Vermont: Land of Cheese, Promise and HAY

hay pic

Mateo, Big Cheese at Jasper Hill, is showing off his hay. We’re moved. Really.

It’s all about they hay. Hay hay hay.

On Thursday, five of us from Murray’s packed a car full of cheese and took off northward, towards Vermont. Our plan: spend time at Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery before heading to celebrate all things Vermont Cheese at the Vermont Cheesemakers Festival.

The cuteness is extreme.

The cuteness is extreme.

Come Saturday, we had spent a whirlwind 48 hours driving, hanging out with so-cute-it-hurts goats and their kids and whey-eating piglets, getting up before the crack of dawn to make Rupert (ok, mostly watching the lovely cheesemakers at Consider Bardwell make Rupert), tasting through so many batches of Bayley Hazen our tongues got all tingly, walking through farms, suiting up for the caves…and eating cheese and more cheese, and then some more cheese. Some Vermont beer to watch it down. Then more cheese.

Rupert is happening! Circa 6 AM on Friday.

Rupert is happening! Circa 6 AM on Friday.

We’re all happy, excited and fired up. The postcard-worthy, saturated green landscapes of Vermont never get boring. Vermont summer is truly magnificent. At night, us city kids ogle a blanket of stars, deep quiet. At Consider Bardwell, Jasper Hill and Vermont Creamery the cheeseheads are so ridiculously generous with their time and knowledge that I’m inspired to be a better human being.


But hay! I digress.

Before this weekend, I spent approximately zero time thinking about hay. It was Mateo Kehler, who started and runs Jasper Hill with his brother Andy, who urged us to wake up early (so early!) and see his newest treasure: a hay drier. It didn’t really sound sexy. Sleep sounded better than a hay drier. But Mateo was pumped up, and so hay it was.

“It smells so good,” he said, that some time in and around his fragrant hay would make everyone want us. When we opened the car doors, the heady fragrance hit us. Long inhales. Like just-mown lawn and wildflowers and sunshine…it was a magic smell.


Great cheese starts with great milk. Great milk comes from happy cows. Mateo and his team at Jasper Hill have pioneered hay drying technology to feed their herd (really) well in the winter.

“The microbial quality of the milk is the sum total of all the practices on the farm,” he told us around some of his super fragrant hay. We kept sniffing. Rachel, Murray’s Cheese Bar’s cheese goddess, was getting inspired about cooking with hay. Mateo gave her a few baggies to take home. As I write, she’s experiment in the kitchen. Stay tuned.


I didn’t know hay is so hard to come by. The fields need three or four consecutive days without rain for the grass to be dry enough to gather and make hay. And cheese requires a gigantic amount of hay. One ton of hay yields about 850 pounds of milk, which makes about 100 pounds of cheese. That comes out to 20 pounds of hay for one pound of cheese.


Beautiful Bayley

Mateo’s hay drier is the first of its kind in North America. It means fields can be harvested after just two dry days, rather than four. It means he doesn’t have to rely on hay from Canada, or even worse, fermented silage, which is tough on cow tummies and makes less wonderful milk. “The health benefits for our animals are huge,” Mateo told us. “It’s about preserving the biology of grass on the field. Everything–ecology, bedding, eating, milking–everything effects the quality of the milk.”

“What we’re really doing is supporting a farm and a community. Cheese is the vehicle by which we do so.” We could feel that in Vermont. We met farmers, milkers, cheesemakers, affineurs, cheese-lovers, their family, their friends…a true community. It all starts with the hay. And these people. And their love.


Fighting the Good Fight for Raw Milk Cheese & Small Cheesemakers


“How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?” Charles de Gaulle famously inquired.

“Today it might be just as hard to govern the country, but it has nothing to do with cheese – because 90% of the producers have either gone to the wall or are in the hands of the dairy giants,” Ana Pouvreau and Mark Porter wrote for Newseek in their 2014 article.

A year later, the sad state of French cheese continues, perhaps even intensifies. In the motherland of bountiful, rich-historied fromage, giant companies are taking over. Small cheesemakers are vanishing, and with them, their traditions and sublime cheese. Raw milk cheese—whose flavors are more complex than their pasteurized brethren—are endangered.

Big producers “are determined to impose a bland homogeneity upon the consumer – cheese shaped objects with a mediocre taste and of poor quality because the pasteurisation process kills the product,” Véronique Richez-Lerouge, founder of France’s Unpasteurised Cheese Association, told Newseek. We at Murray’s agree.

“Just like wood is good, raw milk is too,” says Steve Millard, Murray’s VP of Merchandising. “We all generally prefer raw milk cheeses to their pasteurized impostors. What do we stand on when the name controlled protections cave and allow pasteurized versions? We support tradition, we support clean cheesemakers, and we support allowing the little guy the chance to continue making traditional raw milk cheeses.” Murray’s stands with the little guys and gals.

It’s easy to get depressed. But there is hope. Cheesemakers, mongers, and lovers are fighting the good fight. At Murray’s, we’re fighting! You’re fighting, dear raw/quality/real cheese lover, every time you take home a wheel made with two hardworking hands, and every time you care. When artisanal cheese is lovingly made and joyfully eaten, the world is a better place. Full stop.

“When people like Sébastien Paire, with his 100 sheep in the hills above Nice, continue to make fabulous cheese, there is always hope,” says a cheese shop proprietor in Cannes. Our hope comes from working with small craftsmen and women making life-changing cheese in Europe and in the USA, and spreading and seeing passion for the delicious fruits of their labor.

“Although we have little hope of ever selling young raw milk cheeses in the states, to lose the heritage in France is bad enough, and the countertrend cited should must be encouraged by mongers the world over,” says Rob, Murray’s Big Cheese. “Have I made our position clear? We stand for something, and if we water down the message enough, then we are part of the problem.”

“We shall soldier on, career artisan master cheesemongers such as myself, Matthew Rubiner of Stockbridge, Max McCalman, and Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s, and we will beat back the forces of evil via our buying power, our constant proselytizing, our data, and principally via YOU, our partners in ‘crime’,” says cheese maestro Steven Jenkins.

Soldier on with us. Celebrate Bastille Day with great cheese made by great people. Join us in the fight for cheese freedom!

BN Ranch Righteous Dawgs Reach New Heights of Hot Dog Magnificence

bn-hot-dogsMurray’s Big Cheese Rob Kaufelt and sustainable meat guru Bill Niman are friends. Good friends—“Bill is like a big brother to me,” Rob says.

It all began years ago, when Bill wandered into Murray’s on Bleecker Street and introduced himself. The two hit it off. “We were about to open a little shop—Real Salami—and talking about hot dogs got everyone going,” says Rob. There were so many questions: “Fatter or skinnier? All beef or a beef/pork blend? Broiled or grilled? Snappy or soft?”

The great hot dog debate was on. With his new Righteous Dawgs, Bill has given us his definitive and definitely tasty answer. Made from 100% grass-fed beef from his own BN Ranch, Righteous Dawgs are seasoned impeccably and generously with garlic and spice. A natural lamb casing gives the dawgs plenty of satisfying snap.

Rob’s butcher grandfather held a firm, life-long anti-hot dog stance. After all, hot dogs were the lowliest meat—made from funky scrap parts, parts you probably don’t want to think about. Righteous Dawgs are the total opposite. They’re crafted from “the best tasting, most environmentally sustainable meat in the world,” in Bill’s own words.


Bill Niman’s cattle in Bolinas.

The meat is no joke. All of BN’s Ranch’s beef is truly grass-fed—grass-grown and grass-finished. It comes exclusively from animals slaughtered when forages are at their finest, and cattle are mature and have reached peak condition. The meat is raised on Bill’s home ranch in Bolinas, California (Rob calls it “the most incredible place in the world”), the hills of Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand, and the expansive grasslands of western Canada.

Why so many ranches? The extended network “allows us to expand on the ancient pastoralist strategy of keeping livestock on the most nutritious forages through the year and bringing animals to market when they are mature and fattened during the season of plenty,” Bill says. The animals are cared for and respected, from birth to slaughter to butchering, when not a single part goes to waste. They are never administered subtherapeutic antibiotics, growth hormones, or steroids.

BN Ranch treasures its land—they employ rotational practices that mimic the patterns of ancient herbivores, improve soil fertility and water-holding capacity, reduce soil erosion and increase carbon sequestration.

All this is wonderful and important, but we wouldn’t be so excited if the hot dogs were not absurdly delicious. They are easily one of the best wieners we’ve ever tasted, and a guaranteed winner at your next summer barbecue. Pair with McClure’s pickle relish from Brooklyn, or Sir Kensington’s spicy mustard. Or just pop ‘em on a raging hot cast iron pan, and slide into your favorite bun. Savor that snap that yields to rich, complex meaty joy.

“I was always flattered that [Bill] adopted me in a big brother kind of way,” Rob says. “He has that laid-back Bolinas thing, where I am a nervous New Yorker.” We’re glad they bonded over dogs, and even happier for Bill’s frankfurter creations. If you excuse me, I’m heading to the grill to make myself the world’s best summertime lunch.

Swiss Scientists Solve Mystery Behind Swiss-Cheese Eye Formation

Article by Peter Jenkelunas, Murray’s Cavemaster & Food Safety Expert

Earlier this week, an article in The Guardian was released that after about a century of research, science had finally figured out why Swiss cheese is full of holes… and why those holes are disappearing.  Our very own Peter Jenkelunas, Murray’s Cavemaster & Food Safety Expert, responds with his thoughts on the topic:


Cheese making and milk collection practices have changed drastically over the years.  Efforts have been made to improve sanitation and cleanliness in hopes of reducing foodborne disease and product spoilage.  Milk buckets and farm hands have been replaced by closed and automated milking systems, filtration systems are common place, and sanitation standards have been elevated to all-time highs.  It would seem that our understanding of processing safe, consistent, and wholesome cheese is moving in the right direction.  Is it possible that something has been lost in the midst of progress?   

A recent study by a group of Swiss scientists (Guggisberg et al., 2015) set out to tackle the increasing problem of blind cheese (Swiss-type cheese that failed to form holes).  To solve this problem they needed the answers to two questions; first, what produces the gas in Swiss-type cheese; and second, what is causing the gas to build up at certain points throughout the cheese.  The answer to the first question is well known.  The main source of gas in Swiss-type cheeses is propionic acid bacteria (PAB).  PAB converts lactate into propionate, acetate, and CO2.  As the pressure of CO2 builds up, eyes will form (Flückiger, 1980). 

The answer to the second question hasn’t been fully elucidated.  In 1917, W.M Clark postulated that in the early stages of cheese making eyes are “seeded” at “favorable” points.  Since then, seeding has been attributed to CO2 from starter cultures, small mechanical openings, micro particles, and nitrogen in milk (Polychroniadou, 2001).  None of these possibilities fully explains the increasing problem of blind cheese.   

The study by Guggisberg et al. (2015) evaluated potential cheese eye seeds from various sources.  They found a linear relationship between amounts of hay powder and the number of eyes in Emmental cheese.  It was hypothesized that CO2 diffuses into the capillaries of botanical materials (such as hay) to initiate eye formation.  In the absence of hay particles, they found that CO2 freely diffused out of the cheese.   Based on this new information, it is easy to understand how milk collection by crude, old fashioned methods will yield milk with more hay particles and subsequently more holes. 

Which raises the question, how clean do you want your cheese making milk to be?


Clark, W.M. (1917). On the formation of “eyes” in Emmental cheese.  Journal of Dairy Science, 1, 91-113.

Flückiger, E. (1980). CO2- und Lochbildung im Emmentalerkase.  Schweizerische Milchzeitung, 106, 473-474, 479-480.

Guggisberg, D., Schuetz, P., Winkler, H., Amrein, R., Jakob, E., Fröhlich-Wyder, M.T., Irmler, S., Bisig, W., Jerjen, I., Plamondon, M., Hofmann, J., Flisch, A., Wechsler, D. (2015).  Mechanism and control of the eye formation in cheese.  International Dairy Journal.  47, 118-127.

Polychroniadou, A. (2001). Eyes in cheese: a concise review.  Milchwissenschaft, 56, 74-77.

Ballymaloe Food & Wine Lit Fest 2015

by Dan Belmont, Murray’s Cheese Education & Events Manager

Irish cuisine – what comes to mind? Pub food, Irish Breakfast (see: MEAT), shepherds pie, Guinness, heavy, rich foods, right? As I ate my way around County Cork, Ireland my preconceived notions were shattered in just three short days. Now – don’t get me wrong, the Irish Breakfast served at the Ballyvalone House was the perfect way to start the day (especially after a night of local gin cocktails) – four kinds of meat on one plate? YES PLEASE. However…

The “Emerald Isle” is a wildly appropriate moniker. Despite mainly overcast days, I still utilized sunglasses to shield my eyes from blinding bright green foliage and rolling pastures almost everywhere you looked. Its comes as no surprise that the Irish Government and OHRUA (formerly the Irish Dairy Board) is on a mission to grow the country’s agricultural sector significantly over the next decade. What they lack in natural gas or coal, they make up for ten-fold in beautiful lush grasses. And what do we know about amazing grass? Makes for very happy cows. Happy cows = delicious milk. Delicious milk yields incredible butter and cheeses and yogurt, etc., etc.. Ireland is poised (and very excited) to share this bounty with the world.

The unofficial theme for the weekend was LOCAL. We heard from Alice Waters (Ballymaloe LitFest Keynote Speaker) and her adventures opening Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA. in the late sixties. Tales of local growers trading fingerling potatoes for meals – long before anyone had heard of fingerling potatoes and now they’re a familiar staple on many a restaurant menu. The simple of idea of sourcing ONLY local ingredients started the farm to table revolution. Ms. Waters introduced gardening and cooking education to elementary schools that was based off a pilot program hosted at a penitentiary! The restaurant (still open today) was built on idyllic pure concepts, and a “This may not work, but let’s try it anyway.” attitude. Her spirit and accomplishments are admirable to say the least.

I did my part to embrace the local theme. Rather than Guinness, I opted for local Cork County Stout and drank Green Spot Pot Still as my whiskey of choice. (More on Whiskey later.) After a tour and butter making demonstration at the Cork Butter Museum (yes, that’s a thing)


we ventured out to West Cork where we met Clodagh McKenna – chef, cookbook author and TV personality – for a private garden party, complete with cooking demonstrations all using locally sourced ingredients from the nearby village. She’s essentially the Martha Stewart of Ireland (sans incarceration).

Take a look at this (HANDWRITTEN!) menu:


 When you think of Irish Cuisine, do you picture this plate? Flower arrangement by yours truly!


 At the end of our first day, I was convinced that the Irish are the just the nicest damn people in the world. The Green family welcomed us into their home at Ballyvalone and Clodagh was convivial hospitality incarnate. Gracious doesn’t begin to describe it. It all became a very personal experience, I felt like family meeting long lost relatives. And dinner was divine.

We spent the next day visiting with the Grubb family at Cashel Blue Farm. The operation there was nothing short of impressive, with innovations at every turn. The warm curd, newly formed was light, fluffy and sweet on the palate – like the most delicate panna cotta you could ever imagine. The curd is then packed into moulds but not pressed to maintain a high moisture level, and ultimately less dense paste. The process is a mix of hands on labour and high-tech computerization. For all my cave apprentice alumni, check this out: With this simple “turn-key” design, you can rotate a dozen wheels at a time!


Flipping of the wheels was also automated, encouraging uniform density. The curd is not salted directly; rather the newly formed wheels are only brined encouraging that sweet creamy paste. After piercing, in just two short weeks the blue mold is activated and begins to work its magic from the center of the wheel. 


The Grubb family only pressed upon me further the through-line of family and superb Irish hospitality. We were invited into their farmhouse for lunch. One of the family’s favorite recipes is a simple pizza of caramelized onions, rosemary and Cashel Blue. We were even shown the original copper kettle where Mrs. Grubb made the first batch of Cashel Blue!


The community assembled at the Ballymaloe House and Cookery School for the third annual Kerrygold Ballymaloe Food & Wine Lit Fest is nothing short of impressive. 10,000 guests descended upon the farm for a myriad of tastings, seminars, lectures, demonstrations, garden tours, and sheer indulgence on a smorgasbord of specialty food and drink offerings. The opening night festivities were ripe with merriment and revelry, bolstered by a sense of like-minded community. We were joined by fellow New Yorkers Garrett Oliver Brewer at Brooklyn Brewery, April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig fame, and a long list of internationally celebrated chefs, authors and wine and spirits experts. The festival host, Darina Allen buzzed around with youthful energy like a proud mother, facilitating introductions and bridging connections between attendees. Again, it just felt like a big family reunion.

What can I say? I like my whiskey. But as I have never been a big fan of Jameson, I was curious to see what the panel and tasting titled “Irish Whiskey Renaissance” had in store for me. Here’s the flight:


 Color me impressed. The whiskeys were delicious, and unique, quaffs worthy of contemplation. The panel, comprised of two Irish distillers and a Scottish whiskey writer/expert was thoughtful and enthusiastic. Outlining the history of Irish distilling (thank you English taxation), differentiating between the pot and column still production methods, and looking ahead to what can only be described as, well, a renaissance, — but the number of new distilleries that will open their doors and their barrels over the next 5 years is incredible, the industry is exploding. Few had anticipated such a growth in global whiskey consumption, and the Irish are vying for their share of the market. If the five bottles we tasted are any indication of quality, I welcome increased availability in the states wholeheartedly.

The “Emerging Wine Regions” panel included popular wine writer Alice Feiring – known for her crusade against Robert Parker and the 100-point sale, among other passionate wine professionals showcased bottles from the Ukraine, (The Best Damn Wine Label I’ve Ever Seen), Greece and unheard of regions of Spain. I found it humorous that these ‘emerging’ regions all have rich wine making histories – some thousands of years old. They may be just emerging on the international wine market radar, but they’re established in their history and wine making traditions. Enter a region like New York’s Finger Lakes region, which has only been producing vitis vinefera for 50 years!


Wine from the Ukraine

Our visit to the festival culminated with the Kerrygold Gala Dinner at the Ballymaloe house. A lovely meal featuring potted lobster, roast lamb, the famed Ballymaloe dessert cart, and of course CHEESE. Speeches by Kevin Lane, OHRUA President and Simon Coveney, Irelands Minister of Agriculture set the tone for celebration by outlining recent successes (removing limitations on milk production, championing Ireland’s agricultural products abroad) and what lies ahead – increasing availability of food and agricultural education, sustainability, and growth of both production and economy.

Ireland is on the verge of a food renaissance, and I couldn’t be more excited to see it happen. While I did not spend any time in Dublin, and never stepped foot in a pub, it was an unforgettable visit. County Cork is a DO NOT MISS part of the country, and I hope to return again soon.

Oh… and we were told maybe 200 times over the course of the weekend – BUTTER IS GOOD FOR YOU. Spread it on!

Dan Belmont, Simon Coveney, Darina Allen, Amy Stonionis

Dan Belmont, Simon Coveney, Darina Allen, Amy Stonionis