Spring is the Best Time for Fresh Goat Cheese

A look at Kidding Season, aka why goat cheese tastes best right now.

Photo courtesy of 2 Kids Goat Farm

Here’s a fun fact you likely already knew:  animals only produce milk after they give birth to their young.  It’s easy, however, to forget this plain fact of nature when we have a constant supply of fresh milk, cheese, and other dairy products.  Thanks to modern technologies and human manipulation of animals’ natural cycles, we can conveniently partake in dairy year-round.

In seasonal dairying, animals give birth to their young in spring and begin producing milk to feed them.  This resurgence in milk production comes after a dry period in which the animals do not produce milk.  Goats, for example, have a ten-month lactation cycle, and milk production that begins in spring thus ceases in late fall or early winter.  At this time, the goats also must move off pasture with the arrival of cold weather, and their milk quality changes with quality of their feed.

Image Courtesy of Vermont Creamery

Now that it’s spring again, the goats have given birth and are once again making milk.  This recommencement of milk production also corresponds to moving the goats to pasture.  No longer wintering indoors and dining upon stored winter feed, these goats are now grazing on lush spring pastures which endow their milk with an array of vitamins, minerals, and other flavor compounds, thus yielding especially complex cheeses.

Consider Bardwell Farm Manchester

Some of the cheeses made from this milk are intended to age for several months, such as Consider Bardwell Farm’s Manchester.  But for those of us in desperate need of instant gratification, there is fresh chèvre for us to enjoy right now.

Nettle Meadow Farm Kunik

Lucky for chèvre lovers, Murray’s has made great friends with Lorraine Lambiase and Sheila Flanagan, owners and operators of Nettle Meadow Farm in the Adirondacks.  From the milk of their 300 goats, they make some of our favorite cheeses, including creamy, buttery Kunik.  In the spring they handcraft fresh chèvres, some of which are so lovingly flavored, and all of which are pillowy, milky, tangy, lemony, and absolutely dreamy in your mouth.  It’s best right now–so quick!  Get yourself some fresh chèvre while it’s delicate, complex, and benefiting from the newness of spring growth.

The Brie Syndrome

by Rob Kaufelt

Brie is in the air, or at least in the news – see The New York Times.  What is old is new again this spring, in cheese as in all things.  Brie has always been popular at Murray’s, it is a staple of our business, ever since the early importers first brought it from France to America in quantity without ruining it along the way, and Murray Greenberg brought it into his little shop on Cornelia St.

For the fact is, Brie is a delicate cheese.  A bloomy rind cheese, a soft ripened treasure. If too young it lacks that luscious creaminess; if too old, it has that ammoniated taste and smell that put us off. Once upon a time, as Brie became more popular, it became less likely to come from France, and more likely to come from factories in Wisconsin and Canada. Somehow, these were never as good.

Worse, Brie is meant to be double creme, 60% butterfat, and more brie began to be sold that was only single creme, or 50%, which just doesn’t make it in the taste and mouthfeel department. (triple cremes, at 70%, are something else altogether).

But worst of all, we began to see it cut and cryovac’ed, with a long shelf life, suffocating in plastic, and so fewer Americans were having a real French brie moment anymore.

But Brie is back, and the real thing is finally becoming available in ever more locations. In our shops at Kroger markets in Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Texas, you can get the real thing, freshly cut from its large 2 or 3 kilo wheels, the large white discs sitting freshly unwrapped from their special paper ready for the monger’s wire.

Brie is meant to be eaten a point, at the point of perfection, perfectly creamy yet not over the top. We achieve this by storing the cheese we import in our French design caves beneath the streets of Greenwich Village.

Along with Brie, the comeback trail might include Brie’s infamous spinoffs, perhaps ready for respectability denied it in food and cheese circles. I’m speaking of baked brie, of course, Brie en Croute, which has given us a few laughs at Murray’s over the years. But now I’m not so sure.

Last year, while visiting a Kroger store in Ohio with Liz Thorpe, our Vice President who’s in charge of that program, a young chef in the store brought us her version of baked Brie: a little aluminum foil cup, filled with Brie, wrapped in an all-butter puff pastry.  Needless to say, it was delicious, and the shops carried it for the holidays and it sold like crazy.

It was delicious: the melted brie oozing flavor with its salt mingling with the sweet fruit preserves, then baked with a golden brown crust.  Could it be that a young midwestern chef discovered what an old New York cheesemonger (or the French themselves for that matter) would never admit: this was Brie at its best!

Going underground

By Sascha Ingram

In case you hadn’t noticed, cheese people tend to get pretty passionate, verging on fanatical, about their cheese.  The next time you ask your cheesemonger what her favorite cheese is, keep an eye out for the wince she makes as though you’ve asked her to name her favorite child.  Listen for the subtle gasp of horror that escapes her lips when you ask if you can freeze this (living, breathing) cheese and eat it sometime in 2024.  And watch the sparkle in her eyes as she tells you about the first time (Fall, 2006) that she tasted Beaufort d’Alpage, as she recounts every note of flavor and aroma that forever changed her life that day. (yes, the “she” in those examples is yours truly)

Beneath our Bleecker Street store, you’ll find a testament to our cheese dedication — to making sure that each and every piece of cheese that enters our store leaves in as good or better condition than it was when it came in.  Our cheese caves, built in 2004, provide temperature and humidity-controlled rooms to ensure that the cheese is kept cool but not cold, moist but not saturated, with a minimal amount of air blowing across the surface of the cheese that could threaten to dry it out.  Our dedicated inventory manager, or affineur, monitors the progress of the hundreds of wheels in the caves, as well as a team of interns who fastidiously pat and flip small format bloomy rinds and wash the ooey-gooey stinkers for hours a week.

We haven’t gone so far as to name each wheel of cheese or hire a string quartet to play to the cheeses at night, but you might suspect it once you’ve tasted how incredible cave-aging can make the cheese.  For example, check out our latest domestic obsession: Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s Kinderhook Creek.  It’s a 100% sheep’s milk cheese, with a bloomy (or mold-ripened) rind, from just upstate in the Hudson Valley.  We get Kinderhook Creek just after it’s made, before the blossoms of fluffy white Penicillium candidum start to show up.  As the cheese sits in our specially crafted bloomy rind cave (pictured below), mold spores activate and begin to alter the flavor of the cheese, breaking down fats and proteins to showcase the buttery richness of the pure sheep’s milk.  It becomes decadent and creamy, with a subtle minerality on the rind.  One of those cheeses that makes you go, “Mmmmm,” for minutes at a time.

While those adorable molds (What?  Under a microscope they look like flowers, I promise) bloom and grow, there’s a different transformation taking place on the rind of everyone’s favorite stinker, Epoisses.  Epoisses is a pasteurized cow’s milk cheese made in Burgundy, France, that is washed by the cheesemaker in a solution of Marc de Bourgogne, brandy made from the skins, seeds, and pulp of the grapes used to make inmitable Burgundy wines.  Typically such washing ends in France, before the cheeses are placed in their wooden boxes, sealed in plastic, and placed on a boat for their journey to the States- but not at Murray’s.  Once we receive the cheese, every piece of Epoisses is unwrapped to allow it to breathe, and the washing process begins again in earnest.  Marc de Bourgogne is carefully spritzed over the rind, imparting a fruity, grassy flavor to the rind.  The constant application of moisture to the rind encourages the Brevibactirium linens (that orange, sticky bacteria you see on the rind, the one that gives Epoisses its, ahem, aroma) to further break down the paste of the cheese, ensuring that when you cut into your Epoisses its unctuous paste oozes out across the plate, carrying with it the most savory, meaty, brothy, DELICIOUS flavors you’ve ever found in this cheese.

Yes, we bathe our cheese in alcohol, and yes, we have a cadre of interns who lovingly pat and rotate every piece of Selles sur Cher that enters our door.  We do it because we love cheese, of course, but also because we love  to offer you the newest and most delicious finds – from our neck of the woods or from across the world – and always aged to perfection.

Want more of the cheese caves?  Take a photo tour on facebook.

A Tale of Two Piggies: The Heritage Difference

by Louise Geller

If like me, you grew up finding pork largely unimpressive, it’s time to take a second look at what it was meant to be. In the US, the pork industry has spent years taking one of the most naturally delicious animals in the world and breeding the flavor right out of it. The vast majority of pork on the US market is bred for leanness and consistency, and as such as become dull, boring and predictable. Where’s the flavor? I’ve always struggled to understand why “the other white meat” would be a good thing. Heritage breeds like Mangalitsa and Berkshire will take your love of pork to the next level – and show you that this meat is in a class of its own.

Mangalitsa
Originally bred to be eaten only by Hungarian royalty, Mangalitsa still maintains a flavor that will make you feel like a king. If you’ve ever had Hungarian salami, you know Mangalitsa: smoky and rich, substantial in flavor and in texture. More and more, these fine pigs are being bred domestically. The meat is far too dark to ever be called “white meat,” and marbled beautifully. Don’t be turned off by the presence of a large amount of fat – these pigs are known for their fat and in many places raised especially for it. Mangalitsa lard is high in monounsaturated fat and oleic acid, making it lighter, cleaner, and yes, healthier. (Mind you, we’re not labeling lard a health food, but if you’re going to eat it – and let’s face it, you’re going to – it’s definitely the healthier option)

The Mangalitsa breed was saved from extinction in the latter half of the 20th century through the work of a group of Eastern European farmers who revived the breed from 200 surviving purebreds. Today they are becoming more and more widely available, though due to their substantial requirements for food and space it is still a skilled farmer who decides to raise a herd of Mangalitsas. Lucky for us, Mosefund farm in New Jersey is doing just that, and you can get a taste the heritage difference with their fantastic bacon.

Berkshire
Perhaps the most well-known of the heritage breeds, Berkshire pigs originated in Britain where, you guessed it, they were first bred to be consumed by the royal family. They have been bred now for over 300 years, and with good reason – Berkshire meat is sweet, rich and incredibly juicy.

Berkshires were first brought to the USA in 1823 and were initially assimilated into the general pork population – luckily they were rescued from a future of mediocrity in 1875 when a group of breeders who recognized the importance of keeping the breed pure established the American Berkshire Association. Look for the “100% Pure Berkshire Pork” label – this means the producer is a member of the association. Olli Salumeria combines Mangalitsa and Berkshire pork to make their phenomenal salami.

These are just a few of the awesome heritage breeds on the market in the US today – and it is well worth the effort to seek them out for all your pork consumption needs. You’ll never look back!

This March we’re mad for…Oma

By Liz Thorpe

In the summer of 2009 I finally found Waitsfield, Vermont and the meandering driveway that led to the Von Trapp dairy farm. That was after the GPS sent me down a logging trail, a bee got stuck in my tank top, stung me, and I nearly hit a tree. Few cheeses are worth that kind of drama, but I was delighted to find (and still am) that Sebastian and Dan’s cheese, Oma, is one. Although they make only two batches of cheese every other week from the thick, golden, unpasteurized milk of the family’s predominantly Jersey cow herd, we’re lucky enough to sell it at Murray’s.

It’s a brilliant collaboration, the effort of two third generation dairy farmers to improve upon their parents’ organic model by making a singular cheese that is aged at the Cellars at Jasper Hill. When you hear about seasonal cheese it immedaitely seems fleeting–rare, precious, and necessary to taste NOW. But all cheeses, even those like Oma that are made year-round, have moments where you can feel and taste the unique conditions of their making. And right now this cheese is exceptional.

Why? Because Von Trapp cows are processing a late winter diet of organic hay studded with fat clover buds and all that fodder (and not much walking through snowy hills) is giving an especially thick, rich, fat-and-protein laden milk. To ensure that the wheels this March are the absolute best I dragged a group of devout cheese proselytizers from the Murray’s ranks into our classroom to blind taste 6 different batches of Oma.

Breaking through the nectarine-colored crust of each wheel, we found interior pastes ranging from custardy to springy, and a windfall of flavors reminiscent of eggy French Reblochon to decidedly bacony quiche. All 6 were lovely, but we chose those with a stickier, more elastic texture and balanced, savory. No bitter bite that can happen with this style.

It’s hard work, but someone has to do it, and we want you to get the best.

PS: Yes, they’re the same family as the singing Von Trapps but the focus these days is on the music of milk.