Notes from our Jasper Hill Cheese Camp Correspondent

Last week, we sent some of our mongers on a journey into chilly Greensboro, Vermont to attend Cheese Camp at Jasper Hill Farm. This long weekend intensive is an amazing opportunity for mongers to see the cheese making and aging process first hand from the knowledgeable staff at one of America’s most dynamic and successful cheese operations. Ian Pearson, Head Monger at Murray’s Cheese Bar, was part of the Murray’s group who attended Cheese Camp. He snapped some photos throughout the weekend and wrote about the experience.

Snowy and chilled on the outside, but filled with warming, delicious cheese on the inside. This is how I spent most of Cheese Camp at Jasper Hill Farm. There were a dozen of us, cheesemongers from all over, braving Vermont’s biggest snowstorm in years to learn what we could from this cutting-edge American creamery. The experience was admittedly nerdy, but the kind of nerdiness you should expect from your cheesemonger— a voracious appetite for not only the crème de la crème of cultured curd, but also the knowledge of how it’s made.

Needless to say, like the protein clumping in a cheese’s make, instant bonds were formed. Over morning cups of coffee and evening beers, as we shoveled each other’s cars out, before shuffling into Jasper Hill’s classroom, where conversations about cheese flowed over one another.  They seemed to only ever abide when one of our instructors spoke.

Most mornings, Zoe Brickley, Jasper Hill’s Education Wizard (title mine), loaded us with awe-inspiring presentations— spanning everywhere from milk theory and herd management to successful pairing, with large doses of microbiology and good practices thrown in for measure. She readily answered our most obtuse questions: like how the enzymatic make-up of various types of rennet could potentially alter flavor (quite a bit) or where a specific species’ identifiable flavor comes from (it’s in the fat). I told you this got nerdy.

For the cheesemaking itself, we ambled on down to the Vermont Food Venture Center, where Matt Spiegler and his crew were whipping up a beautiful batch of Harbison. Unfortunately, cameras weren’t allowed here or in the caves for safety reasons, but believe you me, as vats of fresh-cut curd were poured into their molds and the whey expelled, there wasn’t a mouth in the room that wasn’t salivating. Matt thankfully recognized this and handed out milky-sweet bits for us to taste.

The caves, seven of them jutting into the namesake hill from the creamery’s central axis, are a place of cheese worship. Affineur Adam Smith ushered us through each one, where rows of Moses Sleeper are doted on and countless wheels of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar age into the best versions of themselves, as music is piped in from mobile soundsystems to encourage happy ripening.  This is where I belong, I thought to myself, and I quietly cried a little with joy.

On our final day, after waving goodbye to the cows and whispering promises to one-day return, we made our way to Vermont Creamery. There, Sam Hooper, son of co-founder Allison, led us through the sprawling facilities that continue to grow since their inception in 1984, remaining true to the mission of providing gorgeous dairy products and supporting local family farms. We filled up on cultured buttered and chevre to sustain us through the journey home, with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the cheese and makers that continue to inspire us everyday.

To shop through our selection of Jasper Hill cheeses follow this link, and find all our favorite Vermont Creamery treats here! Also, stop by Murray’s Cheese Bar in the West Village sometime to experience Ian’s cheese plate mastery.

 

Make Whey For… Winnimere!

As the snow starts falling up here in the Northeast, we’re reminded of our favorite things about this time of the year – decorating for the holidays, warm drinks by the fire, and of course, Winnimere.

jasper-hill-farms-winnimere-washed-rind-raw-cows-milk-vermont-280a8111

We wouldn’t be cheese experts if we didn’t greet each new season with the greatest excitement for the seasonal cheeses that it brings. Each change in the season means a new cheese heading our whey, something unique and delicious in its own right. Winter brings us the oozing, wonderfully spoonable cheeses inspired by Swiss classics. Look at Rush Creek, Vacherin Mont d’Or, and our lovely little ‘Winni’. Inspired by Forsterkase, a washed rind, raw cow’s milk cheese that is wrapped in spruce, these cheeses are known for their pleasantly creamy texture, perfect for spreading onto warm bread or just digging into with little pretext.

In the past, Winnimere’s distinctly pink and white dappled rind came from a wash of all sorts of brews and concoctions. But nowadays, the good folks at Jasper Hill Farm have been developing a simple salt-water brine that highlights the indigenous microflora of their raw milk. It is simplicity at its finest – focusing on the delicate flavors of the raw milk and allowing it to develop into something pungent, meaty, and woodsy.

Imagine a bonfire in the woods of Vermont, in the middle of winter. Not smokey, but something woodsy lingers on the palate, spreading across the tongue with a hidden meatiness beneath. Named for the corner of Caspian Lake where the Kehler Brothers’ grandfather would go ice-fishing, it is a true taste of terroir, or taste of place. Add the fact that this cheese only appears during the winter months, and you’ll understand that you’re diving into a cheese that is truly special.

Here’s all you need to enjoy it – with a knife, peel away the top rind. If you’re enjoying with friends, take the whole top off and dig in with a spoon. You could portion it out, of course, by only slicing off a little bit of the top rind. But really, why would you? Dig in!

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!)