New Finds from the Old Dominion

by Sean Kelly

Ask most foodies where the world’s best artisanal foods come from and the answer will often be “Europe, of course.” On the other hand, ask a Virginia native where the world’s best hams come from and you can expect a very different answer.

Virginia has its own rich culinary traditions with hundreds of years of practice to back them up, but recently products from the state have truly come into their own. In everything from cheese to charcuterie, Virginia is turning out some of the best artisanal foods their side of the Mason-Dixon and, indeed, anywhere in the country.

Meadow Creek Dairy

Tucked away in the highlands of Virginia, Meadow Creek Dairy is the picture of small production and sustainability. Meadow Creek has been nominated for awards and recognized on the basis of not only their phenomenal cheesemaking skills, but also aspects such as “good animal husbandry” (i.e. humane and responsible treatment of their animals) and their refusal to use pesticides in the pastures or in the animals’ feed. As a result, this dairy produces seasonal cheeses that change with the environment and are direct descendants of the rich land from which they came. Their Appalachian, a natural-rind, tomme style beauty, and Grayson, a buttery and pungent washed-rind that recalls Taleggio or Livarot, are prime examples: both cheeses glow a bright, straw-like yellow color (indicative of healthy, grass-fed cows) and boast complex earthy, vegetal flavors that can only come from naturally and expertly produced cheeses.

Surry Farms

Many “purists” scoff at the mere idea of an outstanding cured ham coming from anywhere other than Parma, San Daniele or the Iberian Peninsula. Poor, poor souls…

Enter Surry Farms, a 3rd generation collection of cure masters that takes the tradition of breed-specific cured meats and puts a distinctly American spin on it. Surry Farms makes their wide range of products, from bacon to hams to guanciale, with 100% purebred Berkshire hogs raised completely outdoors in and around the area of Myrtle, Missouri. When they arrive at Surry, these hams are perfectly marbled, rich in color and flavor, and simply beautiful. However, their journey has just begun. The cure masters take these hams and dry cure them, smoke them over hickory for 7 days, and age them no less than 400 days to produce their signature meat, the Surryano Ham. We’ve recently procured a few legs of the coveted peanut-fed Surryano that is even more silky and delicate than the original!

Olli Salumeria

What do you get when the grandson of an Italian salumi master discovers the pristine pasture-raised hams of Virginia? You get an exquisite line of prosciutto and salame proudly produced in America with traditional Italian methods and values, that’s what. In 2009, Olivario Colmignoli and Charles Vosmik sat down and sought to accomplish just that. Olivario (Olli) had been working for a U.S. subsidiary of his grandfather’s salumi business when Vosmik posed an important question: if you know the techniques and have the resources, why don’t you just make the products here? A week later, Vosmik procured several Berkshire hams for Olli, and the pair went to work. The result was phenomenal, and Olli Salumeria began to take shape. Now, among their line of cured hams, Olli has expanded to make several traditional regional Italian salamis that highlight both traditional European methods and prime Virginia ingredients. Their Norcino, Napoli, and Calabrese salamis all embody different regional Italian flavors while letting the rich Berkshire pork take the spotlight.

Virginia Chutney Co.

While hams and cured meats seem to dominate the foodscape of Virignia, accompaniments can’t be overlooked. Virginia Chutney Company makes amazing chutneys and jams that borrow from a wide range of traditions. The company’s founders Clare and Nevill grew up in East Africa and England, respectively, and met in the Caribbean where they began to make chutneys together. The duo moved to Virginia and have been making a spectacular line of sweet, spicy, salty, fruity deliciousness ever since. Their latest creation, Preservation Society Pepper Jelly made from red, green, jalapeño, and habañero peppers, brings sweetness, heat, and a perfect pairing for meats and cheeses.

Check out all of these great finds in our new Virginia State Fare collection!

Our Top 5 Beach Cheese Picks

Sum-sum-summertime! Beach season is officially here, and at Murray’s we’ve got one thing on our mind when packing a picnic for those epic days in the sun: Cheese! Yes, cheese at the beach!

Hot weather means you’re going to want something refreshing and light to snack on. Fresh, spreadable cheeses that won’t stink up your cooler and transport easily are ideal. Here are some of our favorites for the season. Just add some fresh fruit, a big bottle of water or chilled vino, and the soothing sound of ocean waves.

Something fresh and light: With the sun beating down and the salt in your hair, there is no need for anything heavy. Bring on the Petit Billy, a delightful chevre that doesn’t tax your palate or your wallet. It’s creamy and bright like a tangy whipped cream cheese, and pairs just as fabulously with fresh fruit.

Something rich and triple crème-y: A couple of bites is enough to satisfy—you are still wearing a bathing suit, right? Nettle Meadow Kunik should do the trick. A small round of rich, velvety goodness hits the spot and never leaves you wanting. We love this with fresh strawberries or raspberries.

Something soft: Seriously, if you are anything like me, you’ve already packed a towel, water, sunblock, reading material, bocce ball… the last thing you need to be schlepping is a cheese knife and board as well. Brebisrousse D’Argental is light and creamy, and has plenty of flavor without being super pungent. Now all you need is to find space for those petit toasts to scoop up the orange-rinded sheep-y goodness.

Something smoky to put you in the mood for BBQ: This is a no brainer – River’s Edge Up in Smoke! A delicate chevre from Oregon gets wrapped in a smoked Maple leaf and spritzed with a touch of bourbon. The finished product is tangy and fresh with a meaty-smoke subtlety that makes your mouth water. You’ll wonder why your craving for ribs increases exponentially.

Something with a bit more heft: Yeah, we said to stick to light and soft, but just to round out our list, let’s throw in Cave-Aged Landaff. Reminiscent of a cheddar, this semi-firm raw cow’s milk cheese aims to please. Pre-slice for snacking ease.

Fourth of July Picks: My Country ‘Tis of Cheese!

The Fourth of July is a time for sparklers, s’mores, slaw, and sun. Everyone spends the day grilling the same old hotdogs and burgers. I’m here to tell you to change it up this year! Serve some cheese!

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate our fine country than to create a cheese board brimming with American beauties, and as a Murray’s monger I’m here to guide you to some of the best choices for a fabulous 4th.

Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery Coupole – Without these visionary cheese pioneers of Vermont the American cheese scene would be unrecognizable today. Over 25 years ago, VBC introduced us to fresh chevre and they still make some of the best stuff out there. The bloomy-rinded Coupole is pure creamy goat goodness, known to disappear quickly at potlucks.

 

Old Chatham Hudson Valley Camembert – The French have given us many priceless things over the course of America’s existence – Lady Liberty, Southern Rhone blends, Gerard Depardieu, and a killer Camembert recipe. With the addition of sheep’s milk to the classic cow’s milk bloomy, this upstate New York square honors French gastronomic traditions in the American style.

 

Roth Kase Sole Gran Queso – Since we are discussing American cheese, it is essential to recognize those dairy lovers out in Wisconsin. Many of their wheels are based off of European staples and are now winning American Cheese Society awards (like this one!). This cow’s milk wheel is a take on the classic Spanish Manchego, which is made with sheep milk. Flavors of nutty, buttered popcorn dominate, making this an all-ages crowd pleaser and a great companion to American lagers and juice boxes alike.

 

Bellweather Farms San Andreas* – The courageous Gold Rush pioneers paved the way for American expansion west. California is now one of the more prolific states for cheese-making, especially in the fertile Sonoma coast area. Like the esteemed wines from this region, San Andreas blows us away with its full-flavored, gamey intensity. Do everyone a favor and give this raw sheep tomme a go this Fourth of July.

 

Keeley’s Cheese Co. Across the Pond* – Our declaration of independence from England is something we share in common with Ireland, the country that inspired this creation. This orange-rinded beauty is truly a labor of love in the American tradition, emerging from a vision, a herd of Holstein and Jersey cows, and a willingness to stand on principle. Honor our visionary forefathers with this stinky, sweet, buttery wheel.

 

Rogue Creamery Caveman Blue – Red, white, and … gotta have a blue! Plus it is far and away the monger favorite behind the cheese counter. The Rogue Creamery out in Oregon is a stalwart in the cheese business, crafting amazing wheels in the blue tradition. This well-balanced, sweet and savory number just might be the one to win over blue skeptics, especially when paired with a darker, malty beer from the Creamery’s neighbor, Rogue Brewery.

 

Caitlin Griffith is a monger at our Bleecker Street store and good cheese makes her feel patriotic.

*San Andreas and Across the Pond are currently available in stores only.