Murray’s is Making Cheese! Introducing Ezra

Murray’s has always stood by our creed: We Know Cheese. We’ve embraced it – as purveyors of the world’s best cheeses, guardians of Gruyere, champions of Cheddar, defenders of Delice de Bourgogne, we’ve brought you only the best. But while we’ve cultivated other people’s cheeses, aged some of the greats in our Caves, Murray’s hasn’t developed a cheese from scratch – until today!

Meet Ezra; a Murray’s exclusive clothbound cheddar born and bred here in New York. After almost two years of R&D, Ezra is finally emerging from within our caves to make its first appearance in our shops. But let’s walk you through how Ezra came to be!

Our Cavemaster PJ Jenkelunas and Sr VP Steve Millard got into a discussion around the spotty availability of a monger favorite Gabietou, and the idea of recreating this French washed-rind cheese was born.

Matt Ranieri, who was consulting with Old Chatham Sheepherding Co.,and Dave Galton (who co-owns Old Chatham with his wife Sally) agreed to help Murray’s in their R&D of Gabietou and to help provide the milk. The cheese would be made at the dairy incubator at New York’s Cornell University. Over a long weekend, the Murray’s team made its way up to Cornell to start making cheese. The only problem? Gabietou (version 1.0, as our Cavemaster still wants to make one eventually) didn’t turn out so great. But, it gave birth to a new idea.

During a re-examination of what the cheese would be, Steve expressed the desire to make a truckle sized cheddar – inspired by England’s Lincolnshire Poacher instead of the sweet New York cheddars that existed. In July of 2015, they tried again, heading back up to Cornell and making their very first batch of cheddar. It took some experimentation, and plenty of time, but finally, this lemony, bright cheddar tastes of sour cream and baked potato – and it’s perfect.

Our cheese was dubbed Ezra – the first name of the founder of Cornell, the birthplace of Murray’s first cheddar. But what was behind the magic of making this fine little cheddar? We sat down with PJ and Steve to learn a bit more about the inspiration behind Murray’s first cheese.

  • After experimenting with the recipe, what was the goal for this cheese? Was there a certain flavor profile you were aiming for?

“At Murray’s we sell cheese really well, we do affinage really well, we merchandise cheese exceptionally and our training program is second to none but we never made cheese.  My desire was to have a cheese that we made. We experimented with Holstein versus Jersey milk and settled on Holstein as our milk of choice.  We have 6 or so batches of Jersey cheddar (still really great) and then will be back to 100% Holstein.” – Steve

“The product development process involved a lot of variables.  Steve mentioned that we were going back and forth between Holstein and Jersey milk.  We also tried many different culture combinations.  During the aging process, we sampled each test batch very regularly to see which combination of cultures fit our desired profile.  Since clothbound cheddar takes so long to age and develop its flavor, this process took a very long time.” – PJ

  • What makes this cheese unique? What does it have that our customers will find appealing?

“I think this cheese is incredible.  I am admittedly biased but think the combination of many factors is leading this cheese to fit into our set very nicely.  American cheddar tends to run down a sweet/sulfurous path.  This cheese very much decidedly goes in a different direction toward a wonderfully bright and acidic path with notes of lemon curd and a slight hint of sweet caramel.  Our natural rind cave has proven to be a wonderful component of this cheese and this cheese sings the notes of the microflora of this cave beautifully.” – Steve

” All the elements of this cheese hit upon a New York theme… we developed it at Cornell, we use New York state milk, we get our lard from the Meat Hook (and they use New York pigs), and obviously we age it in NYC.” – PJ

  • With this successful project completed, what can we expect to come out of Murray’s caves in the future?

“We are working on recreating Barden Blue and are very close to having a final recipe.  This will be a raw milk, natural rind blue made by Consider Bardwell Farm and aged in our caves in Long Island City.  The other big project we are working on is an ashed, domestic Camembert made by Jasper Hill and finished in our caves.

Annelies started as a small R&D project with 2 wheels aging for 12 months in our caves and now we have 360 wheels of this incredible cheese aging in our alpine cave. We strive to have several small R&D projects going, from each one we learn a tremendous amount about cheese making, affinage and what we like. ” – Steve

Featuring Our French Faves for Cheese Week!

We wouldn’t be much of a cheese shop if we didn’t have an undying love for French cheeses. This week is Cheese Week, so of course we turned to our favorite cheeses to highlight during the festivities. The French have given us so much when it comes to cheese – and it’s not just the humble Brie. France has given us cheeses that run the gamut – creamy Camemberts, herbal chevres, nutty sheep’s milks, and minerally blues. We”d love to tell you about our favorite Frenchies, just in time to inspire your own Cheese Week celebrations!

Murray’s Camembert

We know your first thought when we talk about French cheese is Brie – but instead, why not try a little wheel of Camembert? Historically inspired by the Brie recipe (it was said to be passed down by a priest who had come from the province of Brie, but the recipe was corrupted in the telling), Camembert is creamier, more mushroomy, and has an earthiness that really tastes as though you’re enjoying it in the fields of France.

Murray’s Delice

If you’re looking for creamy, buttery sweet cheese, look no further than the land of Burgundy. Not only do they have delectable wine, but their cheese cannot be beat – Delice de Bourgogne is full of fresh milk flavors, with hints of sweet cream and clean hay. You can start your day with Delice paired with apricots and drizzled with honey as a tasty breakfast – or dessert if you add a glass of champagne on the side.

Valencay

The Loire Valley has created oh so many chevre cheeses, but Valencay stands out. Stories say that it was originally shaped like a pyramid, but when Napoleon returned from his military failings in Egypt, he demanded the pointed tops be removed, even going so far as to slice them off himself with his sword. While we’re not sure how true that is, the stunted pyramid shape remains, and the minerally, piquant goat’s milk is still one of our faves.

Ossau Iraty

If you’re looking for ancient traditions, you’ve found it. It’s said that Ossau Iraty is one of the first cheeses ever produced, and it’s only gotten better with age. Warm, buttery sheep’s milk curds are heated and pressed – think rich, toasty wheat aromas, and nutty, grassy-sweet flavors that make it that sort of cheese that stands up against anything – bold reds, toasty brown ales, whatever you’d like to pair it with.

Fourme d’Ambert

A blue developed so early on that the Druids and Gauls were said to have worked together to create it (read: a veryyyyy long time ago). It’s even said to go back to the Roman occupation of France nearly 1,000 years ago! They obviously perfected the recipe over the years, because we love nothing more than the earthy, mushroomy cheese with hints of sweetness and an amazing velvety texture. Even the staunchest blue hater will fall in love with this Frenchie.

To celebrate Cheese Week, we’ve got some great discounts on some of our French Faves! Check it out! 

Diamonds are a Cheese’s Best Friend

Have you ever seen a piece of Parm, waiting in your local cheese shop, like a sparkling diamond? Wait, is it actually sparkling? You’re probably wondering what those little crystals, sprinkled over the paste of your cheese are. Or maybe you’ve bitten into a super aged cheddar, only to have a bit of crispy crunch break in. Maybe you love that little crunch – asking your monger for the “crunchies” whenever you visit the shop. Those little cheese diamonds, they’re a cheese lover’s best friend. They’re also known as tyrosine crystals. But how do they get there? Are they a flaw in the cheese or a sign of cheese mastery? We’ll lay it out for you.

The word tyrosine comes from the Greek word ‘tyros’, which, of course, means cheese. These crunchy clusters only appear on well-aged cheeses – that’s because they form over time, as cheese ages and the proteins start breaking down. If you want the more scientific answer, stay with us for a sec:

Cheese is made up of fats and proteins that are trapped in a matrix of proteins (think of it as a big spider web of protein molecules). As cheese ages, the chains of proteins break down, creating these small, crunchy amino acid clusters that are left behind. This shouldn’t be confused with the salty crunch left on the outside of washed rind cheeses – that’s residual salt left over from a brine wash. These tyrosine crystals stay on the paste, adding a delightful crunch to cheeses with a normally smooth paste.

Now, we’re talking about these little gemstones like they’re good things. But are they something cheesemakers are going for or are they a mistake in the process? Well, it depends on who you ask. For a long time, especially in the United States, these little crystals were seen as a defect – because of the appearance of tyrosine crystals, big cheese factories worried that the cheese would look moldy and get tossed in the trash. But nowadays, more people are seeing these cheese diamonds as the sign of a well-aged, delicious cheese that is full-flavored and complex. Our mongers hardly go a day without having someone ask for “crunchy cheese”.

From a delightful aged Gouda like Roomano, to the King of Cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, you’ll find crunchy crystallization of all kinds. Since Valentine’s Day is on the way, let’s forgo the diamonds and sub them out for cheese diamonds. Your cheeseloving lovers will go crazy for them.

 

A History of Loving Cheese in the USA

Today, January 20th, is National Cheese Lover’s Day! We’re celebrating by looking back at the cheese lovers who came before us and paved the whey for our obsession today. 

The thing is, humankind has been loving cheese pretty much since we learned how to make it. There are a couple of stories about the discovery of cheese – the most well known and apocryphal is the story of a man traveling across the desert with milk in a sheep-stomach bag. After the heat of traveling and the rhythm of the camel he was riding, the milk transformed into whey and curds, which the hungry traveler devoured. While this story is questioned by historians (especially since it was suspected that humans were possibly lactose intolerant before the introduction of cheese into diets), cheesemaking can be traced back at least 4,000 years.

The manufacturing of cheese is depicted in murals in Egyptian tombs that are dated back to 2000 BCE. Jars from the First Dynasty of Egypt were found to contain cheese, dating back to 3000 BCE. Cheeses from this era were thought to be fresh cheeses, and were thought to be made through acid coagulation or through a combination of heat and acid.

(Cheesemaking according to ancient Egyptian heiroglyphics. credit: Oregon State University)

Cheesemaking became a way of life, especially in Europe, during the Middle Ages. Cheese during this period was highly regional, used as a method of bartering and taxing, and was especially important to places such as monasteries. In fact, it was the monasteries of the French and Swiss regions that developed one of the most beloved style of cheeses – the washed rind. Whether it was accidental (there is an excellent story of a drunken monk spilling his beer over an aging wheel of cheese that resulted in it’s funky exterior) or an experimental process, we came up with delicious, pungent wheels that are still enjoyed to this day. Also during the Medieval period, cheese such as Gorgonzola in the Po River Valley (897 CE), Roquefort by French monks (1070 CE), and English Cheddar (1500 CE) were developed, with their traditions continuing on to this day.

While we’ve talked plenty about cheesemaking in the Middle East and Europe, we haven’t talked much about the Americas. This mostly has to do with fact that cheesemaking simply was non-existent prior to European immigration to the Americas. Columbus brought goats on his voyages as a source of constant milk and cheese for the long voyage. The Mayflower included cheese among their supplies while crossing the Atlantic in 1620, and brought cheesemaking to the colonies as they raised livestock.

As American cheese production developed during the 18th and 19th centuries, it became clear that cheese was as regional as it was in Europe. English and Irish immigrants brought cheddar to New England, while the Swiss and Germans developed the Alpine recipes of their homeland in the Midwest (especially Wisconsin). Out on the West Coast, Spanish and Italian missionaries who had moved up and over the Mexican border brought their own style of aged goat and sheep’s milk cheeses.

It wasn’t just local farmers who were getting in on the action – inspired by his travels in Paris and Northern Italy, President Thomas Jefferson fell in love with a recipe there. For a state dinner, the President imported macaroni and Parmesan cheese. Dubbed “a pie called macaroni”, Thomas Jefferson unwittingly introduced macaroni and cheese to the American consciousness.

(above, Thomas Jefferson’s initial sketches of a pasta machine, which he would use to make the United States’ first version of macaroni and cheese. credit: Library of Congress)

But Thomas Jefferson wasn’t the only American president who enjoyed cheese. In 1835, Colonel Thomas Meacham, who was a dairy farmer from Sandy Creek, NY, made a gigantic wheel of cheddar. Four feet wide, and two feet thick, it weighted nearly 1400 lbs, and was dedicated to the current President of the United States, Andrew Jackson. But Meacham didn’t just dedicate that big block of cheese – he sent it to Jackson. When it arrived at the White House, Jackson was left wondering what exactly to do with it. It certainly didn’t help that the cheese was described, by one senator, as “an evil-smelling horror” that supposedly could be smelled from blocks away.

Jackson tried to get rid of it by handing out large chunks to friends and family, but two years later, there was still about 1200 lbs of cheese remaining. With his term almost up, Jackson sure wasn’t going to be bringing what remained of the cheese with him when he left the Oval Office. During his last public reception at the White House, Jackson opened the doors of the White House to his constituents, who swarmed the atrium. 10,000 people attacked the wheel, hacking into it with knives and walking away with sizable chunks. Jackson’s plan worked – after two hours, the entire wheel was gone, and Jackson was rid of his stinky cheddar.

(above, an illustration of Jackson’s big block of cheese, as the public attacks it with vigor. credit: Mental Floss)

Things in American cheesemaking began to change in the mid-nineteenth century, with the construction of the United States’ first cheese factory. Built in 1851 in Oneida County, New York, by a Mr. Jesse Williams. The father half of a father-son venture, Jesse’s boy wasn’t exactly the most skilled cheesemaker that had been born to the family. By buying milk from surrounding herds and pooling it to make a factory-made cheese, he covered up his son’s lack of skill, while making a bulk cheese that was affordable and less labor intensive. And like that, cheesemakers started changing to the factory style, which made them a much prettier penny than their small-scale farmhouse businesses had in the past.

The small time farmer’s cheese production slowly dwindled over the early 1900’s, but it was World War II that wiped out the regional diversity of US cheese. (The same thing, we should note, happened in Europe as well, and the war almost killed off some of our most beloved imported recipes.) Due to rationing, streamlining commodity cheeses in factories was an important wartime effort and a way of saving money while providing cheese for the nation. The cheese business was consolidated, for the sake of winning the war.

That was the state of American cheese for a good 30 years after the war – a desolate wasteland of “cheese food” and “cheese product”. Sure, we discovered that the mild, meltable processed American cheese was perfect for topping a burger or melting in a grilled cheese. But we, as a nation, missed the flavor of the Old World traditions that had been lost.

But the 1970’s birthed the artisan cheese revival! Started by women and small town farmers trying to re-establish their connection with Old World traditions, the focus began using goat and sheep’s milk instead of cow’s milk. While the yield of these cheeses was low and a more expensive product, the quality could not be denied. Cheesemakers like Laura Chenel, Vermont Creamery, and Cypress Grove had little to start with, but trained in French techniques and brought flavor back to the American cheese industry, from the ground up. Since then, the American cheesemaking scene has blown up, the artisan cheese boom giving birth to some of our favorite cheeses Bayley Hazen Blue, Pleasant Ridge Reserve, and Coupole.