Laure Dubouloz: A Life in Cheese with the U.S. President of Mons

“You know how when you grow up with something you take it for granted?” asks Laure Dubouloz. I do. For me, it was absurdly temperate weather. I was born in southern California, and for the first 18 years of my life I checked the weather by looking out my bedroom window. If it was cloudy, I brought a sweatshirt with me. If it wasn’t, I didn’t. Ever since then I’ve lived in climates with legitimate, stinging winters, and it still takes me half the season to remember to layer appropriately.

Laure grew up in the French town of Anse, just north of Lyon and a bit west of Geneva. You do not take good weather for granted in this part of the world. Rather, Laure assumed that, just like her, everyone had family cheese caves below their houses.

Laure is the U.S. President of Mons Cheeses, one of the most renowned affineurs in France, the country that invented affinage. Mons was founded in the 1950s by Hubert Mons, who began selling cheese out of his truck, and then in markets, ultimately developing his own network of caves. At this same time, Laure’s grandfather was selling cheese to markets, and the two men got to know each other, at first in a business capacity, then in a social one. Twenty years later, Laure’s grandfather built a small trio of personal caves under his house, and this is where she grew up.

So how did Laure come to work for Mons? The Mons and Dubouloz families worked alongside one another for decades, but never in competition. Eventually Hubert’s son Hervé became old enough to begin helping the family business, right as Laure’s father began doing the same thing. While the older men were sipping coffee and talking shop, the kids would be loading the trucks. The same process repeated when Laure turned 13. Eventually Hervé took over his family’s business and Laure went off to attend an agricultural university. On the other side of Laure’s schooling Hervé offered her a position with Mons, and through this multi-generational relationship she’s now been working with her family friends for seven years. For much of that time Laure has been out in Brooklyn, responsible for bringing Mons’ cheeses to the U.S. ever since.

Here at Murray’s we are celebrating French Cheese Month, and to do so we have brought five of Mons’ cheeses in house for a limited time. That includes…

This hazelnutty, stone fruity Bethmale Chèvre:

This cheddar & sour creamy Cantal:

 

This herbaceous, porcini rich Petit Héletar:

This 1924 Bleu, an old-school, proto-Roquefort style:

And a supremely balanced Tomme de la Chataigneraie:

Speaking of Tommes, the area surrounding Lyon is particularly known for the style, so of the three family caves below Laure’s childhood home, one was devoted entirely to Tommes. The Tomme Tomb, you might call it. Of the two other caves, one was for the more delicate types of goat cheeses often associated with the Loire Valley, and the other was for harder wheels like Comté and Beaufort.

Some of Laure’s earliest memories were formed in these caves. The smell of the hard cheese cave is like no other place in the world, she says, and it always takes her back to her childhood. By age ten, she’d broken down her first wheel of Comté, and that’s where it happened.

Whereas a family set of cheese caves are undeniably charming, the Mons caves are a sight to behold. There are two separate locations. In 2006, Hervé brought down the caves his father built in order to build them back to better suit the practices the family had developed over the years. There’s a natural spring nearby, which provides a natural level of humidity that differs from cave to cave. Along with humidity, each cave has individual levels of temperature, air flow, and bacteria types, so that each style of cheese can have its own optimal conditions. Along with this set of caves, Mons converted an old train tunnel into another cave, bricking it up to achieve regulated conditions. For affineurs, cave conditions are as important as weather is to farmers. If conditions are off, that will translate to the final product, so you better believe that the caves of an operation as celebrated as Mons are as good as it gets.

So for someone who grew up in the French cheese industry and now lives stateside, what differences does she see between the cheese cultures of France and the U.S.? The first, of course, is that French law allows for raw, unaged, unpasteurized cheeses, whereas those of the U.S. do not. American affineurs, she’s observed, are much more rigid and regimented in their treatment of cheese, whereas their French counterparts work more on feel, almost like listening to the cheese to hear how it wants to be handled.

The root of these differences, though, is the cheese traditions in the two countries. The French have been perfecting the form for over a thousand years, whereas the artisanal cheese movement only boomed in America a few decades ago. Because cheese became integral to French culture before the country’s towns had easy access to one another, styles are highly regional, and eating habits remain that way. In America, there is a greater emphasis on experimentation. There’s also a place of pride that France takes in its cheese. The French eat French cheese, to the point that it can be hard to access the many great cheeses of Europe within the country. “I was able to discover Europe’s diversity of cheeses in the U.S.” says Laure. “And also, of course, American cheeses, which are exceptional.” Yes, you heard it here from a lifelong French cheese pro. Not to put words in her mouth, but it sure sounds like she’s suggesting that America might just be the most exciting place in the world for a cheese lover.

And that’s especially true right now, when you can get your hands on cheeses direct from the Mons caves. Happy French Cheese Month, and bon appétit!

Talking Cheese at Restaurant Daniel

On Manhattan’s Upper East Side is the modern French restaurant Daniel, operated by renowned chef Daniel Boulud. It bears just about every marker of excellence imaginable: multiple Michelin stars, one of Zagat’s top five restaurants in all New York, one of only five restaurants to earn four stars from The New York Times, the list goes on. As does the list for Daniel’s namesake. Chef Boulud has a James Beard Award for “Outstanding Chef” to go along with another one for “Outstanding Restauranteur.” He’s penned nine cookbooks and currently oversees 12 restaurants around the world. By any measure, Daniel (the restaurant, although the proprietor too) is a culinary juggernaut.

You would expect, then, that a French restaurant of Daniel’s caliber would have a strong cheese game. It would be an understatement to say that you are correct. Daniel doesn’t do a cheese plate or a cheese board—it does a cheese cart. What exactly does that mean? It means that a veritable temple of fromage is rolled right up to your table, from which you select from an assortment of premium cheese to be cut right there in front of you and presented for your enjoyment. Daniel’s cheese cart service is hands down one of the best in the country. In one of its many glowing reviews of the restaurant, The New York Times called Daniels’ cheese cart “one of the finest four-wheeled vehicles in New York.”

Such a lauded vehicle needs a worthy driver at the helm, and at Daniel it has one in Head Fromager Pascal Vittu. A few weeks ago, we visited Pascal at the restaurant to talk about the art of cheese service. He gave us a few pointers on how to translate what he does at the restaurant to an in-home setting, which we shared through Great Taste at Murray’s. He also provided us with the recipes for pickled mulberries and an apricot terrine, two of his go-to cheese pairings, which can be found on the cheese service Great Taste page.

Daniel is currently celebrating its 25th year of service, and Pascal has been heading the restaurant’s cheese program from 22 of them. A French native, he earned his degree in restaurant hospitality before working in some of the foremost French restaurants—not only in France, but in Switzerland and the UK too. From this, Pascal developed an expertise in presenting French cuisine to non-French diners in a way that doesn’t sacrifice the integrity of the tradition. Chef Boulud then asked him to join the team at Daniel, where he’s been presiding over the cheese program since May of 1996.

For Pascal, cheese has a deeply nostalgic pull. Growing up he rode his bike to school, and he stored his bike in a vegetable closet. When he began his cheese education during his hospitality studies, the aromas of that closet were present in the products he was working with. The French writer Marcel Proust observed that smell is the sense most strongly tied to memory, and a flood of childhood remembrances washed over Pascal as he began studying cheese. From then on, he says, he knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

Every evening, Pascal’s goal is to share the terroir of France with his diners, and this means selecting the best French cheeses, keeping them in the best condition, and presenting them at their peak ripeness. Cheese service typically happens on either side of the dessert course, when guards have been let down and the magic of the meal has loosened up the atmosphere around the table. And that’s why it’s the perfect moment for the cheese cart to roll right up: it’s a moment of sharing, a more relaxed point in the evening, when conversation is at its fondest.

When Pascal enjoys a cheese cart, what does he like to go for? Typically, he says, a diner will like to sample of small selection of cheeses, but he believes there’s nothing better than a single, stellar cheese and an equally excellent wine (or, increasingly, beer) to enjoy it with. Right now, that’s a Beaufort D’Alpage, a Kunik, or a 1924 Bleu. There are, of course, plenty of other wondrous French classics on his cart, including Epoisses, Sainte-Maure, and Comte. And while dining reservations at Daniel tend to fill up far in advance, you can swing by the bar or the lounge whenever you’d like—Pascal’s cart rolls by both sections every single night.

Meet the Monger: Greselda Powell, Cheesemonger at the Bleecker St. Flagship Store

There are so many great, knowledgeable people who work at Murray’s that we wanted to highlight some of them and ask some cheese-centric questions!

This month, meet Greselda, a Cheesemonger at the Murray’s Bleecker St. Flagship Store.

Where are you originally from? 

I was raised and grew up in Savannah, Georgia. Later on, I went to college at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, and when my family retired, they went back to Atlanta, so my home home is in Atlanta!

How did you first get into cheese? 

Well, I moved up to New Jersey in 2000, to work as a telecommunications engineer.  A couple of years later, I was reading in Time Out Magazine about this Cheese 101 class and I thought, “Alright I’ll check it out”. So, I ended up taking Cheese 101 at Murray’s over ten years ago, and I really became enamored with cheese. Before then, cheese was cheddar, old Amsterdam, and Government cheese (yuck). I started taking a lot of Murray’s Cheese classes. I took them on and off for about eight years.

About four years ago I got laid off, and so I decided to retire! At that time I was not only taking cheese classes, but I was volunteering at cheese classes to get free cheese! So after I retired, I decided to go up to Vermont for a retreat and found this thing called the Vermont Cheese Trail Map, and started visiting cheesemakers. While I was visiting with them, I was enamored by the love and the passion of cheesemakers and was just blown away by the awesome cheeses that I found in Vermont.  From there, I also started taking cheese classes up in Vermont (along with Murray’s classes, of course), I started taking cheese making and fermentation classes, and I realized that this is what I really want to do as my second career, my second act.

I did everything except for affinage, and so, in the Summer of last year, I did for an internship in Murray’s Caves to learn affinage. From there, I met with Murray’s HR, and next thing you know, I’m working behind the counter as Cheesemonger!

What is your favorite cheese at the moment? 

Paski Sir, a sheep’s milk cheese from Croatia. I love the hard and crumbly texture, the savoriness, nuttiness, and saltiness of that cheese.

Paski Sir

In this hot weather, I find it’s great with cold summer fruits like melons and cherries. So I’ve been eating thinly shaved Paski Sir with a lot of Summer fruits. That saltiness really works well in contrast with the sweetness of the fruit.

What’s your favorite thing that your Murray’s sells?

The frikin’ Murray’s Granola! That stuff is like crack! It is so good. I’ve given it as gifts to friends, which was a big mistake, because now I find myself shipping Murray’s Granola all over the country. It’s not overly sweet, has some maple syrup sweetness, and has all these wonderful nuts, particularly Brazil nuts. It makes me feel guilty eating it for breakfast, I should be eating it for dessert!

Murray’s Granola

What do you love about Murray’s?

There’s a lot of things I really love about this place. First of all, Murray’s knows its cheeses. You can walk in, and get blown away and overwhelmed by the immense variety of cheese, but we are taught as mongers to help customers make the cheese approachable. I love the variety and the fact that I get to help customers explore and discovery all the variety that we have to offer.

The other thing is, it’s just a fun place to be. As a former customer and now a Cheesemonger working here, I love to tell anyone who asks about taking our cheese classes. It’s just a fun way to spend an evening. All the cheese and wine that you want to drink and eat, having something that will stimulate you intellectually and it’s just plain fun. What’s a better way to spend an evening?

Fierte: A Special Edition Cheese for Pride

Since Murray’s opened in 1940, we have been located in Greenwich Village, the center of New York’s LGBT community. Many Murray’s employees identify as part of the community, and as a company we are proud to support and champion the LGBT community.

This Sunday is New York City’s annual Pride March, and we are celebrating with the release of a special edition cheese, Fierte. “Fierte” means pride in French, and the cheese is washed in Biere de Fierte, a Lemongrass & Ginger Belgian Tripel also made in honor of Pride by our neighbors at Big Alice Brewery.

Big Alice created Biere de Fierte in collaboration with Alexa Wilkinson, one of our very own wholesale account managers. We sat down with Alexa to discuss Murray’s Fierte, Big Alice’s Biere de Fierte, and her relationship to the two.

MURRAY’S BLOG: What is Biere de Fierte, and what is your relationship to it?

ALEXA WILKINSON: Biere de Fierte is a Lemongrass Ginger Belgian Tripel Ale that was brewed for the sole purpose of being a collaborative, limited release Pride ale between Big Alice Brewing and LGBT Craft Beer Meetup to not only be delicious, but help raise money to aide the LGBTQAI community.

Back in 2015 I started LGBT Craft Beer Meetup for a couple of reasons, the main one being that I wanted to create a community of LGBT craft beer nerds that, through a little research and organization, could occupy a craft beer bar or space in which we all felt safe and accepted. This craft beer industry is still very centered from a marketing standpoint towards typically straight men, and it’s still hard to find bars that feel safe to those in the LGBT community.

Big Alice Brewing Co’s owner, Kyle Hurst, and I would have many late night chats about the issue while he ate dinner at the bar I was managing, and about what we could do for the community. First step was brewing a delicious beer together, second step was serving it.

MB: What were you going for with this beer? Why did you choose the style and flavor profile?

AW: Honestly, the ingredients came together purely out of us wanting to have the acronym “LGBT.” Lemongrass and ginger are very complementary flavors, so after that it was deciding whether to keep going on with a list of four ingredients, or make a Belgian Tripel. We decided on the Belgian tripel 😊. Historically speaking, the yeast strain handles those intense, spicy flavors well, and Big Alice had already had a lot of success with both lemongrass as an ingredient and with the style itself.

MB: Is this the first incarnation of this beer? Were there others? If so, what was it like before this?

AW: This is the third year of this beer being brewed and sold, and every year it just keeps getting better. The first year was purely experimental, with just a taproom release. The second year was surrounded by a couple of events and fundraising efforts with multiple bars in the city. This year we were a little more relaxed and practical about it. Jon Kielty, head brewer of Big Alice, sourced some California Chardonnay barrels and did a smaller batch this year in order to get the flavors just right. The ABV on this year’s brew alone clocks in at almost 1% higher than last year because it just had more time to develop. It was sweeter and brighter before, with more residual sugar left over. This year it’s perfectly balanced, with hints of vanilla, spice, oak, and white wine. It’s fantastic. We are all very pleased.

MB: What was your goal in making Biere de Fierte?

AW: Our goal was to first and foremost collaborate on a beer that, while being sold, could actually benefit others. Money from every pint and bottle sold is going to New Alternatives, which is an LGBT homeless youth center in NYC. These kids have nowhere to go after simply being honest about who they are, and New Alternatives helps them with everything from the basic essentials like clean clothes and food to job training and education. Of the homeless youth in this city, 40% are LGBTQAI. That’s a disproportionately high number.

MB: When did you make the move from beer to cheese?

AW: I started in beer when I moved here from California as a singer-songwriter who desperately needed a serving job to pay bills. I found my way to the Gingerman through a friend of mine who knew Anne Becerra, who has become a mentor of sorts to me. While working there, we would spend hours on Sunday’s talking about beer and she inspired me to go after my Cicerone certification. After that, I went to culinary school at ICE and became an executive chef for multiple restaurants upstate and in NYC, all of which were centered around craft beer. So the jump from beer to cheese was not that difficult. They are both beautiful, 4 ingredient foodstuffs, old as civilized human history, that have a longstanding impact on economies and cultures. I love both equally, although beer will always be my first fermented love. Or is it pickles? No, it’s cheese! I have been eating cheese way longer than drinking beer.

MB: How did the idea come about for our Caves team to wash and age a cheese with this beer?

AW: I approached our buying team about how to make this happen and they were more than happy to try something like this out. Murray’s has worked with a couple of other breweries in NYC before, so it wasn’t too much of a risky experiment at this point to attempt a wash with this beer. All I did was help brew it and get it to our caves. PJ, our cavemaster, did the rest. He’s a Disney prince-looking genius who really knows his stuff. I feel very lucky that I get to work at a company that can combine my passion for both cheese and beer and actually make something incredible out of it!

MB: What do you pick up in this cheese? How does that play off the profile of the beer when they are paired together?

AW: If you’ve ever tried our Greensward and liked it, I highly recommend you try this cheese. It picked up some amazing piney and woodsy notes from the oak. Plus a hint of spice and umami as washed rind cheese tends to do. Its inner paste has duck fat and bacon notes as well, very decadent and tongue-coating. The pairing itself is fantastic too. The clove and banana notes in the beer stand out above the other flavors, leaving you with almost a bananas Foster campfire in your mouth. It’s a sophisticated pairing to say the least. Not your standard IPA and Cheddar!

MB: If people are interested in learning more about these products and the initiatives that proceeds will support, where can they do so?

AW: To find out more about Big Alice Brewing Co you can find them on social media or go to their website. This beer and cheese will be sold in our retail locations, and the cheese will also be sold online! Please visit New Alternatives to find out more about this organization. They do great work with limited resources and need every dollar we can give them.

From all of us as Murray’s, Happy Pride!

Olympia Provisions: The Grandest Salumeria in the Land

Cheese and meat is one of the oldest pairings, and Portland, OR’s Olympia Provisions is one of America’s foremost producers of artisanal meats—Bon Appetit calls them the country’s best charcuterie, and they’ve won more Good Food Awards than any other producer ever. So it’s only natural that we’d team up.

Murray’s and Olympia are joining forces for a series of experiences that are all about the glorious relationship between meat and cheese. We’ve developed exclusive recipes, collections, and classes that we’re sharing with you here.

Take a gander at some of the stellar Olympia products you can get right here on our site:

The Grand Olympian

Oregon’s first USDA-approved salumeria has been handcrafting world class meats for the last decade, developing a renown that only grows. In this collection, we’ve paired some of Olympia’s finest provisions with their cheesy counterpoints, along with a selection of classic meat-and-cheese accompaniments. This collection is a legitimate bounty.

Included in this collection:

• Olympia Provisions Summer Sausage
• Olympia Provisions Etna Salami
• Olympia Provisions Sweetheart Ham
• Taleggio
• Piave Vecchio
• Three Little Figs Balsamic Fresh Fig
• Rustic Bakery Olive Oil & Sel Gris Flatbread
• Castelvetrano Olives

Salami Etna

As masters of the charcuterial arts, Olympia Provisions has nailed this large-format, southern-Italian salami. It’s studded with pistachios and pepped up with lemon zest, giving the meat a bright and complex flavor profile.

Olympia’s artisanal meats are crafted with the utmost integrity, with pork from local farms that’s hand-butchered and free from antibiotics and hormones. These practices lead to an Etna salami that is exceptionally buttery in texture, with the pistachio providing an occasional crunchy contrast. That consistency makes this salami ideal for traditional antipasto plates—a few slices, along with mixed nuts and olives bring, out the best of the traditional Sicilian flavors.

Capicola

From the velvety white and pink marbling to the crust of toasted herbs, this traditional Italian meat tastes as beautiful as it looks. A cut of heritage pork shoulder is cured for ten days, then coated with black pepper, fennel seed, coriander, and anise. The crust is then made crispy with a slow roasting, creating a tender shoulder ham that is perfect for slicing. If you’re thirsty, grab a nutty brown ale or an inky Syrah.

Sweetheart Ham

This is one sweetheart that’s easy to fall in love with. It’s made with pork sirloin tip that’s brined for ten days with juniper berries, fresh herbs, garlic, and onions. After its glorious week-and-a-half flavor soak, the ham is slow-smoked over applewood for ten hours, acquiring a deeply satisfying depth. Makes for a revelatory ham and cheese sandwich, especially when counterpointed by an aged Manchego. Pop open a bottle of rosé or Chenin blanc for ultimate summer picnic vibes.

Bratwurst

German born, American adopted—the bratwurst is beer’s favorite sausage. That makes it ideal for a summer cookout. Olympia seasons theirs with white pepper, ginger, and nutmeg, a classic blend that’s never tasted better than when it meets pork of Olympia’s quality. You might say it’s the bratbest.