Hanukkah Cheesin': The Forgotten Story of Curd and the Festival of Lights

Ed note: Loyal blog readers may remember this story from Hanukkah 2013. We’re republishing it this year because…well, because it’s an amazing story of how cheese saved the day, and we can’t get enough of those.

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the “Festival of Lights” better than a big old wedge of curd. Every year, I make the schlep down to south Florida where the whole family gathers to enjoy a week of family time and fried food. And every year I brave the death-stares of fellow travels as I stink up the 3 hour flight with an insane amount of cheese stashed in my carry on. Although in my house I can’t guarantee that these treats will make it 8 days…48 hours would be a real miracle.

Until recently, I didn’t know that cheese, at one time, was part of traditional Hanukkah food celebrations. And just like any food tradition in the Jewish faith, there is a neat little story that will help us rationalize 8 days of gorging ourselves on some fantastic fromage. While this part of the Hanukkah story has become mostly forgotten in modern culture, it’s a great tale of heroism and the perfect excuse to munch on some curd, or gift a little wedge. It goes something like this:

Judith decapitating her enemy

Judith was a strikingly beautiful widow from the town of Bethulia in sixth century BC Israel. Her community came under siege, and annihilation looked inevitable. That is, until Judith came to the rescue. She put together a spread of wine and cheese and entered the enemy camp. The leader, Holofernes, was so smitten by her beauty, he couldn’t resist her offering of ripe cheese and intoxicating wine. He got bombed. I mean really, really drunk, like me at any Bar Mitzvah I have attended in the last 6 years. He was so wasted that Judith reacted in the most natural of ways: she stole his sword and cut of his head.

Jewish heroines really know how to bring the badass.

While this story takes place centuries after the Maccabees and their “Miracle of Light”, for many years it was incorporated into the Hanukkah celebration. Judith’s heroism was celebrated along with the Maccabees victory as an example of the perseverance of the Jewish people. But stories and cultures are not static, and this exciting tale has slowly been abandoned for the the modern Hanukkah story and celebration.

Torus

So, now that you know that it is not only acceptable, but encouraged that you get some cheese for Hanukkah, you might want a few suggestions for the platz-worthy wedge. The time and location that Judith’s story takes place would undoubtedly be a land full of goat and sheep milk cheeses. Allison Hooper, from Vermont Creamery, is what many consider the heroin of American goat cheese. She has helped to create the American market for goat cheese, and explored techniques and methods that have helped shaped a quality driven landscape of cheesemakers across the United States. Try some velvety and tangy Coupole or some fudgy and lemony Torus (and a dollop of their Crème Fraîche is a wonderful substitute for sour cream with your latkes). Nutty and grassy Ossau Iraty with a schmear of Seashore Honey will drive your great-aunts taste buds mashugganah, and a beautiful wheel of Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower will insure your eternal reputation as a real mensch.

One final piece of interesting cheese and Hanukkah knowledge. You know those potato latkes that Bubbie spends all day frying up? Potatoes were not brought over to Europe until the colonization of the American continent, but Jews had been making fried latkes for centuries. Guess what the original  latke was made of? You guessed it…CHEESE!

Regardless how you celebrate Hanukkah this year, Murray’s hopes it is a fun and full of friends and family. Here is to the festival of lights, and really good cheese! L’chaim, y’all!

Holiday Gifts on a Budget: Save Some Cheddar On Your Cheddar

By: Cate Peebles

Looking for something impressive that’s not oppressive to your wallet? We understand. Thankfully, a little extravagance goes a long way and you can impress anyone with one or two choice, delicious treats. We put together a few indulgent gifts that are luxurious AND affordable.

 The Holiday Weekender$65  (ON SALE for $55) – A weekend escape full of tasty cheese,     crunchy oat cakes and decadent fig cake. What makes a better gift than a brief escape from the holiday craziness?

Season’s Eatings – $45 – This rustic gift includes raw, spruce-wrapped favorite, Rush Creek, a cheese that we flip our lids for year after year; it’s the pièce de résistence of many-a monger’s holiday spread.

American Splendor – $40 – This is a lovely little sack of farmstead American craftsmanship: 2 Vermont cheeses, homemade Apple Butter, and a box of crackers. It makes a great gift for the host of the party, or a foodie friend with a taste for farm-to-table treats.

Build Your Own Gift and have it delivered in a Hand Made wooden crate

BYOG– Build Your Own Gift! It all starts with a $15 signature Murray’s gift crate and can be as stuffed or spare as you want it to be. To get the ideas flowing, here’s a sample gift box that costs under $50:

Build Your Own Gift:

Gift Crate – $15
½ lb Tuxford and Tebbut Stilton – $10
1 VBC Cremont – $11.99
Petit Toast – $3.99
1 Dalmatia Fig Jam – $7.99

Total – $48.97

La Quercia Cucina Collection – $39.99 –This little package of exquisite, hand-crafted cured meats is ideal for the meat-loving home chef in your life. Made by one of our favorite American artisanal charcuterie producers, La Quercia makes superb prosciutto, coppa, speck and lardo…just to name a few!

Gift Cards –Starts at $10 – These babies make superb stocking-stuffers and last minute additions to holiday cards and thank you notes. Give a little or a lot—they’re redeemable for online, in-store and classroom purchases.

Fancy food treats don’t have to be off limits—we’ve got something delectable in every price-range. Take a look online and place your order, or we’re standing by to help you make selections: give us a call at: 888-692-4339, Monday- Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. We can’t wait to talk cheese!

 

 

Looking for other cheesy gifts this Holiday season? Check out our Gift Guide to see all of our gift collections!

Wanna learn more about cheese? Check out our Cheese 101 videos and become a real curd nerd!

After-Hours Holiday Shopping Event! Wednesday, December 5th 9-10:30pm

After-Hours Holiday Shopping Event

Wednesday, December 5th, 9-10:30pm at Murray’s Cheese in Greenwich Village, 254 Bleecker Street

Join us for an exclusive after-hours shopping event where you’ll

Taste new craft beers and ciders, holiday gifts, and our favorite seasonal cheeses.

Save 20% off all retail purchases, classes, mail order and catering orders for one night only.

Help New Yorkers hit by Hurricane Sandy. Ticket sales will be donated to Food Bank for NYC’s Sandy relief fund.

 

Admission is $10. Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to Food Bank for New York City’s Hurricane Sandy relief fund.

Space is limited! Signup online.

Questions?Email beth@murrayscheese.com.

5 Ways to Have a Blue Christmas

Here at Murray’s we have been raving about Roquefort all month long. Can you blame us? Roquefort is classic, tasty and versatile, perfect for this time of year when lots of people are entertaining.

After we nearly had to say au revoir forever we renewed our love for this French beauty and never looked back. Let’s just say we hope it’s standing nearby when the clock strikes 12 on New Year’s Eve.

And to improve the odds of that happening, here are 5 tasty ways to enjoy one of our favorite cheeses.  Bon appetit!

1. Fresh endive leaves topped with crumbled Roquefort, candied nuts and a dried cherry or cranberry. Sweet. Salty. Crunchy. Awesome.

2. Spread some Roquefort on a fig and wrap it in prosciutto. OH YEAH.

3. Serve a hunk of Roquefort au naturale. With a nice Sauternes on the side. Why mess with a classic?

4. Top your favorite cracker with some Roquefort and drizzle with honey. This sweet treat is the bees knees.

5. Whip it! Roquefort whipped with equal parts butter and cream cheese or sour cream makes an excellent dip. Whip it good! Veggies, chips and all things dip-able will be the perfect companion.

Serve cheese like a pro at your holiday party

It’s true: The easiest, tastiest way to host your friends and family for the holidays is with a fantastic cheese spread.  Whether you’re a cheese newbie or a fromage fanatic, this season’s latest and greatest party cheeses will help you plan your most delicious gathering.  So sit back, let your mind drift to the gooey, the crumbly, the yummiest cheeses of the season.

Getting started: A great party spread has up to 6 cheeses of all different styles and milk types.  We suggest delighting your guests with a mix of buttery, grassy, pungent or caramelly tastes.

More than just cheese: When picking accompaniments, from wine to nuts, pick a pairing principle:

  • Choose items that are complementary – pair similar flavors together, like a flavorful cheddar with a bold wine;
  • That old adage is true with cheese, too:  opposites attract.  Don’t be shy about mixing sweet with salty;
  • What grows together goes together – you can’t go wrong with cheese and pairings from the same neck of the woods.

Not sure how much to buy?  Our rule of thumb is 1-2 oz per cheese, per person for a party or an appetizer spread before dinner. (most of our assortments serve up to10)

Serving Sense: Cheese tastes better at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge one hour before serving.  For a party, set out on a board with one knife per cheese – start cutting into each piece to get it started, then let your guests go to town.

Sommelier for a day:  Want to impress by pairing cheese with wine or beer like an expert?  Click here to view our full beverage pairing guide.

Learn even more by going reading our Cheese Basics.

New assortment for the holiday season: Cheeselovers Anonymous

Cheeselovers Anonymous (pictured above) features a complete tasting through all of the cheese styles – we couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect party package!