Kidding Season: Why now is the time for fresh goat cheese

by Grace Mitchell

We all know it because of our own human experience:  animals only produce milk after they give birth to their young.  It’s easy, however, to forget this plain fact of nature when we have a constant supply of fresh milk, cheese, and other dairy products.  Thanks to modern technologies and human manipulation of animals’ natural cycles, we can conveniently partake in dairy year-round.

But just like those out of season vegetables that we buy at the supermarket, this consistent supply of dairy is sometimes lackluster when it comes to taste.  While the majority of dairying in this country occurs without consideration for the natural cycles of animals, there are a few dairies and cheesemakers who understand that making cheese in accordance with the seasons will yield the best product.

In seasonal dairying, animals give birth to their young in spring and begin producing milk to feed them.  This resurgence in milk production comes after a dry period in which the animals do not produce milk.  Goats, for example, have a ten-month lactation cycle, and milk production that begins in spring thus ceases in late fall or early winter.  At this time, the goats also must move off pasture with the arrival of cold weather, and their milk quality changes with quality of their feed.

Now that it’s spring again, the goats have given birth and are once again making milk.  This recommencement of milk production also corresponds to moving the goats to pasture.  No longer wintering indoors dining upon stored winter feed, these goats are now grazing on lush spring pastures and woodland browse which endow their milk with an array of vitamins, minerals, and other flavor compounds, thus yielding especially complex cheeses.

Some of the cheeses made from this milk are intended to age for several months, such as Consider Bardewell’s Manchester.  But for those of us in desperate need of instant gratification, there is fresh chevre for us to enjoy right now.

I attribute my most memorable and extended encounter with fresh chevre to my stint working on a goat cheese farm, at which I arrived in late spring.  There was an abundance of baby goats, and a corresponding abundance of fresh chevre, present three meals a day.  Luckily, my springtime chevre habit need not desist now that I live in the city, as Murray’s has made great friends with Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, owners and operators of Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks.  From the milk of their 300 goats, they make some of our favorite cheeses, including Kunik.  In the spring they handcraft fresh chevres, some of which are so lovingly flavored, and all of which are pillowy, milky, tangy, lemony, and absolutely dreamy in your mouth.  It’s best right now–so quick!  Get yourself some fresh chevre while it’s delicate, complex, and benefitting from the newness of spring growth.

Joan Nathan’s Cheesy Passover Dishes

We’re pretty excited to welcome Joan Nathan to Murray’s on May 10 for an evening of cheese and chatting.  As the author of ten cookbooks, and a James Beard awardwinner to boot, Joan knows a thing (or three) about cooking with cheese.  In May we’ll be tasting cheese, sipping wine and trying a few recipes from her latest cookbook.  And this month, with Passover right around the corner, we asked Joan to share a few of her favorite cheese-filled recipes that she uses at her own Seder.  

FARFEL AND CHEESE – From Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook

About four days into Passover when my daughter, Daniela, was young she commented that, “We look forward to the Seder for so long that we forget after a few days, matzah gets old!”  I adapted this farfel and cheese recipe precisely for that reason.  No one can get sick of mac and cheese!  Especially when it’s full of cheddar AND sour cream. 

4 large eggs

3 cups matzah farfel

½ lb cheddar cheese (so many options here!  Try Tickler, Cabot Clothbound, or Montgomery’s – or a mixture of many)

1 ½ cups sour cream

6 tablespoons butter or pareve margarine

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

     Beat 3 of the eggs and pour over the farfel.  Mix well.

     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a casserole.  Pour the farfel mixture into the casserole.

     Cut the cheddar cheese into a small dice.  Add the cheese to the farfel.  Using a spoon add the sour cream in dollops and dot with the butter or margarine.  Mix together the milk, remaining egg, salt, and pepper, and pour it over the casserole.

     Bake covered, for 30 minutes.  Uncover and let brown for 10 to 15 minutes more.  Scoop out onto plates.

Serves 8.

PAPETON D’AUBERGINES (EGGPLANT GRATIN) – From Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous

Eggplant is a favorite of mine and I never need an excuse to make it.  In this recipe, roasting the eggplant makes it nice and smoky and with all the cheese, no one feels the least bit deprived.  I like to serve it alongside a simple green salad and use whatever cheeses I have on hand.  You should feel free to experiment.

1/4 cup olive oil

3 large eggplants, about 4 pounds

1 teaspoon salt or to taste

1 cup feta or goat cheese, crumbled

1 cup grated Gruyere or Mozzarella cheese

1 sprig thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

1 sprig oregano or ½ teaspoon dried oregano

4 tablespoons matzo meal

Freshly grated pepper to taste

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

3 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 6-cup gratin dish with some of the oil.

If grilling the eggplants over a gas stove, make small slits all over the outside.  Using tongs, hold them over the open flame, rotating them every few minutes until they are soft and collapsed. If roasting them in the oven, cut them in half lengthwise. Brush the cut sides with olive oil, and place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast for about 30 minutes or until very soft.

Place the cooked eggplant in a sieve over a large bowl, sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt, and let cool and drain for about 15 minutes.  Peel, discarding the skin and any liquid that has accumulated, and, using 2 knives, chop the eggplant in a sieve over a bowl. 

Stir the feta and gruyere cheeses, the thyme, the oregano, 3 tablespoons of the matzo meal, a few sprinklings of pepper and all but a tablespoon of the remaining oil. Beat the eggs in a small bowl and stir into the eggplant mixture. Then pour everything into the gratin dish. Brush with the remaining oil and sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese and the remaining matzo meal. Bake for an hour or until golden on top.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

The Brie Syndrome

by Rob Kaufelt

Brie is in the air, or at least in the news – see The New York Times.  What is old is new again this spring, in cheese as in all things.  Brie has always been popular at Murray’s, it is a staple of our business, ever since the early importers first brought it from France to America in quantity without ruining it along the way, and Murray Greenberg brought it into his little shop on Cornelia St.

For the fact is, Brie is a delicate cheese.  A bloomy rind cheese, a soft ripened treasure. If too young it lacks that luscious creaminess; if too old, it has that ammoniated taste and smell that put us off. Once upon a time, as Brie became more popular, it became less likely to come from France, and more likely to come from factories in Wisconsin and Canada. Somehow, these were never as good.

Worse, Brie is meant to be double creme, 60% butterfat, and more brie began to be sold that was only single creme, or 50%, which just doesn’t make it in the taste and mouthfeel department. (triple cremes, at 70%, are something else altogether).

But worst of all, we began to see it cut and cryovac’ed, with a long shelf life, suffocating in plastic, and so fewer Americans were having a real French brie moment anymore.

But Brie is back, and the real thing is finally becoming available in ever more locations. In our shops at Kroger markets in Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Texas, you can get the real thing, freshly cut from its large 2 or 3 kilo wheels, the large white discs sitting freshly unwrapped from their special paper ready for the monger’s wire.

Brie is meant to be eaten a point, at the point of perfection, perfectly creamy yet not over the top. We achieve this by storing the cheese we import in our French design caves beneath the streets of Greenwich Village.

Along with Brie, the comeback trail might include Brie’s infamous spinoffs, perhaps ready for respectability denied it in food and cheese circles. I’m speaking of baked brie, of course, Brie en Croute, which has given us a few laughs at Murray’s over the years. But now I’m not so sure.

Last year, while visiting a Kroger store in Ohio with Liz Thorpe, our Vice President who’s in charge of that program, a young chef in the store brought us her version of baked Brie: a little aluminum foil cup, filled with Brie, wrapped in an all-butter puff pastry.  Needless to say, it was delicious, and the shops carried it for the holidays and it sold like crazy.

It was delicious: the melted brie oozing flavor with its salt mingling with the sweet fruit preserves, then baked with a golden brown crust.  Could it be that a young midwestern chef discovered what an old New York cheesemonger (or the French themselves for that matter) would never admit: this was Brie at its best!

Going underground

By Sascha Ingram

In case you hadn’t noticed, cheese people tend to get pretty passionate, verging on fanatical, about their cheese.  The next time you ask your cheesemonger what her favorite cheese is, keep an eye out for the wince she makes as though you’ve asked her to name her favorite child.  Listen for the subtle gasp of horror that escapes her lips when you ask if you can freeze this (living, breathing) cheese and eat it sometime in 2024.  And watch the sparkle in her eyes as she tells you about the first time (Fall, 2006) that she tasted Beaufort d’Alpage, as she recounts every note of flavor and aroma that forever changed her life that day. (yes, the “she” in those examples is yours truly)

Beneath our Bleecker Street store, you’ll find a testament to our cheese dedication — to making sure that each and every piece of cheese that enters our store leaves in as good or better condition than it was when it came in.  Our cheese caves, built in 2004, provide temperature and humidity-controlled rooms to ensure that the cheese is kept cool but not cold, moist but not saturated, with a minimal amount of air blowing across the surface of the cheese that could threaten to dry it out.  Our dedicated inventory manager, or affineur, monitors the progress of the hundreds of wheels in the caves, as well as a team of interns who fastidiously pat and flip small format bloomy rinds and wash the ooey-gooey stinkers for hours a week.

We haven’t gone so far as to name each wheel of cheese or hire a string quartet to play to the cheeses at night, but you might suspect it once you’ve tasted how incredible cave-aging can make the cheese.  For example, check out our latest domestic obsession: Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Kinderhook Creek.  It’s a 100% sheep’s milk cheese, with a bloomy (or mold-ripened) rind, from just upstate in the Hudson Valley.  We get Kinderhook Creek just after it’s made, before the blossoms of fluffy white Penicillium candidum start to show up.  As the cheese sits in our specially crafted bloomy rind cave (pictured below), mold spores activate and begin to alter the flavor of the cheese, breaking down fats and proteins to showcase the buttery richness of the pure sheep’s milk.  It becomes decadent and creamy, with a subtle minerality on the rind.  One of those cheeses that makes you go, “Mmmmm,” for minutes at a time.

While those adorable molds (What?  Under a microscope they look like flowers, I promise) bloom and grow, there’s a different transformation taking place on the rind of everyone’s favorite stinker, Epoisses.  Epoisses is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese made in Burgundy, France, that is washed by the cheesemaker in a solution of Marc de Bourgogne, brandy made from the skins, seeds, and pulp of the grapes used to make inmitable Burgundy wines.  Typically such washing ends in France, before the cheeses are placed in their wooden boxes, sealed in plastic, and placed on a boat for their journey to the States- but not at Murray’s.  Once we receive the cheese, every piece of Epoisses is unwrapped to allow it to breathe, and the washing process begins again in earnest.  Marc de Bourgogne is carefully spritzed over the rind, imparting a fruity, grassy flavor to the rind.  The constant application of moisture to the rind encourages the Brevibactirium linens (that orange, sticky bacteria you see on the rind, the one that gives Epoisses its, ahem, aroma) to further break down the paste of the cheese, ensuring that when you cut into your Epoisses its unctuous paste oozes out across the plate, carrying with it the most savory, meaty, brothy, DELICIOUS flavors you’ve ever found in this cheese.

Yes, we bathe our cheese in alcohol, and yes, we have a cadre of interns who lovingly pat and rotate every piece of Selles sur Cher that enters our door.  We do it because we love cheese, of course, but also because we love  to offer you the newest and most delicious finds – from our neck of the woods or from across the world – and always aged to perfection.

Want more of the cheese caves?  Take a photo tour on facebook.

Planning a party? Easy cheesy entertaining tips

 
 
by Deena Siegelbaum
Want to mix up your cheese board at your next party?  Here are a few tried-and-true tricks for a crowd-pleasing spread.  Like the looks of what we’ve created here?  This snacky board is sure to get you through the Final Four or impress your next dinner guests.

Pick a theme: The board pictured here is…you guessed it, Italian.  We began with our new fave salamis and speck from Olli Salumeria, then picked Italian or Italian-style faves to complete the mix.  Theme by country…like the classic Spanish manchego, quince paste and Marcona almond combo; stinky (and fabulous) French cheeses and fresh baguettes; or artisan picks from the good ol’ USA with fresh fruit or veggies from the farmers market.  Whatever you choose, make sure to include a variety of styles (hard and soft cheeses) and different milk types (cow, goat, sheep).   

Think of crowd-pleasing favorites, then raise the bar:  Help your friends try new cheeses they’re guaranteed to love.  Most people stick to old faithfuls like Parmigiano and Cheddar.  Try alternatives to Parm like Piave or Stravecchio, or a superbly savory Cheddar like Bleu Mont Bandaged or Mrs. Quicke’s.  Don’t play it too safe, though – mix in some new finds!  Goat cheese and blue cheese are two types people think they don’t like – but I’ve found that starting with approachable cheeses like Aged Goat Gouda or creamy Black River Blue, you may just win them over.  

Mix in the meat: My most recent dinner guests are still talking about the cheese and bresaola board I laid out a few weeks ago – it was so ample, we followed it with a very light dinner.  The center of my wood board was piled high with bresaola and surrounded by various hard and soft cheeses, plus my favorite Marcona almonds and Spanish figs.  On another board I had fresh bread and a small bowl of olive oil for dipping.  We tried multiple pairings and all worked!   

Throw in unexpected accompaniments:  Honeys and chutneys, preserved walnuts, and pickled figs are known to get squeals at cocktail parties.  Mustard goes great with salami, of course – my new favorite is My Friend’s Brown Ale Mustard (made by a cool chick in Brooklyn).  Speck is traditionally served with creamy cheeses, pickled and bread that’s been lightly toasted.  Play around – put it on bruschetta for your guests, or in a bread salad.     

Portion “control”:  Figure 1-2 ounces per person per item.  Having 6 people over?  Aim for 1/3-1/2 LB. of each cheese, meat and condiment, plus ample crackers or bread.