Murray’s Takes a Field Trip: Twin Maple Farm

Elizabeth Chubbuck is the Associate Director of Wholesale at Murray’s Cheese. If you’ve eaten a delicious cheese at a restaurant, chances are she had a hand in getting it on your plate. Her passion for all things cheesy is rivaled only by her near encyclopedic knowledge of the same. She recently visited Twin Maple Farm and learned the fascinating story behind the cheese we love so much.

A photo of Twin Maple Farm should be printed in the dictionary next to “bucolic.”  The land, continuously farmed since 1801, is rolling, green and tucked away on a narrow, winding road in New York’s Hudson Valley.  The old farmhouse still stands upright and resolute, and the hills are dotted with Jersey Cows. It’s also where Hudson Red, one of our favorite cave aged cheeses, is made. We’ll get to that later… first, a story!

Two years ago, childhood friends Matt Scott and Dan Berman bought Twin Maple farm and retrofitted the original red dairy barn to accommodate cheese production and aging. Not content to sit back and enjoy the view, they embarked on a larger project to help rebuild the rural landscape and economy of the Hudson Valley.  Armed with a vision of supporting family farms, they created The Pampered Cow, a company dedicated to providing sales and distribution solutions for farms throughout the region.

Sales and distribution solutions, you say?  Sure, it might sound a bit city-slicker when paired with the rural beauty of the land, but for small-scale, family-owned dairies outside marketing and distribution solutions can allow them to focus energy on creating better cheeses, slowly increasing production, and eventually moving from Farmer’s Market-only sales into a slightly larger arena where more people can enjoy their cheese.

Increased production also means more jobs in rural communities where opportunities can be scarce.  It means that more cows are out to pasture, which means more fields are green with grass and hay farmers stay in business. Starting to get the picture? With time, cheesemakers no longer have to work around the clock, 7 days a week, just to scrape by. It’s still hard work, but their lives become more balanced and sustainable, their cheese more delicious and reliable.

So, where does that delicious Hudson Red fit into all of this? About a year after the Pampered Cow started working to improve the lifestyle of local farmers, Hudson Red came into existence.  Their original cheese maker spent time in Italy working with Italian producers before returning to the Hudson Valley to make cheese at Twin Maple.  Inspired by Italian Taleggio and Alsatian Munster, Hudson Red is a funky, washed-rind, raw cow’s milk cheese.  The dense, fudgy paste becomes silken and pudding-like with careful washing and aging in our caves. The funky, wild flavor that develops echoes the rugged, rural landscapes that inspired it. Wash it down with a glass of New York Riesling for the Empire State’s quintessential terroir-based pairing. You’ll make Matt Scott – and a lot of local farmers – proud!

Who You Callin’ A Hooligan?

by Anuradha Jayakrishnan, Head Cheesemonger at Murray’s Cheese in Grand Central Terminal

Have you ever wanted to get your hands on a Hooligan? No, I don’t mean one of us cheesemongers behind the counter, I mean a REAL Hooligan, like the ones we made at Cato Corner Farm on a recent Thursday.  If you love cheese as much as we do at Murray’s, you’ve got to know a cheese’s ins and outs, its story, it’s SOURCE. So, sinking our hands right into the cheesemaking process was, in fact, wonderfully appropriate.

The Murray’s crew and I departed Bleecker Street and headed across state lines to farm country, also known as Connecticut. We arrived at Cato Corner Farm just after noon that Bloomsday and a small gang of friendly but boisterous dogs heralded our arrival. As we poured out of the mini-van, the smell of hay, barn and warm sunshine welcomed us without words; it was going to be a good day.

The cows at Cato Corner gave a warm welcome.

Liz, owner of the farm, greeted us with a grin, and a laugh, “You must be from Murray’s.” I was sure my Ray Bans, beat-up Beatles t-shirt, and red cut-offs would make me look farm chic, but alas, I fear my oversized flower tote containing bronzer and sunscreen gave me away. We freshened up and then met Mark, Liz’s son who oversees the farm’s cheesemaking. He took us underground to see affinage at work in their aging facility, which was not unlike the cheese caves beneath our Bleecker Street store. I was amazed by the sheer number of cheeses being aged at one time in the small farm’s complex. Shelves of old and young wheels formed passageways that towered over us like halls of an antique library (and the smell wasn’t that dissimilar either). Incredibly enough, the thick, dull brown rinds on the large wheels and the (almost cute) furry blue and grey rinds on the smaller wheels were derived from ambient molds that occur naturally in the caves themselves (local mold makes local gold! Ha!).

Yours truly, in good company!

Next up on the docket was cheesemaking. Now, if you’re as big of a cheese nerd as I am, you’d understand why I was giggling through the whole sanitizing process. There I was, every appendage covered in plastic yet I couldn’t help but clap with joy in a ruffled frenzy at the thought of molding curd with my own fingers. We surrounded the enormous bath tub (at least it look like one) filled half way with what looked like an untouched layer of plain yogurt. Having added the rennet an hour before, Mark said, the milk  should be firm enough to cut by now – and with that, he pierced the creamy film, and to my amazement, it didn’t blob into a soft creamy mess, but yielded to the knife like a limber slice of tofu. The curd was ready. He began slicing the curd into half inch pieces using a large wire cutter. Then we took turns dipping our hands into the vat and milling the curds into finer, more even bits. The curd itself tasted like sweet, warm milk Jell-o, but in the best way. After draining the whey, we scooped the curds into baskets, piling the milled bits into heaping snow cone-esque forms for further drainage and shaping. Minutes later, we popped the curds out of the molds and voila – curds in their perfect form, ready to join their comrades in the aging room, but with the added touch of Murray’s handiwork; hooligans indeed.

Stirring the curd that will later be molded into Hooligan.

We concluded our cheese-making escapade with a picnic lunch outside where we all enjoyed sandwiches, charcuterie, pickles, farm fresh fruits and veggies, and of course, cheese. We tried a very special cheese only available at the farm, the 1 year aged Anniversary Bloomsday, made a year ago to the day! It was nutty and sharp with crystalline pops of sweetness and a pale, custard yellow paste that sang of summer sun and happy cows.  Naturally, we also sampled Hooligan, a large muffin shaped cheese with a dense, flaky center and mildly pungent rind. We finished with Misty Morning, a creamy, earthy blue that was lovely with bites of freshly picked strawberries.

The finished product, after aging: Funky funky hooligan

After touring the farm and thanking the cows for their generous bounties, we climbed back into the mini-van, ripe Hooligans in tow (think ripe plus hot cramped car… serious funky town), and headed back to the West Village. Great cheese and great people; I could not have asked for a better Bloomsday.

From the farm to your screen: A taste of Ireland’s Ardrahan

This fall, Murray’s is jumping the pond to find the next big cheese! Our staff are popping in on cheesemakers and artisan food producers all over Ireland, Spain, the UK and Italy to make cheese, taste cheese, and come back to New York to share stories and tastes with you. In our first installment, Louise Geller takes you on a tour of Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese in the south of Ireland.

When you’ve spent years enjoying a particular cheese as often as possible – in quick snatches from the counter, with a killer wine or beer pairing in the classroom, on a cheeseboard at home with friends and family – it is a singular experience to walk into the room where all of that cheese originated.

This was on my mind as Jason (my colleague and partner in cheese on this trip) and I made our way south from County Tipperary to County Cork on a sunny Wednesday morning. Though rain had pounded for hours on the roof of the 18th century farmhouse where we’d spent the night, we were blessed with clear skies as we drove past untold numbers of sheep and cows happily munching on Ireland’s endless greenery.

It was midmorning when we pulled up to Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese in Kanturk, and Mary Burns greeted us with the traditional Irish hospitality that we would come to know and love over our weeklong visit. Mary is part of a third generation of dairy farmers: the family’s herd of Friesian cows was first registered in 1925. Their transition into cheesemaking comes from admirable roots: In the 1960’s, Mary’s husband Eugene was dissatisfied with the quality of cultured milk products available for his family, so he started making fresh yogurt, sour cream and cheese with the milk from his own herd. Twenty years later, in 1983, he and Mary founded Ardrahan Farmhouse Cheese and started producing their outstanding product on a commercial level.

Today, Ardrahan is a modest but sophisticated facility. To begin our day, Mary outfitted us in hairnets and shoe covers and took us into the cheesemaking room. Twenty minutes prior to our arrival, the cheesemakers had added rennet to their vats of milk — so we were just in time to watch them cut the curd and mold it. The head cheesemaker, Pauline, gave us each a sample of freshly cut curds from the vat–they were slippery, sweet and incredibly fresh – and ready to become one of my favorite cheeses! Since Ardrahan is a moist cheese, the curds are cut into relatively big pieces. We watched as the cheesemakers scooped up the curds with buckets and deposited them into the molds, which had been neatly lined up on a table that runs through the center of the room. The cheese is lightly pressed (the mold and the press give the rind its distinctive lined appearance) and then brined in large vats before it is transferred to the caves. Jason and I were surprised to learn that Ardrahan is only washed a few times after it is made. Many washed-rind cheeses are washed several times per week throughout the aging process, but it turns out that Ardrahan only needs a few initial washings to develop its pungent aroma – based on the high stink factor when we receive our Ardrahan at Murray’s, those are some active b. linens being cultivated!

Our tour included a stop at the Ardrahan aging rooms, which were filled with the gorgeous co-mingling smells of milk and the ocean. We saw Ardrahan at several different stages of the aging process, from cheese that had been aging just a few days to a few weeks. The transformation is remarkable.

By this time, we were dying for Mary to cut into one of the promising orange rounds. However, this being the land of Irish Hospitality, we waited until we were comfortably resting in the beautiful dining room of Mary’s home, with a freshly brewed pot of tea on the table. Then and only then, Mary cut into a wheel of Ardrahan that was made only two and a half weeks prior to our visit. In the states, Ardrahan is typically aged at least eight weeks, so having such a young wheel was a unique and exciting opportunity. The rind was already fairly aromatic, although the paste had a ways to go before breaking down into the pudding-like texture that we usually find at Murray’s. In fact, the center of my piece practically crumbled into curdy pieces, reminding me that just a short time ago this very bite had been a handful of glistening curds in the vat we had just visited. The Irish market prefers Ardrahan at around this age, while Mary says that most folks overseas prefer a more aged cheese that’s stronger and stinkier. As for me, I now think I can safely say there isn’t an age of Ardrahan I don’t love, though I would most prefer to do my Ardrahan snacking 100 yards from where the cheese is made, at Mary Burns’ table with a pot of tea, with the very cows who provide the milk strolling by outside.

Taste Ardrahan with Louise & Jason on October 19th!

Murray’s Does the VT Cheesemaker’s Festival

by Tim Erdmann

There isn’t too much that can draw me out of my apartment at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning. Promises of coffee and the cheese adventure of a lifetime, however, made this Saturday a little different. I, and 34 like-minded cheese adorers, arrived to Murray’s bright and early, eager to journey to the second annual Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival. We were beaming. The sun was, well, not. Likely on an errand, we hoped it’d return soon. Goodie bags, bagels, and coffees in hand, we set out into the northern morning.

It was around the point where 17 meets I-87 that I think we all began to notice our new terrain. The color palette had shifted dramatically: our urban grays changed in favor of new greens and blues, the topography likewise ruffled and varied. The consideration of our environment could not have been more appropriate as we pulled into our first stop, The Farmer’s Diner in Middlebury, VT. Tired of the commercial food scene, the diner purchases as much as possible from local farmers. They are currently spending an impressive 83 cents to the dollar on products from within 70 miles, all ingredients with only the most enviable pedigrees. Greeted with Raspberry Sangria by Chef Denise, we were honored to celebrate their mission. While she delivered us a four-course feast and we quieted our stomachs, we heard from the local and charismatic cheesemaker Steve Getz of Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport, VT. It was an excellent taste of what was to come.

With satisfied bellies and happy spirits, we rejoined at the bus. Driver, and whey-cation alumnus, Sylvester adeptly maneuvered us across a beautiful mountain range to our next stop, the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery in Websterville, VT. Seemingly joined by fate, cheesemakers Allison Hooper and Bob Reese pioneered the company in 1984. Though it’s hard now to imagine Vermont without its artisanal cheeses and locavore ethics, the pair started as dairy mavericks. Allison was even so bold as to foresee Vermont as cheese’s Napa Valley. Today, their spirit is just as alive, and their approach to production has barely changed, except for maybe a little more cows’ milk and fancier gadgetry on site. Wearing lab coats, hairnets, and protective booties, we played cheesemakers for a day as we toured the drying room, laboratory, production spaces, and churning room. Even more impressed by the cheesemaker’s duties, we gathered again to taste the final products, the little gems that quietly explain why it’s all worth it.

After we checked in to the hotel, which boasted a pool, sauna, and all the luxuries due a proper cheese lover, we found ourselves at the festival’s kick-off cookout. Shelburne Vineyards hosted the night, and naturally, we were invited to tipple on the property’s wines and other local brews. A light drizzle and a local band made the soundscape as we lined up to get one of Marc Druart’s delicious burgers. As the Murray’s crew gathered to sit and eat on the grass, I realized that it was one of those iconic summer moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. As the night closed, we made our way back to the hotel. Though we were all tired from a busy day well spent, I don’t think any of us could temper the excitement stirring for the coming day.

At last, the time had come. In spite of all of our anticipation, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the beauty of Shelburne Farms. The 1400+ acre estate sits on the shores of Lake Champlain, with silhouettes of the Adirondacks finishing the landscape. The farm’s buildings and stables are veritable agricultural castles. Built in 1886 by Lila Vanderbilt Webb, and William Seward, the estate – now also an inn, nonprofit, and restaurant – maintain a presence of another time, where the relationship to the land is reciprocal and tender. Few communities that can mirror that sentiment like the producers of Vermont.

The festival’s arrangement was notably casual. We entered through a large tent housing old friends and new, tables running the spectrum from Cabot to the Vermont Cheese Council. One of the most surprising was a producer offering local ice cider (Eden Ice Cider Co.), made in the style of the famous and luxurious ice-wines. At least a few Murray’s employees escaped with a bottle or two. After the tent, the rest of the producers were set up in long great halls within the permanent structures of the farm. In total, there were 50 cheesemakers, 20 wineries and breweries, and 15 other artisanal producers, all of whom offering generous and wonderful samples. In case our palates needed a rest, there were a few seminars and demos to distract the mind, not to mention the entire estate grounds to explore. Any of us could have spent days at the festival, but alas all things must end. With goodie bags refilled, souls rejuvenated, and perhaps some career-paths drastically altered, we boarded the bus for the long return home, already looking forward to next year.