Meet A Monger Monday: Robin Minkoff

Cheesemonger: World’s #1 Best, #2 Noblest Profession

Robin H. Minkoff

When I tell people I’m a cheesemonger, they either say, “That’s awesome!” or “Do you like that?”  People who say, “That’s awesome!” are totally correct.  Ok, sometimes it is stressful dealing with commuters who feel like you’re not slicing their prosciutto (paper-thin!  PAPER! THIN!) fast enough, because they have to catch a train.  But sharing my love of cheese with the masses is a lot of fun, and something I believe in.

Sometimes I tell people that if I weren’t a cheesemonger, I would probably be a doctor, because I think it’s really noble to heal people.  I’ll never be a doctor, though, because I can’t even listen to people talk about giving blood.  Please don’t say the phrase “donate plasma” around me.  Anyway, I think being a cheesemonger is a noble thing, too.  Cheesemaking is an ancient craft that connects us to the earth, to the animals who produce the milk, and to the people who craft that milk into something complex and delicious.  As a monger I get to connect people to this ancient tradition. Terroir!  Yummers!

I got into cheese from the farm-y end: before moving to New York I volunteered at a family farm in Colorado where I helped milk goats and cows and made butter and cheese.  I visited a cheese maker in Vermont last fall, and the odor in the cheese room during the make – warm, sour milk – broughts back a lot of fond memories for me.   I also got a little experience aging cheese at Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy when my friend Leah worked there (taste the Rockies!).  When I had a desk job as a consultant in Denver I would read books about goat farming and the cheese industry on the bus to work.  I went from clicking around on a computer to slinging cheese for the most influential specialty cheese purveyor in the country (next, The World…).

Career mathematics: mongering > consulting.  Maybe some day I’ll have my own goat farm and make farmstead cheeses.  As I know from my reading, though, as a dairy farmer, you have to be a part-time veterinarian.  So maybe I’ll be a doctor after all.

Robin Minkoff is a cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in Grand Central Terminal as well as a merchandising specialist for our Kroger outposts. Not even lactose intolerance can stand in the way of her love of cheese.

Spring Recipe Idea: Bacon Wrapped Dates Stuffed with Goat Cheese & Almonds

Just in time for Easter brunch – an easy and delicious recipe.

Bacon wrapped anything is just plain good. Wrap bacon around a scallop and you have an impossibly delicious land-meets-sea cocktail party morsel. Cover a chicken liver in bacon and you can make an offal-hater on a diet believe “fat meets fat” is a good thing (Fat is not a bad thing, by the way, but that’s a topic for another blog).

I started at Murray’s 3 months ago and one of my first assignments was to make our Bacon Wrapped Dates. I was quickly reminded of how much I adore bacon wrapped things when I pulled the first batch from the oven and – for professional reasons of course – popped one in my mouth.

The first rush is the smoky-salty perfection that is bacon, freshly sliced Nueske’s slab bacon to be precise. The bacon is wrapped around a plump Medjool date which any oven magically transforms into a gooey sweet candy. And here comes the kicker: inside the date is a creamy, tangy oozing bite of Bucheron goat cheese AND a surprising, pleasant crunch thanks to a single Marcona almond.

Crunchy, creamy. sweet, and salty – all in one bite. There isn’t a thing missing from this 3-D style hors d’oeuvres experience. It’s like a study in contrast of flavor and texture, I kid you not. Salty. Sweet. Creamy Crunchy. Want to make them? Of course you do. Lucky for you it’s incredibly easy. So get going, and bon appetit!

Bacon-Wrapped Dates     makes 10 pieces

10 Medjool dates (the large ones), pit removed with a paring knife

10 slices bacon (sliced thin)

10 whole marcona almonds

8-10 oz Bucheron

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Gently push 1 ounce of cheese and one almond inside each date. Squeeze the cut section of the date together. The natural stickiness will serve as a seal when you press the sides together and will help keep the cheese from oozing out.
  3. Lay a bacon strip down long ways and roll the date into the bacon.
  4. Place the dates on a baking sheet. If you have a wire cooling rack, place it on top of sheet pan and bake on this so the fat drips through the rack.
  5. Cook in the middle of the oven for 12-15 minutes, until the bacon is crisp.
  6. Dates will be hot! Let cool thoroughly to at or near room temperature before serving.

 

Michele Pulaski is a consulting chef at Murray’s Cheese. She has a way with words and can’t resist a colorful scarf.

We’ll Drink To That: Beer & Cheese Pairing Basics

Caitlin and Kevin have insatiable appetites for delicious cheese/beverage combinations and they are out to try them all. Today they share some basic tips for pairing beer and cheese, just in time for your St. Paddy’s Day festivities.

BEER ME

Beer and cheese. The perfect pairing? Potentially. Better than wine and cheese? Undeniably, and we aren’t just saying so because St. Patrick’s Day is on the horizon. A wise man once told us that cheese and beer are the same: both are made from grass processed by animals for our (delicious) consumption, and both are ancient methods of preservation. If you’re unconvinced, try this mental exercise: Think of your favorite cheese, and the creamy rich texture that coats your mouth. Then imagine a glass of crisp, lightly effervescent,  golden-brown lager. There, now you get it.

BEST BETS: TIPS FOR CHOOSING BEER AND CHEESE 

When pairing cheese and beer, it’s important to stay away from super hoppy beers. You may love that eye-watering Double IPA, but it’ll overwhelm any cheese you want to munch with it. Stay closer to the malty side of the fence: Stouts, bocks, ambers and pilsners. Stouts and porters are particularly cooperative, as their roasty-toasty character works well with many cheeses.

On the cheese side, go for cheese that will stand up to your beer. Delicate cheeses are easily overwhelmed, so you wouldn’t pair these with anything too intense. Texture-forward cheeses, such as Fromager d’Affinois or a triple crème can get lost against even the mildest of beers. Instead, think alpine-style, washed-rinds, and thistle rennet options – in other words, stuff with serious flavor.

WHAT WE LOVED

Alpine cheese, such as Comte or Gruyere (cave-aged for sure), pairs well with a rich Stout. The roasted character of the stout, which can frequently have notes of chocolate or coffee, marries perfectly with the sweet, caramelly, cooked milk of an alpine cheese. This weekend we tried a few new beer and cheese combos. Our favorite pairing was Spring Brook Tarentaise with Two Brothers North-Wind Imperial Stout, the fruity American alpine mixed delightfully with the clean notes of the Stout. And for a truly seasonal treat, you can’t do much better than our new, limited edition Cavemaster Reserve Across the Pond. It’s washed in stout, so beer is its natural companion – get it while it lasts!

The best thing about beer is that it’s a wonderfully forgiving accompaniment, so DO try this at home. As long as you take care to match flavor intensity odds are you’ll have a delicious duo. Throw some cured meats, olives, nuts or dried fruit alongside, and dinner is served.

Caitlin Griffith is a cheesemonger at our Bleecker Street store, and in a few months she’ll boast a MA in Food Studies from NYU. Things she enjoys in excess: wine, radishes, list-making, garlic, and salt water.

Kevin Brooks is head monger at Bleecker Street and also shares his merchandising expertise in Murray’s Kroger outposts. His iPod is full of metal, and his brain is full of thoughts on beer, burritos, and Settlers of Catan.

Meet A Monger Monday: Sean Kelly

The Murray’s Mongers are a ragtag bunch. We all have different stories, but most everyone here has two things in common: that they did not plan to work at a cheese shop, and that they are now completely obsessed with cheese.  

SEAN KELLY, Cheesemonger, Bleecker Street

I used to work in publishing. Not the kind of publishing that enabled me to read a bunch of great, interesting work from rising new writers (though the unsolicited manuscripts my company received were almost always insanely entertaining), but rather the more obscure realm of academic publishing. I would work with books on areas of anthropology I had no idea existed, medieval poetry, renaissance philosophy and a range of other subjects that have since slipped my mind. When I first began, I made an effort to read some of the works I was dealing with. After about thirty pages on the history of Newark parochial schools, I promptly gave up. The more I worked with these books, the less I felt I knew about them; and the fact that about one third of them were written in languages that I don’t speak certainly didn’t help things.

A few years later, desperately needing a change of scenery and wanting to do something a little off the beaten path, I applied for an internship working in the caves here at Murray’s. It seemed to make sense: I had been a long time customer, loved cheese and had heard from many a friend who had graduated college and moved into the job market that employers appreciate a few interesting additions to a resume. So I started taking care of cheese. I made the rookie mistake of wearing a pair of shorts my first day (I insisted that I wasn’t too cold, but I was freezing and probably looked really dumb). I left work dirty and smelling like cheese, and, much to the dismay of my fellow subway riders, wore it as a badge of honor. I took to it pretty quickly.

Several months into the internship, I had developed an affinity for different types of mold. I began to love the smell of a room full of washed rind cheese. I realized that this was different than anything else I had done before. Obviously, none of my previous jobs had involved racks and racks full of cheese, but there was a much more important difference here. Unlike the shelves of French literary theory that I used to deal with, the racks of cheese in front of me made me want to know more about them. They were living, changing things that everyone could experience in a different way, and they could turn out beautiful or horrendous with just the slightest modification. I thought about this most when I worked with the Loire Valley cheeses, namely the lovely little Valencay pyramids. Watching a lump of fresh goat cheese turn into an aged, mature creation, carefully picking mold off of it all the while, made me feel connected to the thing that I was working with in a way I had never felt before. I got excited about it, and felt like I needed to tell other people about it.

My friends seemed to get tired of my constant rambling on about butterfat and bloomy rinds, so I suppose it was a good thing for myself and those around me that I moved up to the counter at Murray’s when my internship concluded. From a bookcase to a cheese case, I finally found something I could work with and want to understand. Of course, it certainly helped that understanding came from eating instead of reading this time around. I’m better at eating, anyway.

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.