Dispatch From Sacramento: It’s Chaource, Of Course, Of Course

*Murray’s sent several employees to this year’s American Cheese Society conference in Sacramento, CA, where they took the ultimate cheese exam: the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Exam. We love cheese more than words can say around here, but sometimes even the curd-nerdiest among us are left quavering in our red jackets. Here’s one man’s account of such a moment…

By James Stahl

I’m just going to admit this from the top, I forgot what Chaource was.

Let me back up, I didn’t entirely forget what Chaource was. I knew it was French. I knew it was creamy. I just couldn’t remember whether it was a bloomy or washed rind cheese. Full disclosure, far too much time was spent on this deliberation. After all, it was just one question in one hundred fifty and missing one question wasn’t going to cause failure but nothing, absolutely nothing, was going to assuage this obsession without clarity. I wished I had a coin, a quarter, one flip and all traces of self-agency could’ve been removed. I would’ve accepted that, and from there I could just move on to the next question. Then I remembered what I was told before the test,

“Don’t reach into your pockets. If you reach into your pockets, you will be asked to leave the room. If you don’t understand what that means, allow me to clarify, this means YOU FAIL THE TEST. Do you understand? This is a very serious test. Did you know you’re using the same test software they use for the Bar exam? It’s so advanced that it can sense your desire to reach into your pockets before you actually do, like it’s the super computer from Person of Interest.”

Only the first two of those sentences were actually said to me; the rest was my brain working needless overtime. This is what test anxiety does to you. Taking the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional Exam was the first time I’d ever really experienced it. Before the test I joked around about fabulous ways to fail it. Plans included finding the absolute wrong answer for each question, running across the conference room to high five a friend screaming, “YEAH!” and inexplicably performing cartwheels in front of the entire room of test takers. For the record, I in no way shape or form could ever actually successfully complete a cartwheel.

This is how I deflect how important taking this test was for me. There’s a train of thought that says that if you’re not really nervous about doing a good job, then you don’t care about the job you’re doing. Not unlike a lot of Murray’s employees, I came to the shop after years of working jobs as if they were, well, regular jobs. Murray’s Cheese unlocked a passion in me that I could have never predicted beforehand. I’ve somehow fulfilled the prophecy of my Midwestern heritage; I cross the country spreading the gospel of cheese.

I think I passed the test. In the end, I’m actually pretty confident despite those moments where my consciousness threatened to leave all levels of known existence. What I hope more so than anything is that everyone else I took the test with passed as well. I’ve never been in a place with a more concentrated level of passion and dedication, from test takers to the ACS volunteers on hand.

I totally screwed up the Chaource question. But honestly, the point of it isn’t that I got it right or wrong. It’s that I know I wasn’t the only one. I wasn’t the only one freaking out about the test. I wasn’t the only one who cared. To be a part of something so devoted to doing the right thing, doing right by our community is all sorts of incredible. It’s awesome to be a part of it.

 

 

Behind the Rinds: The Secrets of Little Big Apple

by Chris Roberts, photos: Paige Yim

 

There’s booze in there.

Little Big Apple!

Every year we roll out our Little Big Apple cheese and every year a group of dedicated Murray’s employees venture out to the Hudson Valley to visit the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. The task is to gather boxes and boxes of apple leaves, picked from their lush orchard, to  be boiled down and soaked in a local Apple Jack brandy. It was my first time going on this adventure and I was excited because my particular world of cheese so rarely expands beyond the walls of our Distribution Center in Long Island City, Queens. The Little Big Apple, for those who don’t know, takes the already delicious Champlain Valley Triple Cream (which we sell year-round) and adds a touch of Murray’s magic to it. We give it a bit more time in our specialized cheese caves to give it just the right amount of richness and then wrap in leaves to give it a touch of crisp sweetness.

My day in the orchard had a few more challenges than I was anticipating, but it certainly wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. Yes, the sun was especially aggressive that day and I simply wasn’t prepared for the sheer number of beetles that I would encounter but, for once, I had a small hand in the cheese making process. Our resident Cave Master, Brian Ralph, was leading the trip and gave us semi-specific instructions as to which leaves we were looking for, and while that caused some people on the trip to be overly cautious, I took a more liberal approach and tried to win the day with quantity.

 

After we finished up, we took lunch and enjoyed a more relaxed afternoon of exploration. There was a bit of shopping before we moved on to a tour of the distillery. The art of distillation is something I’m woefully ignorant about so it was exciting to learn the basic of basics and to obtain a an understanding of what goes into the process. We met many of the people who work at Warwick and they were happy to teach us about their craft. There was even a quick cider tasting squeezed in at the end of the day before we had to get back on the road. The trip back into the city was a quick one, as the sun had gotten the best of me, and I was forced to take a late afternoon nap—the true sign of a fruitful adventure.

The man. The myth. The Legend. Chris Roberts.

So Happy Together: Hard Apple Cider = Easy Cheese Pairing

 

by Jenn Smith

 

Cider works well as a companion to cheese for a number of reasons – the acidity that comes from tart, juicy cider apples cuts through the inherent richness and saltiness of cheese, the carbonation scours the palate of butterfat, letting you take another bite, and the flavors of cider – terroir-driven, sometimes earthy, usually fruity – complement the flavor profiles of many cheeses.

While we were up at the Vermont Cheese Festival I made a point of seeking out the local cider makers – when you are slinging cheese on a hot day as I was, cider is a refreshing choice for an adult beverage – it’s average alcohol by volume (ABV) is generally lower than wine or even most beers so, less tipsy-making. And what better way to celebrate the bounty of New England then by drinking an agricultural product made by locals from local fruit!

 

I was particularly impressed with the ciders coming out of Whetstone Ciderworks. They are bright, rustic, and reflect the complex deliciousness of the heirloom apples that the cider makers source from orchards around their family farm. They have a couple of different expressions, but I was particularly smitten with the Orchard Queen, which uses oddball varietals such as the Dabinett and Ashmead’s Kernel that lend tannins to the end product; those tannins are a perfect foil for the dense creaminess of some of the cavemaster cheeses I was preparing for seminar tasting plates. In particular, the Orchard Queen made a love match with Greensward – the funkiness of the washed rind brought out some depth in the drink, and the overall effect of the combination was of an apple and leek custard enriched with bacon fat. The texture of the cider kept my palate from being weighed down with the unctuousness of the washed rind cheese.

 

I’m of the opinion that, like Champagne, rustic cider goes with just about anything, so the Whetstone-Greensward combo is just one pairing – I’m sure it would have played nicely with the Torus, or the Tarantaise…or just about any of the cheeses in our caves. Get your hands on some cider and give it a try yourself!

Take a Peek: Ayers Brook Goat Dairy

by Becky Nawrocki

Ayers Brook Goat Dairy opened the barn doors to their state-of-the-art milking facility to give us an inside peek.  These lovely ladies have been specially bred from the best stock for flavor and milk production.

Ayers Brook Goat Dairy is a sustainable dairy created by Vermont Creamery where they hope to mentor the next generation of Vermont farmers and provide genetic stock for building new herds.

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Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

Vertical Pairings at the Vermont Cheesemaker Festival

By Caitlin Bower

 

Let’s get vertical.

Vertical tasting explores the history of a cheese: how it starts (as milk, as curd, as a fresh cheese, as a toddler) to how it ends up in its final expression. It is the most immediate and accessible way to taste and understand affinage. By eating a cheese at different stages of its development, you taste the flavors that can develop with careful treatment, age and time. While attending July’s Vermont Cheesemaker Festival, I attended a seminar in which three featured cheesemakers chose a different way to explore this process, and with different milk types.

1. Fresh Curd vs. 1 year old (pasteurized and raw cow) – Plymouth Artisan Cheeses

Granular curd cheesemaking is the rare, work-intensive process that Plymouth Artisan Cheese owner, Jesse Werner, was able to showcase with his fresh curd and year-old Plymouth “The Original” side by side. From an 1890’s recipe, the curd was squeaky, delicious and a tiny bit tangy. The “Original” is made with those same curds and has a bright, acidic, cheddary flavor, much altered by age and process.

The Mozzarella Making class at Murray’s also offers the opportunity to taste both curd and cheese, with a fun, hands-on addition of making your own mozzarella in the classroom.

2. Young Bloomy vs Aged Alpine (sheep) – Woodcock Farm Cheese Co

This vertical pair explored the same milk type expressed in two styles: one younger and soft, one older and hard.

Summer Snow vs. the Wheston Wheel – you can even hear it in the name; the first cheese is a delicate, exuberant, young, soft cheese with a tender, slightly squeaky rind while the second is nuttier, sweeter, complex and more robust.

 

3. Fresh vs. Mold Ripened (goat) – Vermont Creamery

crottin, a super-fresh goat milk button

bijou is lightly aged, which gives it time to develop its silk rind

From fresh chèvre to brain like and acidic, the Crottin’s final form is the Bijou. The first cheese has a tiny amount of the geotrichum, which adds a slight yeasty flavor at a day old, develops into a full rind by the second week to become an entirely different cheese. This vertical pairing is a perfect example of how much a cheese can change in just two short weeks, and how both can be delicious in their own right.

 

 

 

 

 

Try out a vertical taste test on your own!

Cellars at Jasper Hill: Harbison vs. Cavemaster Reserve Greensward

1 year Comte vs. 2 or 3 year Comte

And for a triple-header, go for the Murray’s Cavemaster trio: Kinderhook Creek vs. Hudson Flower vs. C Local