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.

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.

Going Spelunking with the Murray’s Team

 

 

Step into the Murray’s Cheese Caves with Amanda Parker

Sometimes, in the dead of winter, when I’m avoiding slippery ice patches and greyed snow drifts on the New York sidewalks or trolling the desolate farmer’s market for root vegetables, I forget about the seasons.  That summer exists in its sun-saturated glory, or spring, with its green grass and rebirth.

I forget, too, that cheese follows this natural cycle the whole year through, each wheel aging and ripening to its perfect condition even as the rest of the edible world lies dormant.  What this means for us cheese-eaters is that there is always something new to focus on, ripe and ready for plucking and enjoying at its peak.  We just need to find it.

So as part of our weekly team meeting, the Murray’s crew went spelunking.  Where the rest of New York goes underground for the subway, we at Murray’s go cave-diving, searching our cellars for just the right wheels to share with our fellow cheeseheads.  And true to season, this week we found rich, hearty cheeses that warm us up and stick to our ribs.

Take Vacherin Fribourgeois, for example.  One of the classic Alpine cheeses that are best in this season, made from the most flavor-packed, concentrated grasses of the summer, Fribourgeois is unbeatable for all things melting.  It’s nutty and rich and just a little bit funky, the Swiss superstar of a wintry fondue.  Try it with a good Comte from just across the French border, throw it in a fondue pot and you’ve got dinner—because who can resist bubbling cheese with bread and meat to beat the February doldrums?

Also in the fill-you-up category are our meaty washed rind cheeses.  Right now, our favorites are the gooey Edwin’s Munster and its firmer cousin Tomme du Berger.  Perfect for this month if you think “love stinks,” our Munster is intensely pungent, not for the faint-hearted but in its prime—like now!—it’s got that barny, umami richness that the Austrians love with pickled onions and brown bread.

Less stinky but equally complex is the Tomme du Berger, a mix of goat and sheep’s milks from Corsica, then aged in Provence.  Firm and slightly lacey, it has hints of the heat of southern France, dry tones like the hay and grass that dot the countryside of its origin.  At the moment, it’s gamy and just a bit stinky with a totally different profile than it will have in the summer, highlighting how much one cheese can change from month to month.

And if we can’t fight the winter blues, we’ll at least eat them.  Bavarian Blue—or Bayrischer Blauschimmelkase, if you can handle that mouthful—is a buttery, mild blue from southern Germany, where a South American cheesemaker churns out this creamy, sweet beauty.  Even though its original recipe was based on the piquant Roquefort, Bavarian Blue doesn’t pack the same spicy punch, so it’s a mellow, smoother flavor.  We love it by itself, since these wheels have a hint of licorice already, or with a seasonal honey for dessert.

From our caves to your mouths, try one of our current seasonal favorites—at least for this week!