the right balance of sweet & sharp. It also melts like a dream, which makes it a great choice for cooking. This recipe makes enough to serve a crowd and calls for a hefty helping of cheese – we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ingredients

  • 6 generous slices rustic white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, additional for greasing baking dish
  • 5 3/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated is best, if available)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 4 1/2 cups (about 18 ounces) grated Prairie Breeze cheddar
  • 2 cups (about 8 ounces) grated Gruyere
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni (or other pasta shape like Rustichella Trenne)

Method

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 3-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place bread pieces in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour butter into the bowl with bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, heat milk. Melt remaining 6 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When butter bubbles, add flour. Cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.

2. Slowly pour hot milk into flour-butter mixture while whisking. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

3. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, mustard, 3 cups cheddar, and 1 1/2 cups Gruyere. Set cheese sauce aside.

4. Cook macaroni following manufacturer’s instructions, but cook 2 to 3 fewer minutes than instructions on box, until outside of pasta is cooked and inside is underdone as it will continue to cook in the oven. Transfer the macaroni to colander and rinse under cold water, making sure to drain well to avoid watery mac and cheese! Stir macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.

5. Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle remaining 1 1/2 cups cheddar and 1/2 cup Gruyere; scatter breadcrumbs over the top. If you like, top with a sprinkle of additional cayenne, black pepper or sweet paprika for an extra kick. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 30 minutes. Transfer dish to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes before serving. Bon Appetit!