Christmas Stocking Stuffers

The holly-jolly can be full of folly. You’ve got years of delicate dynamics at play: Maybe the in-laws are in town. Maybe you’re meeting your sibling’s partner for the first time. Maybe your friends are those people who seem just next to impossible to gift for. And there’s plenty of gifting to do. In fact, you’ve got entire stockings to stuff. So, how to navigate such fraught terrain without making an underwhelming first impression or becoming an outlaw to your in-laws?

One classic approach is to focus on the essentials. You might not know what they want, the thinking goes, but you know what they need. And yeah, that’s true. Sure. But it’s also a bit uninspired. Who’s going to get stoked about a pair of socks? Especially when pulling them out of a gigantic version of themselves. The impulse is right, but the execution is off. If you’re going to get ‘em something they need, it should still be something they enjoy.

So, what falls into that category? What is something that’s essential—more essential even than socks, and certainly more enjoyable? One thing springs immediately to mind. Food.

Now, a stocking is a decorative thing. You’re not about to plop in a pot pie or ladle it full of bœuf bourguignon. Yet neither do you want to toss in a scrunched up bag of Fritos. What you’re looking for is something that’s uncompromisingly delicious, with both the integrity to respect the aesthetic of a stocking and the durability to withstand the stuffing process.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a page full of items that hit all these marks. Here are some of the foodie favorites, what we’ll call Stocking Foodstuffers.

Banana Jam

Stagg Banana Jam Topping Condiment Sweet Bananas Foster

You know how, every once in a while, you’ll come across a concoction that is so delicious, so pure, so obvious once you try it that you’ll wonder how you’ve never encountered it before? Well, this is one of those times. Stagg Banana Jam tastes like the jarred essence of bananas Foster. It’s incredible over ice cream, or French toast, or just regular ol’ toast. Or on a biscuit. Or with some peanut butter. You get the idea. It goes well with just about anything that can afford some sweetness, including…

Zotter Chocolates Coffee Toffee

Zotter Coffee Toffee Chocolate Bar

Coffee and toffee rhyme in English, yes, but they rhyme in flavor too. One’s roasty and bitter, the other’s caramelly and sweet. Smack dab in the middle of that flavor continuum is chocolate, which makes it the ideal binding for this bar. Indeed, all the elements work so well together that you might be moved to write couplets in ode. We sure have been:

Chewy, triumphant, and chock-full of goodness
Coffee Toffee will transport you to food bliss

…We are not talented at poetry.

That’s a pair of items on the sweeter side. As a counterpoint, get a load of these:

Dardimans Mandarin Crisps

Dardimans Mandarin Crisps Chips Wafers Fruit Orange Oranges Citrus

These golden rounds are pure orange like you’ve never known it. They look like wheels of the sun. They crunch like fresh chips. And they taste like the concentrated essence of an orange’s juice and zest. The reason? These crisps are nothing but unadulterated mandarin. There are no other ingredients. And yet, the flavor is so far beyond that of a simple orange slice.

That’s not to say they only work on their own. On the contrary, give them a drizzle of something like this…

Da Rosario Truffle Honey

Da Rosario White Truffle Honey

A lot of truffle products on the market don’t actually contain truffle. Rather, they’re just pumped with diluted truffle runoff and end up tasting synthetic and one-note. Not this stuff. It’s got pieces of white truffle right there in the honey. You can see them. And it has a deep, complex flavor to go with. Orange blossom honey is a classic, which is why this stuff goes so well over mandarin crisps. It ends up tasting like a bright crunch of citrusy, truffly honeycomb.

If you’re looking for something a touch more traditional, you can’t go wrong with:

Rustic Bakery Chocolate Chip Shortbread 3-Pack

Here’s something for anyone who loves the Christmas ritual of milk and cookies. Or for anyone who just loves cookies, period. Just like your aren’t dropping pie into your stocking, you don’t want to toss in some loose chippers either. Rustic Bakery’s cookie packs hold up, though, and this chocolate chip shortbread is a classic. We’re talking Valrhona cacao nibs and a sprinkling of fleur de sel.

But perhaps you’re on a diet. In that case…

Murray’s Snapback Hat

Murray's Snapback Hat

Do not eat this hat. Yes, the whole concept of this list is edible stocking stuffers, but we couldn’t resist throwing in a little swag. Especially when it looks like this. This snapback is literally brimming with cheesiness. And that makes it an excellent topper for the groan-worthy punster in your life. Just smile and nod when they same something like, “Call me Queso Fresco, because I look so fresh.”

And just like that, you’ve loaded up your stockings with essentials that your giftees will actually enjoy. So, if you were about to pick up a 3-pack of knee highs, stay your hand. You needn’t feel so obligated. There is a way to fill those difficult-to-stuff stockings that everyone will feel good about. It might not completely alleviate the potential social perils of the holiday season, but it’ll most definitely make things better.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all: good luck.

Thanksgiving Cheese Board On A Dime

Quality cheese with a story to tell doesn’t have to break the bank.

Few holidays are as food-focused as Thanksgiving, and that’s one reason we love it. Another reason we wait excitedly the whole year for T-Day is that it’s all about hitting pause, taking stock, and sharing gratitude. Sure, we love Turkey and pumpkin pie as much as the next guy, but it’s the time spent with family and friends—cooking, talking, and taking stock of our lives—that makes this meal a once-in-a-year experience. Without the ritual and meaning of Thanksgiving, it’s really just a huge dinner, right?

The same is true with cheese. Recently it was suggested that the only way to avoid dropping major coin on a platter is to blindly pluck a wedge of Camembert from a supermarket cold case, bake it for a few minutes, and then plop it on a plate beside some grapes and olives. We’re certainly not knocking those pairings—and who doesn’t love warm, gooey cheese? But there’s so much more you can do without breaking the bank. And just like a holiday meal tastes better because of the history behind it, a cheese tastes better when you know its story.

With that in mind, we’ve put together a delicious cheese board that’s easy on wallet without skimping on quality, flavor, or intrigue. Now, this is just one way to do it; your options know no limits, and we’re always here to help you navigate that bounty. We will say that there’s one primary rule of thumb, and it’s a good one: the name of the game is variety. What you want is a range of flavors and textures, meant to entice and delight the senses. We happen to think this is a pretty solid guide for food in general. Imagine your Thanksgiving dinner plate: you’re probably not eating turkey with a side of roast chicken, or mashed potatoes with a fistful of french fries (though if that’s your jam, don’t let us get in the way.) Same goes for a cheese board—a good one will demonstrate cheese in its wonderfully wide-ranging glory.

And so, without further ado: a selection of beautiful cheeses that will contribute to the edible (and otherwise) bounty of your Thanksgiving table, without burning a hole in your wallet.

Camembert Fermier

At Murray’s, we like to work in order from mild to wild, so let’s start with this here Camembert. We have nothing but love for this Frenchie, and it’s been in the game for quite some time. In 1797, a woman named Marie Harel was living in the village of Camembert when, according to legend, a priest from Brie gave her the recipe for his region’s famed fromage. She took it, made it her own, and Camembert cheese was born. If Brie is the popular kid at school, Camembert is its younger sibling with artsy tendencies and more personality. Both are pudgy and gooey under their tender, downy rinds. Where Brie can be decidedly mild, Camembert is a bit more pungent, with a buttery, toasty, ever so lactic quality that guests often find themselves coming back to again and again. It’s sturdy enough for baking, if you so desire, but it’s just as much of a crowd-pleaser when you let the cheese stand alone. ($10.99/8 oz. wheel)

Young Manchego

What you might notice first about Manchego is that lovely criss-crossy pattern on the rind. This is a nod to tradition—for centuries, the cheese was formed in baskets made of esparto grass, which would imprint a woven pattern onto the outside of the cheese, then forming into the rind. It is every bit an essential characteristic of this sheep’s cheese as its semi-firm texture and nutty flavor, which provide complementary contrast to your smooshier, creamier Camembert. ($8.99/8 oz.)


And now for some wildin’. Like with many cheeses named for their place of production, Stilton must be made according to a strict set of rules. Among those rules: the cheese must be unpressed, cylindrical in shape, and feature a naturally formed rind. Oh, also, it has to, well, taste like a Stilton. Which is to say: thick and fudgy, with a velvety crumble and a mineral tang. A proper Stilton like this one will sport an ivory-colored paste and a network of blue-green veining that imparts a piquant yet sweet pepperiness. It’s a textbook example of a punch-packing party cheese—big and bold while still being easy to enjoy. ($11.50/8 oz.)


Now that you’ve got your cheese selection covered, let’s talk about dressing your plate. Maybe you’re a chutney person, or perhaps you’re partial to roasted nuts. It’s all a matter of preference. One sure thing is that it’s always a good idea to have a vessel for the cheese. Around here, we are particularly fond of Jan’s Farmhouse Crisps, which have a seed-studded whole grain flavor that works with all three of the above cheeses. For a sweet, fruity counterpoint, membrillo is always a fave. It’s dense and chewy and a little sticky, but it has the rich, deep flavor of cooked quince with a light tang from a touch of lemon juice. Lay some on a cracker, top it with cheese, and you’ve got a flavor combo that’ll win any party. (Jan’s: $9.99; Membrillo: $7.99)

So there you have it, a whopping cheese plate that’ll keep costs in check while sparing no expense in the flavor department. As we said, this is just one of any number of combos. If you decide to create your own, here’s what we suggest: go visit your local cheesemonger. Think of him or her as your personal tour guide. In the same way you get more out of a trip to a museum or an historic landmark when you have an expert by your side, you’ll get a lot more out of your time in the Land of Cheese when you have someone walking you through the context of what you are encountering. This is one of the many reasons we’re so excited to have Murray’s counters across the country. Even if you would’ve grabbed the same cheeses on your own, your guests will enjoy them all the more when you include them in the ritual and heritage behind what they are eating. That, after all, is the spirit of a holiday meal.

Happy Thanksgiving, Cheesers!

S’more Ways to Enjoy Vacherin Mont D’Or

Vacherin Mont D’Or hot out the oven!

If you’re as obsessed with cheese and cheesemaking as we are, you’ve no doubt come to love cheeses made from summer milk. Especially prized are those Alpine heavyweights like Gruyere and Comte, whose traditions mandate that cows are led up to high altitudes for the summer months, where they graze on wild grasses and flowers only briefly uncovered by snowmelt. The result of this forage is milk rich in unique flavor compounds, which translates to especially deep, complex, fruity and nutty cheeses.

But what about the other nine months of the year? What to do with Bessie’s milk when she’s returned from her mountaintop culinary adventure, to a comparatively bland regimen of hay and grain?

Fret not, dear cheeser!

Autumn and winter milk have an attraction all their own; a density of solid fat and protein that give us cheeses of unrivaled richness. The cheesemakers on both the French and Swiss sides of the majestic Mont d’Or love this milk so much, in fact, that they waste no time whatsoever crafting it into a one-of-a-kind soft, gooey delicacy as soon as late August hits and the cows come home.

I’m referring, of course, to Vacherin Mont d’Or.

So soft and fragile that it must be bound in fir bark and packed in a wooden box to prevent it running away, Vacherin Mont d’Or makes a formidable first impression with a characteristic pungent smell and a thick, wavy, pink orange rind that, when pulled back, reveals golden paste with the texture of thick pudding. Only available October to December, and notoriously hard to come by outside of its home region, it is the rarest and most delicate of delicacies – usually catalogued among the world’s very best cheeses.

While this reputation is well deserved, it often has the unintended consequence of driving connoiseurs and first-time customers alike to timid trepidation. And this is a shame, because as dainty and delicate as Vacherin may appear, it is a mighty burst of flavor and texture that is best dived into head first. To remove some of the intimidation factor, the dedicated crew here at Murrays worked a little overtime this weekend; we took a wheel home, assembled food and beverage pairings of all shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors, and concocted a definitive three course progression for you, so you too can go three rounds with the undisputed featherweight champion of the cheese world. Alas, work life balance eludes us again!

This three course cheese progression uses one wheel of Vacherin Mont d’Ord’Or and will feed 2-4 funky friends.

  1. The Opening Round (or, Vacherin Mont d’Hors d’Oevres)

With a pie server, make a deep X through the rind of your Vacherin, dividing the wheel into four equal portions. Remove the top and bottom wedge (the North and South wedge; the 12 o clock and 6 o clock wedge) from the wooden round and place them aside in separate dishes (a small bowl works best, because remember, this bad boy runs at room temperature).

Spoiler alert! We’re about to eat one of those two set aside wedges, but first we need to do a little prep for round 2, which is adapted from an old standby “Baked Vacherin” recipe.

Finely chop up a clove of garlic, and a sprig or two each of sage, rosemary, and thyme, and sprinkle them on top of the Vacherin still in its wooden box, as well as into the voids left by your two removed wedges. Cover with foil, and set aside at room temperature for about 30 minutes, during which time the paste will run together to fill in the voids.

While you’re waiting, come back to the present! Grab one of your removed-and-set-aside wedges, and spoon it liberally onto whole wheat bread, crackers, apple and pear slices, and berries.

This is Vacherin Mont d’Or in its state of nature, as God intended it. He evidently also liked unoaked Chardonnay because it makes an A++ pairing to your Vacherin Mont d’Hors d’Oevres.

  1. The Main Event (or, Vacherin Mont d’Boar)

How ya doing there, champ? Ready for another round? We know you can do it. You got this!

Preheat your oven to 425 Fahrenheit. When it’s good and toasty, remove the foil from your wooden box of herbed Vacherin, which by now will have run together in a nice goopy mess that fills out the container. Plop the whole thing, box and all, into your oven for ten minutes.

While it’s cooking, slice a Creminelli Wild Boar Salami or two on a bias, and serve with more bread, as well as whatever roasted veggies you tend to enjoy (we highly recommend Brussels sprouts, red potatoes, and shallots). At the moment of truth, remove your Vacherin from the oven, and dip your salami and veggies into it like it’s fondue.

Fon-don’t-mind-if-I-due, amirite? We know you killed that Chardonnay in round one, so enjoy this with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau.

  1. Going the Distance (or, Vacherin Mont d’S’mores)

Look, we love working with the finest of foods, but it’s hard to be so damn fancy all the time. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta keep it simple.

You know what to do here:

  • Graham crackers (or even better – Effie’s Homemade Oatcakes!)
  • Dark chocolate squares (we loved it with Pralus Chocolatier Equateur Tablette).
  • That last wedge of Vacherin Mont d’Or you’ve had set aside, getting all gooey like toasted marshmallows do, serves as the perfect marshmallow replacement (or, for extra credit, toast some actual marshmallows under the broiler for 30 seconds, and add them to the mix!)

Stack, serve, eat, repeat! Pair this with a chilled red Chileno. Sing campfire songs, tell spooky stories, pass out…and dream dreams of baby dairy cows frolicking on verdant mountain pasture.





Cider and Cheese, Please!

You’ve known since childhood that “an Apple a day keeps the doctor away…” but now that you’re all grown up, you may have also discovered that when pressed for juice and allowed to ferment and age, apples can become just what the doctor ordered!  We’re talking, of course, about cider, that underappreciated cousin of beer and wine that shows up in force at bars and bottle shops this time of year, announcing to all that Autumn is here. 

At its simplest, cider is nothing more than the juice of pressed apples, fermented by the yeasts native to apple skins.  It has a long history in the United States, going back to the first English colonies, and was more commonly consumed than beer in the years before the German and Irish immigrant populations and their beer brewing traditions became fully incorporated into the American melting pot.  Nearly wiped out entirely by Prohibition, cidermaking has seen a renaissance in the last 40 years in parallel with craft brewing, winemaking, and artisan cheesemaking.

While we might associate ciders most often with the autumn colors of New York and New England, they are produced throughout the year and around the world, from the warm and wet English West Country; to the rolling fields of Normandy and Brittany; to the rustic, rugged mountains of the Basque Country.  These regional ferments evolved in response to the same geographic, economic, and cultural constraints as the cheeses consumed in their vicinities, and as such make brilliant terroir pairings.

We’re delighted to share a flight of cheese and cider pairings from three esteemed cider and cheese producing regions, so that you can break free of the repressive stranglehold Pumpkin Spice has taken upon our society, and celebrate fall with the simple bliss of a classic harvest beverage.


Cidre Bouché 2016 Unfiltered Hard Apple Cider

Domaine Dupont (Pays D’Auge, Normandy, France)

From a region of apple growers influenced by their winemaking countrymen to the South comes this crisp, elegant, pleasantly sweet unfiltered Apple Cider; a perfect complement to its Norman counterpart, Camembert.

  • Deep amber-bronze color and a clean nose with subtle citrus and berry notes
  • A creamy mouthfeel, with rich, velvety effervescence like cream soda
  • Its flavor profile is a rounded, focused sweetness reminiscent of red grapes. It makes its presence known right away, and then recedes, making room for powerful brine and cooked broccoli flavors of farmstead Camembert

PairingsMurray’s Camembert; Murray’s Brie Fermier; Jasper Hill Moses Sleeper


Shacksbury Dry Hard Apple Cider

Shacksbury Cider (Vergennes, Vermont)

This light, tart, rustic cider is a cocktail of 10 distinct heirloom apple varieties grown in Vermont and England, fermented in part by yeasts native to the apples themselves.  Aged over six months, its sweetness is present but dialed back, laying the stage for firm, lactic, tangy cheddar to work its magic.

  • A pale yellow color, with yeast and funky barnyard aromas
  • A light, smooth, clean mouthfeel, punctuated by large bubbles
  • Dry, as its name suggests, with a prickly tartness, it is a wonderful complement to the tangy fruit and sweet cream notes in its Vermont counterpart, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

PairingsCabot Clothbound Cheddar, Murray’s High Plains Cheddar, Murray’s Cavemaster Reserve Stockinghall Cheddar


Byhur “24” Sidra Apardunia

Astarbe Sagardotegia (Astigarraga, Basque Country, Spain)

An intensely dry bubbly with a hint of bitterness, produced from two proprietary apple varieties on a 450 year old estate in the heart of Basque cider country.  Pairs wonderfully with Ossau-Iraty, or as a substitute for Champagne alongside a decadent a triple crème.

  • Dark, yellow-orange color and clean, tart, green apple aromas
  • Light and crisp on the tongue, highly effervescent, and as dry as they come
  • With a balanced flavor profile, long finish, and slight hint of bitterness, it showcases the complex sweet, savory, pecan, and lanolin of Ossau-Iraty and other rich Basque sheep’s milk cheeses.

Pairings:  Ossau-Iraty, Pyrenees Brebis, Roncal, Nettle Meadow Sappy Ewe, Brebirousse D’Argental, Cremeaux de Borgogne

Written by: Tyler Frankenberg, Murray’s Cheese

Cheesify Your Oktoberfest with These Beer & Cheese Pairings

When the first crisp breezes of autumn are in the air, you know it’s time for Oktoberfest – that boisterous celebration of Bavarian heritage that despite its name falls in mid-September, heralded by clinking steins and the joyous pulse of oompah music.

Marzen, the style of lager traditionally drunk at Oktoberfest, is named for the month of March, when it was produced in compliance with medieval Bavarian law that prohibited brewing during the summer months.

Given that Oktoberfest beers are consumed in full liter increments, it’s no surprise that they are known for supreme drinkability.  But don’t mistake this genre for swill – here are three unique American and German Marzens that make excellent complements to some of the world’s finest cheeses.

Oktoberfest Marzen-style Lager

Blue Point Brewing Company (Patchogue, NY)

Consider this your warmup round, or appetizer – a light, sweet, floral, thirst-quenching brew that invites savory accompaniments and thus lends itself to a wide range of possible cheese pairings.

  • A golden-hued, light bodied, very balanced and highly quaffable lager
  • Pleasant yeasty and floral aromas accompany a dominant malty sweetness – a perfect complement to equally light bodied, but lemony and tangy soft goat’s milk cheeses
  • It’s so easy to drink this beer, you might forget to move on to the next two if you’re not careful!

Cheese Pairings Humboldt Fog, Chabichou du Poitou, Pico Picandine, Westfield Farm Capri, Bucheron

Humboldt Fog, made by Cypress Grove

2017 Oktoberfest Marzen-style Lager

Sierra Nevada (Chico, CA) & Brauhaus Miltenberger (Miltenberg, Germany)

With this American-German collaboration, Sierra Nevada and Brauhaus Miltenberger offer a brew that packs more punch without sacrificing drinkability.  Its forward hoppiness does well with cheddars and fudgy Alpine style cheeses.

  • Deep, hazy amber tone with aromas of dewy grass and subtle tangerine notes
  • Creamy mouthfeel with a focused citrus-peel bitterness that conditions the taste buds for a rich, nutty and tangy pairing – think American cheddars and Alpine-style cheeses
  • There’s more here to be savored, but don’t mistake this for sipping beer. Drink, eat, repeat!

Pairings5 Spoke Creamery Tumbleweed, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, Consider Bardwell Rupert, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, Milton Creamery Flory’s Truckle

Pleasant Ridge Reserve, made by Uplands Cheese Company

Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Smoked Marzen-style Lager

Brauerei Heller (Bamberg, Germany)

The final selection, from Bavaria’s historic Brauerei Heller, fires on all cylinders, making it a superb accompaniment to strong, buttery blues and sweet fruit preserves.

  • Dark mahogany color, with aromas of smoke and black cherry syrup
  • Light to medium body, with a slightly tart lingering finish, this Marzen nevertheless drinks like a heavier beer due to the intensity of the smoke
  • Time for dessert – sip this bad boy alongside a rich, creamy blue cheese topped with cherries in syrup or preserved walnuts

Pairings:  Chiriboga Blue, Persille de Rambouillet, Cambozola Black Label, Point Reyes Original Blue Cheese, Fourme d’Ambert

Persille de Rambouillet

Written by: Tyler Frankenberg, Murray’s Cheese