Rob’s Top Picks from the Cheese Festival

Every two years, Slow Food’s hometown of Bra, Italy, in the region of Piemonte, holds its annual cheese festival, and purveyors and buyers of fine cheese flock from all over Europe to come and taste and buy. Back in ’99, I got a call from a friend asking me if I’d like to come and teach some classes there on American farmhouse cheeses. I said yes and they put me up in a charming apartment in the old town for a week. There, I got to know the wonderful staff of Slow Food, and especially the visionary founder Carlo Petrini.

Two years later, I was out for a morning run in downtown Manhattan where I live and work when the planes struck the towers and I watched as the terrible events unfolded from a few blocks away. When it was clear the hospital in my neighborhood was not going to see much action, and did not need my help, I flew to Italy to help in the first-ever American cheese booth. The day of the opening ceremonies the few of us who’d made the trip over were sitting in the front row of the town square as the officials gave their opening ceremony speeches. We were introduced in Italian and when we turned around we saw the crowd of a thousand standing and giving us an ovation simply because we were the Americans and had the world on our side. The greatest tragedy of the decade is that this intense feeling of goodwill did not survive.

Since the Wall Street Journal presented our dispatch from the festival — our top 5 cheese picks (and trust me – you don’t want to miss ’em) — I instead present my top 5 moments from Cheese:

-Visiting with Carlo Petrini, who bought us a lunch of tasty bombette, little pork snacks from Puglia and arranged for us to visit the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Pollenzo.

-Catching up with old friends Zoltan Bogathy, who opened Culinaris in Budapest many years ago; Mama Gisella, my self-proclaimed Italian Mamma, who took me around Italy when I knew no one and knew little about Italian cheese.

-Seeing Murray’s alums Zoe at Jasper Hill and Tom and Staci at Rogue Creamery in Oregon, and the founding mothers of cheese like Allison Hooper and Mary Keehne.

-Eating Favorites: the fabulous vitello tonnato at Floris in Turin; the Nebbiolo Risotto at Agrifoglio, also in Turin; the delicious gianduja gelato at Riverno; and the feast celebrating the american cheesemakers at the fabulous Ca’ del Re at Castello di Verduno, where we’d had such a memorable meal six years earlier.

-The American Cheese booth! We were there with Vermont Butter and Cheese Creamery, Cypress Grove, Rogue Creamery, the Cellars at Jasper Hill, Uplands Cheese Co. and Cowgirl Creamery.

Run, Cheese Boy, Run!

By Steve Millard

As the Store Director of our Greenwich Village shop, I get asked lots of questions every day.  Questions like “Do you have any raw milk cheeses?” or “I am having five people over and need to get 5 cheeses – can you help me?”  The other question I get, not as frequently, is “Why are you so thin?”  Fact: I do eat a lot of cheese.  But I also work a lot of hours on my feet and if you’re here on a busy Saturday, you’ll see that I’m burning a lot of calories along with my staff.

The truth is that I run.  I run a lot.  About two years ago, I decided I needed to lose weight and wanted to run a marathon before I turned 41.  So I started running, and watching what I ate.  The end result two-plus years later is that I lost 60 pounds, went from a 2XL to a large and saw my waist shrink from a tight 38 to a comfy 34.

I know what you’re thinking – another born-again thin dude who runs all the time.  But I promise to stick to what I know:  dairy!

While training for what was to be my first marathon (in Honolulu!) three years ago, I suffered a stress fracture when I ran my first 20-miler.  Any chance of running in Hawaii vanished, and I had plenty of time to figure out why that had happened.  A quick look at my diet revealed a key piece missing.  Any guesses?  It was dairy!  The only dairy I consumed was half-and-half in my coffee.  I had cut out cheese, ice cream and yogurt under the guise of my diet and cutting out fat.  (The lack of dairy was not the only culprit – I was also over-training and not following the key running mantra of no more than 10% further or faster than what I did in the previous week).

Fast forward two years – I’ve added lots and lots of dairy to my diet, maintained my weight, and have become a fairly good ultra marathon distance runner (with a half-marathon, marathon, 50-miler and a 50K under my belt).  Not a single day goes by where I don’t eat dairy of some sort.  By eliminating dairy I was eliminating calcium and short changing my body of protein and fat.

Here are a couple of things that get me through the day (not including bites of cheese).  I’ll be contributing more blog posts in the future, so check back for other tips, whether you’re interested in increasing your exercise regimen or you’re just curious about the diet of a cheesemonger/runner.

Strained Yogurt: My day begins with a strained yogurt every morning.  I vary it up: either Fage Total 2%, a Greek style low fat yogurt that packs a whopping 20 grams of protein and 6% GV of fat, topped with Bee Raw Star Thistle honey.  I also like Siggi’s Skyr, an Icelandic style yogurt  – it’s incredibly tasty and full of protein.   These strained yogurts have a lot of the whey removed — leaving a deliciously thick, protein- packed punch that gets me going in the morning.

Mid-Day Snack: We all have that mid-day snack attack when you need to get some life back into your limbs and your brain.  In the past, I would turn to something sugary or a cup of coffee, but my new pick lately is a White Cow Dairy Tonic.  What the heck is a whey tonic and why is it so good?  Part yogurt whey, part yogurt solids, part delicious flavors like star anise or turmeric, these tonics contain lots of protein and are really refreshing.  We already love fourth generation dairy farmer Patrick Lango’s amazing yogurts and custards that come in flavors as diverse as Chocolate Malt and Apple Pie, when Patrick mentioned the tonics back in January, little did we know how hooked our staff would get.

The whole Murray’s crew swears that there is restorative goodness in every bottle of Dairy Tonic.  They keep us on our feet whether we’re running around the store or running 50 miles in the park.

Murray’s staff aren’t the only ones who think White Cow Tonics are incredible – check out write-ups from The New York Times, Tasting Table and Serious Eats on these amazingly refreshing drinks. Yogurts and dairy tonics are currently available at our 2 retail locations only.

Planning a party? Easy cheesy entertaining tips

 
 
by Deena Siegelbaum
Want to mix up your cheese board at your next party?  Here are a few tried-and-true tricks for a crowd-pleasing spread.  Like the looks of what we’ve created here?  This snacky board is sure to get you through the Final Four or impress your next dinner guests.

Pick a theme: The board pictured here is…you guessed it, Italian.  We began with our new fave salamis and speck from Olli Salumeria, then picked Italian or Italian-style faves to complete the mix.  Theme by country…like the classic Spanish manchego, quince paste and Marcona almond combo; stinky (and fabulous) French cheeses and fresh baguettes; or artisan picks from the good ol’ USA with fresh fruit or veggies from the farmers market.  Whatever you choose, make sure to include a variety of styles (hard and soft cheeses) and different milk types (cow, goat, sheep).   

Think of crowd-pleasing favorites, then raise the bar:  Help your friends try new cheeses they’re guaranteed to love.  Most people stick to old faithfuls like Parmigiano and Cheddar.  Try alternatives to Parm like Piave or Stravecchio, or a superbly savory Cheddar like Bleu Mont Bandaged or Mrs. Quicke’s.  Don’t play it too safe, though – mix in some new finds!  Goat cheese and blue cheese are two types people think they don’t like – but I’ve found that starting with approachable cheeses like Aged Goat Gouda or creamy Black River Blue, you may just win them over.  

Mix in the meat: My most recent dinner guests are still talking about the cheese and bresaola board I laid out a few weeks ago – it was so ample, we followed it with a very light dinner.  The center of my wood board was piled high with bresaola and surrounded by various hard and soft cheeses, plus my favorite Marcona almonds and Spanish figs.  On another board I had fresh bread and a small bowl of olive oil for dipping.  We tried multiple pairings and all worked!   

Throw in unexpected accompaniments:  Honeys and chutneys, preserved walnuts, and pickled figs are known to get squeals at cocktail parties.  Mustard goes great with salami, of course – my new favorite is My Friend’s Brown Ale Mustard (made by a cool chick in Brooklyn).  Speck is traditionally served with creamy cheeses, pickled and bread that’s been lightly toasted.  Play around – put it on bruschetta for your guests, or in a bread salad.     

Portion “control”:  Figure 1-2 ounces per person per item.  Having 6 people over?  Aim for 1/3-1/2 LB. of each cheese, meat and condiment, plus ample crackers or bread.

Consider the Sheep: La Serena

Cheeses at their best:  What we’re especially loving right now

by Grace Mitchell

La Serena

Should you find yourself in search of an oozing, sheepy, expand-across-your-plate wedge of cheese, do take pause!  You needn’t look any further, for La Serena, a raw sheep’s milk cheese from Spain, quite nicely fits the bill.  Deep in the hinterlands of the southwestern province of Extremadura, a man and his son craft from the milk of their 2,000 Merino sheep these unusual wheels of cheese.  As are many traditional Iberian cheeses, La Serena is coagulated by enzymes found in the thistle plant, which lends a tangy, floral character to the goat and sheep milk cheeses made in this manner (most cheesemaking involves coagulation by enzymes derived from the stomach lining of unweaned cows, sheep, or goats).

This floral morsel doesn’t get any better than it tastes right now.  The confluence of Spain’s humidity this time of year and the fatty winter sheep milk yields wheels of La Serena that are at once perfectly voluptuous, delicate, tangy, and vegetal.  These days, the contents of these three-pound lace-bound wheels cavalierly slides like creamy lava within the rind, begging you to—please!—do as the Spanish do:  gently slice off the top of the wheel, and dive in with pieces crusty bread and chunks of chorizo in fondue-like fashion.

We can’t resist sharing our excitement over this sheepy goodness!  To round out your cheese plate with wedges of wheels that we’re also finding especially superlative in this moment, we recommend you to have a taste of the spicy, cakey, goaty Spanish Monte Enebro, and the milky, creamy, subtle Bavarian Blue.