Turophile Heaven: The Festival of Cheese

by Walshe Birney

 

The American Cheese Society’s 2014 conference in Sacramento was a whirlwind of fantastic panels, networking events, and, for some of us, the CCP exam, a difficult test of all that we’ve learned throughout our years in the cheese business. On the second to last day, these experiences culminated in the Awards Ceremony, where the best American cheesemakers were honored for their outstanding products. As exciting and emotional as the Ceremony was, the real fun occurred on the last day of the conference, the Festival of Cheese. Here, every entry to the Awards Ceremony was available to taste, not just those that won a ribbon.

Stretching as far as the eye can see, the conference hall was filled with towers of Alpine-style cheeses, smorgasbords of oozy bloomy-rinds and mountains of meaty, pungent washed rinds. Entire rows devoted just to flavored cheeses, smoked cheeses, hispanic-style cheeses; the Festival was truly a turophile’s heaven. As a buyer at Murray’s, I am lucky to have the opportunity everyday to try all manner of tremendous cheese from across the globe, but it’s staggering just how many fantastic new and established American cheeses were present, especially when seeing them all in one place. There is no doubt that our domestic industry is robust and healthy, and leading the way globally in innovation and quality.

 

After being presented with a plate and wine glass (everything one needs for a successful cheese tasting), our first stop took us to the Alpine-style table to taste the winner for best-in-show, Spring Brook Farm’s Tarentaise Reserve. Modelled after the Alpine cheeses of eastern France, such as Abondance and Beaufort, Tarentaise has long been a staple on Murray’s counter, and the 2-year extra-aged version is a thing of beauty: a pronounced and lingering sweetness, an underlying current of roasted hazelnuts and brown butter, and satisfying crystallization. Truly a world-class cheese, on par with the best extra-aged Comtes and Gruyeres. Look for a special Tarentaise aged in our caves to hit our counters at the end of August, with a profile between the reserve and the original, exclusive to Murray’s.

After refilling our glasses with some terrific dry cider from Oregon’s Aengus Ciderworks, we visited our own Murray’s award winners, Hudson Flower (our collaboration with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company) and Torus (our collaboration with Vermont Creamery). These cheeses mark our first ribbons at the festival, taking second place in their respective categories. While we’ve long been known for our cave-aging, this marks the first time that affinage-specific collaborations have been honored at the festival. These partnerships with some of our favorite creameries have been very successful, and we can’t wait to roll out more Cavemaster Reserve cheeses soon. And hopefully we’ll have wins for Greensward, our collaboration with Jasper Hill, and Barden Blue, our collaboration with Consider Bardwell, next year!

With the multitude of choices on offer, at this point we started bouncing around from table to table, trying whatever caught our eyes. Some of the best cheese new to me were the amazingly nuanced washed rind goat cheeses from Briar Rose Creamery, and Bleating Heart’s stunningly sheepy tommes and blues. We also had a chance to nibble on goodies from some of my favorite charcuterie purveyors, Olympic Provisions and Fra’mani, whose cured meats provided perfect counterpoints to mountains of dairy products filling the conference hall.

As our stomachs grew full and the conference wound down, I began to reflect on all the amazing experiences our team had at the conference this year. We had our wills and knowledge tested in the CCP exam, learned a tremendous amount from the stellar panels, and had a lot of fun relaxing and hanging out with our colleagues from around the country, but what will stick with me the most is the incredible talent, passion and love that American cheesemakers and retailers have for these amazing products, and the change they are affecting across the American culinary landscape. The Festival of Cheese was the perfect encapsulation of this, and a fitting end to an unbelievably successful American Cheese Society conference. I can’t wait for next year’s in Rhode Island!

 

 

 

Summer at the Cellars at Jasper Hill

By: Summer Babiarz

While driving a van of Murray’s folks to Jasper Hill Cellars in Greensboro, Vermont I am keenly aware of how “New York “ we all sound as we gush over the vibrant green mountains. One thing is for sure, we all agree that THIS is where cheese should be made. As we drive by a little boy walking down a country road carrying a fishing pole, we begin to suspect that Vermont is staging postcard moments. This theory gets legs a half hour later when a baby black bear scampers across the road. It is finally confirmed as we pass a happy herd of cows chomping greedily on a field of wildflowers. However, our favorite sighting by far is the red barn with a mural of Bayley Hazen Blue cheese posing as the moon as we roll into the gravel driveway of Jasper Hill Farms.

The Cellars at Jasper Hill

Not everyone gets to tour the caves at Jasper Hill, which are not open to the public. As Vince Razionale meets us warmly and asks us to sani-suit up, we chat about how lucky we are to have been given an opportunity to see some of our absolute favorites in their aging environment. Jasper Hill has a stellar reputation for craftsmanship and artistry and picking a favorite is like picking your favorite song.

The first stop was the Bloomy cave. These stone caves are magnificently beautiful and have round ceilings to prevent raining. We see newly-formed Moses Sleeper and the dramatic transformation it makes into a cloud-like pillow in only six days. New Harbison wheels are deep cream colored and do not yet have their distinctive white speckled mold growing over its boiled Spruce-bark spine.

Alpha Tolman aging in the Cellars

The Alpha Tolman cave was next. Wheels of this Scharfe-Max-inspired-cheese are in neat rows up to the cave’s ceiling. Vince explains that Bloomy cheeses are a quick study due to their short life-cycle. In contrast, firm and larger format cheeses like Alpha Tolman could take years to develop fully. He cores Alpha Tolman wheels, and we all taste this cheese at different ages. Vince confesses that selling “age” is a little gimmicky and that he prefers to focus on the flavor profile.

The Cabot Clothbound Cheddar cave is so bountiful that the ammonia released during the aging process dries out your eyes as you enter. Vince explains the three benefits of lard coating these cheddars before they are bound in cloth:

Endless Cheddar!

1. It helps the cloth adhere to the wheel of cheese

2. It helps to develop the correct amount of mold growth

3. It helps to regulate the correct density and water weight.

The last stop is the Natural Rind cave where Bayley Hazen Blue is maturing before and after being pierced. It is especially cool to see these blues before their blue veining has developed. However, my favorite part about this cave was seeing that each rack is resting on a bed of small wet stones which helps to keep high humidity and cool temperature.

Cabot Clothbound

As we make our way back down to the city, freshly cut grass gives way to concrete. The rolling thunder clouds are into roaring subway cars, and the sound of crickets are silenced by honking horns on the dreaded BQE. That being said, whenever the city gets me cranky I need only nibble one of the treasures from the Cellars at Jasper Hill to remember a perfect July day in cheesenerd paradise.

Counter Intelligence: Spreading the Good Word on Curd in Vermont

This past weekend some of the Murray’s staff was lucky enough to escape New York City for the fresh, magical air of Vermont, a gorgeous state with its vast green rolling hills, scattered with cow paddocks.

For the last 5 years, The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival has celebrated all things fromage. Cheese producers from all over the state gather to display a plethora of Vermont-made specialty food products. Not only did we get to catch up with some of our cheesemaking friends, but we also got to enjoy idyllic scenery. Right outside of Burlington, the festival takes place on Shelburne Farm, situated directly on Lake Champlain

Skittles the Calf

When we weren’t busy rolling around in the field, munching on Vermont’s best, or petting the sweetest calf in the world (Skittles), we got to talk curd. Murray’s staffer, and all-around queso expert and connoisseur, Elizabeth Chubbuck, led the “Counter Intelligence” seminar. Elizabeth showcased a couple of cheeses sourced from Vermont that we later age in the Murray’s caves.

 

Elizabeth Chubbuck leading the “Counter Intelligence” seminar

You see, Murrays has a very special relationship with this state. Through our Cave Master Reserve program we have been able to source cheeses from Vermont, take them into our caves and age them. This process adds our own Murray’s terrioir to the cheeses.

“Counter Intelligence” cheese plate

As Elizabeth explained, this relationship with Vermont cheesemakers is good for both maker and seller. A great case is Vermont Butter & Cheese Company’s Torus. VBC makes this cheese exclusively for Murray’s, and sends it to us very young. When developing this cheese, we decided to go with the doughnut shape, allowing for more rind and varied texture in each bite. VBC produces the cheese, we provide the affinage – producing a product that is exclusive to our cheese counters. By collaborating with different on cheeses, it allows producers to get  a little extra attention from Murray’s. We are proud of our Cave Master selection, and participating partners have the advantage of the “Murray’s Showcase”.

The “Counter Intelligence” attendees

Shopping for cheese was another topic that Elizabeth discussed. One of the goals of Murray’s as a company is to demystify the cheese case. She provided tricks of the trade, and explained the difference between taste and flavor. We strongly encourage those who don’t have much experience in buying cheese to step up to the counter and give it a shot. Cheesemongers are thrilled to do this – helping a customer discover a new cheese by taking them through a taste journey is what inspires us.

After spending the weekend with fellow cheese nerds, beautiful cheeses, and breathtaking scenery, it was hard to say goodbye to Vermont.

The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival takes place every year in July, right outside of Burlington. Next year if you need a good reason to visit Vermont, want to eat some cheese and listen to a talented Murray’s cheese-whiz discuss the nuances of the cheese counter,  the festival might just be exactly what you’re looking for. Until next year, Vermont will remain in my mind as a magical, distant memory.

(Want to take a class led by Elizabeth? She is teaching “Feel the Funk” 8/19/2013 at Murrays!)

Summertime: Make the Most of Your Mozz!

Sean Kelly is our all-star monger who will be competing at the Cheesemonger Invitational this Saturday! Don’t forget to VOTE FOR HIM on Facebook!

At Murray’s when we think of summer cheese we think FRESH! While we always love our stinky, nutty, firm and aged cheese friends, fresh cheeses go with warm weather picnics and sunlight like an oyster stout pairs with a strong washed rind. (Hint: that is an awesome pairing) But who is the undisputed king of the fresh cheeses? The noble mozzarella, of course.

Mozzarella is a proud member of the pasta filata, or “stretched curd”, family of cheeses, meaning that the curds are kneaded together, stretched, and re-kneaded repeatedly until the desired texture is achieved. It’s this process that is responsible for mozzarella’s stringy consistency and lively, bouncy texture. The stretched curd family of cheeses branches out into several other groups as well, and includes provolone and caciocavallo. But mozzarella will always be the cornerstone of the style, and now that summer is finally here mozzarella season is in full swing.

What better time to better know your mozz? Here are a few of our favorites for the season.

Maple Brook Burrata:

Meaning “buttered” in Italian, burrata is comprised of a thin sheet of mozzarella filled with fresh curds and cream. Burrata originated as a way for cheesemakers to utilize the leftover curds from the cheesemaking process and, like many foods with exceedingly practical origins, it has become one of the best options out there. Maple Brook Farm, who makes rich, fresh and traditional burrata, learned their technique from an Italian cheesemaker from Puglia, in the heart of mozzarella country. If you think the idea of a cream and curd-filled mozzarella pocket bears a striking resemblance to some sort of criminally decadent dessert, you’re not alone. We love serving these bundles of delight with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar for a savory sundae.

Buffalo Mozzaralla:

A far cry from the behemoths you may have seen on the back of a nickel, the Italian water buffalo is a dairy animal known for producing incredibly rich and flavorful milk perfect for cheesemaking. Buffalo milk is the traditional milk used for Italian mozzarella making, and Torre Lupara farm has been doing it since 1946 with a herd of 2,000 buffalo. Buffalo mozzarella provides an extra savory kick, tang and depth of flavor that makes it perfect for adding a layer of richness and moisture to just about anything. We love it in a BLT (a BBLT, if you will) instead of mayo. Or, if you have no sense of shame and love delicious things, just eat it whole, like an apple!

Lioni Mozzarella:

The classic standby for cooking and snacking, cow’s milk mozzarella has a very special place in America’s culinary heart, particularly here in New York City. Made fresh in Brooklyn by Lioni Latticini from whole cows’ milk, this mozzarella embodies traditional Italian flavor while maintaining a commitment to locally sourced ingredients and careful attention to detail. This cheese absolutely begs to be toasted atop a meatball hero or paired with paper thin prosciutto for a smooth and salty snack. If you’re tired of the same old-same old tomato/basil/mozzarella combo, try this fruity variation: mango/mint/mozzarella.

Jasper Hill Harbison: So Earth-Friendly the Tree Hugs the CHEESE

Cheesemonger Sean Kelly gives us the scoop (pun intended) on this gooey Earth Day pick.

We really never hear about cheese when talking about Earth Day. It sounds like a bit of a stretch to discuss cheese on a day that’s supposed to be focused on environmental conservation, awareness and activism.  But why not? Really, it makes perfect sense for cheese and cheese farming to enter into the topics of discussion for Earth Day. When done right and responsibly, cheese can represent a certain closeness to our food sources. Cheese comes from milk, milk comes from cows, cows eat plants; how many things does the average American consume on a daily basis that can have their genealogy traced so clearly and with so few steps? Indeed, it seems as if the best cheese almost always comes from the smallest, most traditional and most natural sources.

A perfect (and delicious) example of just how well cheese can fit in on Earth Day is Jasper Hill Farms’ compact and beautiful creation, Harbison. Harbison, in production, flavor, and concept, is the definition of terroir and brings a true taste of place to anyone fortunate enough to dive into its creamy and buttery paste. The cheese, named for Greensboro resident Anne Harbison, is produced at Jasper Hill Farms from their small herd of Ayrshire cattle. The farm itself is a picture of sustainability, maintaining a small herd and closely monitoring the health and well -being of the animals, as well as finishing up a project that will recycle manure solids from the cows and wastewater and whey from the cheesemaking process to help power their facilities. Once this project is completed, the farm will produce almost zero waste.

Harbison sets itself apart from its other bloomy-rinded cousins not just by way of its noble upbringing, but also by its outfit choice. The small wheels each come wrapped in a small girdle of spruce bark obtained from trees on the farm, which are naturally composted to enrich the soil after the bark has been harvested. The bark wrapping affects the flavor of the cheese in an interesting way; the flavors that shine through in a wheel of Harbison don’t simply remind one of the plants and scents of the woods, but rather are evocative of the forest as a whole. Herbal flavor notes (mustard, fennel, and tarragon, to name a few) dominate the start, while the finish highlights the buttery and rich milk produced by the Ayrshire cows. These flavors yearn to be paired with a crisp sparkling white, or a bright, hoppy IPA to match the powerful herbal notes. Cured meats and dry salamis are enlivened by the creamy spoonable wonder and bring a new depth of flavor to a ripe Harbison.

So, this Earth Day, show your love for Mother Nature by enjoying cheese the way nature intended. Grab a wheel of Harbison, peel off the delicate top rind and let your cheese plate proclaim your love for the Earth.