Valentine’s Day Wine & Cheese Pairings with Shanika Hillocks 

Shanika Hillocks. Photo by Nora Varcho

Cheese and wine go together like you and your valentine—with each bringing unique characteristics to create a shared experience that’s truly magical. For perfect Valentine’s Day wine and cheese pairings, we called on Shanika Hillocks, one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers. Here are Shanika’s picks for what to pour with some of our favorite cheeses to create a delicious date night. She also shares how she got into the industry, why red Gushers are a valid tasting note, and what she’d bring to a dinner party. Plus, more foolproof pairings from the Murray’s team! 


Annelies and Sangiovese Red. Photo by Nora Varcho

Murray’s Cave-Aged Limited Annelies Reserve + Sangiovese Red Blend 

“A heavier red wine would have masked the taste of this cheese. Easy and enjoyable, this light-bodied red balanced out the light cocoa notes and sweet flavors of the Annelies.” 

Murray’s 18-Month Aged Comté + Champagne 

“Fruity with notes of brioche, this beverage held up well against the nutty notes of this cheese. Since both are from France, it made sense they’d go together brilliantly.” 

Colston Bassett Stilton + Dry Riesling 

“The Finger Lakes region produces some great rieslings. A drier one with a higher mineral content, with the addition of stone fruit, married well with the minerally tang of this buttery blue.” 


Why did you choose these cheeses for these three wine categories?  

Comté. Photo by Nora Varcho

Pairing One – SH: The name on the packaging drew me in immediately: Annelies. After finding out that this was a tribute to the cheesemonger’s wife, I had to add it to this Valentine’s Day roster, because how romantic? I found this cheese a bit sweeter, with light cocoa notes that went well with dark chocolate. That said, I opted for a lighter-bodied, quaffable red wine and found that a sangiovese red blend from my favorite local wine shop was balanced enough to carry the cheese’s flavors without masking it as a heavier red wine would do.  

Pairing Two – SH: Champagne is my favorite sparkling variety. It’s the bottle of wine I always bring as a host gift or dinner party because it pairs well with everything from the start to the finish of a meal. Champagne can only be classified as such if it’s produced in the Champagne region of France. Comté is an AOC-protected cheese, also from France. There’s even a certification mark on its rind to showcase the authenticity. Standards aside, I chose this pairing because of the full-body mouthfeel experienced after the first bites. Notes of brioche from the wine hold up against the nutty-tasting notes of this beautiful cheese.   

Stilton and Marcona Almonds. Photo by Nora Varcho

Pairing Three – SH: Traditionally, I think blue cheese gets a bad rap. This Stilton Colston Basset changes that. During my first taste of this selection, the salt notes on the tip of the tongue lingered. To balance this out, I enjoyed the cheese on a cracker with a bit of quince paste. I could have gone either way on the wine—dry and minerally or something with higher residual sugar content. I opted for the former and paired it with one of my favorite white varietals: a Finger Lakes. The acidity of this wine and the presence of stone fruit marry well with the tang of this cheese.  

When did you get into the wine industry, and what drew you to it?   

SH: It has been eight years since I formally entered the wine industry in NYC, but I was a waitress in college and introduced to wine tastings during seasonal menu rollouts and training. For me, it was, and still is, about the ability to center on a moment through the senses. I’m most intrigued by the subjective experience of tasting wine through one’s contextual experience. I’ve never tasted a boysenberry, but I do know what the red Gusher tastes like, and that description is valid in the lexicon too.   

Are there any professionals in the industry who have had a big influence on you?  

Photo by Nora Varcho

SH: Andre Mack! He was one of the first wine professionals who welcomed my curiosity with open arms. I admire how he has moved and honored the multidimensional person he is—father, partner, businessman, producer, talent—not just a sommelier.   

What do you personally look for in a good wine?  

SH: If you can’t quite tell, I’m a foodie, so a food-friendly wine—something with light acidity that’s fruit-forward—is always top of mind. 

What is your go-to wine style to share with someone who is not necessarily a wine expert or enthusiast?   

SH: I love sharing a sparkling wine. Several varieties offer different flavor profiles and price points that make the category super approachable.   


Murray’s Burrata + Bubbly 

Burrata and Champagne are practically made for each other. A bite of burrata coats the mouth in creamy, sweet flavor, but once a sip of bubbly Champagne washes over your palate, you’ll be ready for the next bite. A very popular pairing! 

Murray’s Young Manchego + Spanish White 

Photo by Nora Varcho

A good policy to keep in mind when pairing is, “What grows together goes together.” Our Young Manchego from Spain has a milder, more buttery flavor than the more aged version. It’s a great pairing for a Spanish white wine like verdejo or albariño. 

Appenzeller Extra + Hearty Red 

The meaty, mushroomy flavors you experience in an Alpine like Appenzeller beg to be paired with a hearty red. Melt this cheese over roasted potatoes and your date night is complete! 

When you show up to your romantic dinner with a curated Valentine’s Day cheese board and some perfectly paired bottles of wine, your date is sure to swoon. All thanks to Shanika! For more of Shanika’s spot-on thoughts about wine, visit her website


It’s no secret that the way to someone’s heart is through their tummy. And if you’re with a true gourmand, a Valentine’s cheese gift or something special for a date night together is an absolute must. Spoil your sweetheart with creamy cheeses, luxurious truffles, or sweet snacks. We’re highlighting some of the best picks below to help you achieve #relationshipgoals.


If cheese is your love language, then show off your fluency with choices that are certainly better than a box of grocery store chocolate. Whether it’s artisanal cheese gifts for Valentine’s Day or something for tender moments together, these melt-in-your mouth selections are definite winners.

Bloomy Rinds with a Twist: Skipping straight to dessert? We’re talking about cheese here. And we’ve got a couple that hits all the right notes. If you (or your special someone) craves chocolate and cheese in one bite, Murray’s Cave-Aged Limited Triple Crème de Cocoa is a must-try. Four Fat Fowl’s sweet and creamy St. Stephen features a morsel of luxurious chocolate right in the middle. Another Valentine’s cheese that is the epitome of love is the heart-shaped Old Chatham Creamery Cupid’s Choice. Buttery and earthy, this is a cheese that can’t be missed.

Dishin’ it Out: One cannot feast on cheese alone. (Okay, maybe one can.) But sometimes cheese is better in an irresistible dish. Like mac and cheese. When it comes to this meal, the more decadent, the better. That’s why we’re all about Murray’s Lobster Mac and Cheese. Chunks of lobster meat and lobster bisque are packed into our ooey, gooey secret cheese blend and then frozen. We do the work so all you have to do is heat it up and enjoy a romantic Valentine’s mac and cheese for two.


Imagine a candlelight dinner, a bottle of bubbly, and a little tasting to top it all off. Our artisan-crafted cheese collections and samplers have a huge variety that can satisfy any palate. Here’s a couple of suggestions created for an evening of romance.

Valentine’s Day Collection: A heart-shaped cheese from Old Chatham Creamery may be the most romantic cheese move one could pull. But this collection has so much more! Cherry chocolate, cocoa-dusted almonds, biscuits, and of course, more cheese. Sure, it’s called Valentine’s Day collection but that doesn’t mean you can’t indulge during any other day of the year.

Valentine’s Day Sampler: Maybe you’re an all-cheese kind of couple. Skip the snacks and build your own Valentine’s Day cheese board for two with some of our top picks. Highly snackable cheddar, gouda, and a few more cheese surprises await with this selection. Add some fresh fruit and crunchy crackers to create an evening of decadent pleasure.


Woo your beloved with a home-cooked meal (and recipes from Great Taste by Murray’s). Seal the deal with extra flavor that takes your dish over the top. We’re especially partial to truffles from Trufflin’. Your sweetheart will feel like they’re being whisked away on a flavorful adventure.

Trufflin’ Black Winter Truffles: Earthy, umami, decadent. There’s no shortage of words to describe the depth of flavor behind these little black nuggets, aka “Perigord truffles.” Plucked from the Provence region of France, they’re only in season from December through March so now’s the time to get them at their best. Some say these are the most versatile of all truffles and we’d agree. Add them to a sauce you’re cooking or enjoy them raw and shave some on top of eggs, pasta, or whatever else pleases you to heighten the flavor.

Trufflin’ White Truffles: Garlicky and musky in aroma, it’s hard to resist inhaling it all in. While the scent is strong and intoxicating, the taste is definitely more delicate (and delightful). The white truffle, formally known as Tuber Magnatum Pico, hails from the Alba area of Italy and also has a very short growing season. This rare and much-coveted gem is best served in paper-thin slices or grated since they’re too delicate for cooking. Try them with an Italian dish such as risotto or pasta.


Tried and true chocolates and cookies are always a welcome gift for Valentine’s Day or a special occasion (hello, birthday idea!). Go one step above with delicious treats that are thoughtfully made. These top picks will make you (and your sweetheart) yearn for more.

Rich Chocolates:

Brighten your beloved’s day with something more traditional. Chocolates make an extraordinary Valentine’s Day gift (and a perfect accessory to a cheese board). Scatter pieces of one of Zotter Chocolates bars onto a board. Filled with flavors such as scotch whiskey or tiramisu, these are a decadent choice for bites that are far from simple. Even more traditional are the selections from Mayana Chocolates. You can’t go wrong whether you choose these sustainably-sourced truffles or salted caramel hearts.

Craveable Cookies:

Anyone fond of a little crunch will adore these baked treats. Try some festive shortbread bites like Rustic Bakery Mini Mixed Hearts. Handmade in small batches with organic ingredients, this mix of chocolate and vanilla hearts will make your special someone swoon. Cookies and cream more of their thing? Callie’s Biscuits Cocoa & Cream Cookies are life-changing (or so we hear). Reminiscent of a favorite childhood cookie, a fluffy sweet cream center is enveloped by two dark chocolate cookies. Pair with a sweet, creamy cheese for total decadence.

Looking for even more inspo and cheese gifts? Our Valentine’s Day page is full of great giftables, perfect for your beau or belle.

Virtual Cheese Classes

Let’s be honest. These days, not everyone feels comfortable gathering in a space to take our classes. And that’s okay. We created our virtual classes for just that reason. One of the great things is each participant can participate from the intimacy of their own space. The best part is that even if you’re not in the NYC area, you can join any of our virtual classes. We participated in the Virtual Sparkling Wine & Cheese Pairing class and share what went down. This one was timely because of the upcoming holidays. (Hello New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day date night!)

The setup is pretty simple. Before the class, we received an email with an invite to the virtual class. We also received a cutting and plating guide for class day. You know, because, we’re all about showing off our best presentation on social. Oh, and let’s not forget the cheese! Each cheese was listed with several suggested pairings. And a couple of days before the class, we received a box with all the cheese from the aforementioned list. Here’s the cheese course that came for the sparkling wine pairing:

  • Vermont Creamery Herb Goat Cheese
  • Brebirousse d’Argental
  • Taleggio
  • Murray’s Aged English Cheddar
  • Two Sisters Isabella Aged Gouda
  • Murray’s Stilton

Once the class started, our knowledgeable instructor, Cara, introduced herself and explained the process of both cheese making and sparkling wine—so it was novice-friendly. She shared that she’s spent more than a decade in cheese, food, and wine. Plus Cara’s married to a cheese monger. How cool is that?

During the class, Cara shared her screen so we could follow along. We were able to ask questions, talk about the different cheese pairings, and share our location in the chat. One thing we love about our virtual classes is that just about anyone can join from anywhere. And this time was no different. People joined from all over the country—from Alabama to New Hampshire and Maryland to California.

Now for the down and dirty. Our boards were set up to go from mild to wild. That means fresher, younger cheese was first up for the palate. The sparkling wine lineup was a cava or prosecco for the first two, a champagne or sparkling rosé for the next two, and a sparkling red shiraz for the last two.

We began with the goat cheese. This one was aged for just 3 days, then rolled in an Herb de Provence blend. The taste was a combination of earthy, fresh, dill, and rosemary, with a touch of bitterness. The bubbles of the sparkling enhanced the aftertaste and balanced out the bitterness.

Next up was the Brebirousse d’Argental. The orange annatto rind provided a lovely contrast against the rest of the cheese board. It’s a gooey, creamy, bloomy cheese—like a Brie but to the next level. There’s a level of funk, buttery notes, and nuttiness. The sparkling cut through a little of the barnyardy taste.

For the third tasting, we switched from a French cheese to an Italian one. The Taleggio is another melty choice with some funkiness to it. This creamer had meaty notes with a touch of crunch, and a little vegetal flavor. There were mixed reviews on this pairing and many thought it paired better with the first wine.

Midway through, we tried the cheddar. It’s a snackable, everyday cheese with some umami flavors. Aged for 12­–16 months, it has some crystallization. The wine’s bubbles brought out a little of the funk and bitterness of this cheese.

Second to last, we had the gouda. This wasn’t your typical Holland gouda. It was more similar to cheddar but with a different texture and less of a sharpness. There were Alpine notes of caramel, butterscotch, and bullion. The sweeter shiraz bubbly was a good match.

We ended the evening with the strongest of the bunch—the Stilton. This cheese starts off white like a cheddar but through the cheese making process, it’s needled to take on more of a blue cheese character. It’s a bit salty with some funk and a little bitterness on the finish. The red worked well with this one.

Joining one of the virtual cheese classes was a different experience. We’d do it again and highly recommend it for a date night. With Valentine’s Day coming up, it would make a great cheese gift to share with your beloved. Or grab a group of friends and have yourself a Galantine’s Day get-together full of gourmet cheese gifts. You’ll learn have a delicious cheese course and learn something new, while having some fun!

Cave Exclusive: 18 Month Annelies

What happens in our Murray’s Caves in Long Island City is true cheese magic. Affinage, or the cheese aging process, is a meticulous science that often produces delicious and surprising results, and the members of our Caves Team are engineers in creating brand new cheeses and remixes of old favorites. Our line of Cave Aged releases takes traditional cheeses from makers you know and love, and ages them in our state-of-the-art affinage system to bring out new flavors and textures without any additives, flavoring, or special experimentation.

A few years back, Walter Räss, the cheesemaker behind the legendary Challerhocker, came and visited our caves. With him he brought some wheels of cheese. We held onto it in the caves, aging it as an experiment. It turned out so well that it became one of our Cavemaster Reserve products: Annelies, named after Walter’s wife. Walter is an alpine cheesemaker, Annelies is an alpine cheese. And it’s quite an excellent one at that, with flavors of roasted hazelnuts, vibrant alpine grasses, lush butterscotch, and bittersweet cocoa. Typically we age it from 9-12 months.

But what would’ve happened if we just let Walter’s wheels continue to age in our caves a little longer? The result, the new Cave Aged Limited 18 Month Annelies, an extra aged version of our crowd pleaser Annelies. We sat down with Head Cavemaster PJ to get the inside scoop on how the aging process turned this classic into a new cheese release.

Annelies is already so delicious! Why age it longer?

Cheese is constantly evolving as it ages.  The flavor will slowly change and intensify over time.  If aged in the right conditions with appropriate care, certain cheeses could age for years without losing quality.  When that happens, the age at which we sell a cheese becomes a question about preference and flavor profile.  When Annelies ages for 18 months, it is a different cheese but still excellent in its own way.

How do you decide which wheels are aged to 18 months rather than the typical 9-12 months?

We wanted to make sure that we selected wheels that were in good shape for extra aging.  This means rinds that were intact and the absence of any flavor defects.  The flavor in the cheese will amplify as it ages longer, so it is important to select cheeses that taste great already.  

What is the affinage process on Annelies? Tell us about it!

The affinage process for Annelies is straightforward.  We store the cheese on wood boards in our alpine cave, where the conditions are calibrated for this style of cheese.  Over the course of the aging, we flip and wash each cheese with water weekly.  This means the 18-month Annelies is washed by hand 78 times!

What does 18 Month Annelies taste like? How is it different?

Our 18 month Annelies is a very flavorful cheese.  The extra aging brings out plenty of onion and nutty notes.  It becomes a more savory and less sweet version of our regular Annelies with the extra aging. 

How do you like to enjoy Annelies 18 month?

This cheese has the complexity necessary to stand on its own and would make a great addition to any cheese plate.  I also wouldn’t hesitate to incorporate it into a fondue.  

Top 10 Cheeses of 2021

You undoubtedly have your favorites but have you wondered what’s really popular? Well, we’re ending off 2021 with a look at our best-selling cheeses. This year was all about decadence and finding a little cheese happiness. If ever there was a year to indulge, 2021 was it. Rare and seasonal varieties took centerstage. Throw in a truffle cheese to round out the list and you have yourself quite the roster. Now on to the cheeses!

1. Vacherin Mont D’Or

Perhaps one of the most popular and sought-after holiday cheeses, it’s no surprise this spruce-wrapped Swiss cheese made the top 10. Its rich, liquid-like texture has a pungent, funkiness to it that’s beloved by cheese aficionados. Made high in the Alpine mountains, this seasonal cheese is generally only available between October and April. Eating one of these spectacular wheels is nothing short of an experience.

2. Moliterno Al Tartufo

Among other things, 2021 was about treating yourself to life’s little luxuries—like truffles and a good cheese. This black truffle-studded Italian pecorino is both! Black truffle paste is added after six months of aging, creating beautiful marbleization and a flavor that permeates throughout. Bold and earthy, this dense and fudgy cheese tastes even better than it looks!

3. Roomano Extra Aged Gouda

A bright yellow interior beckons to be eaten. Similar to aged Gouda, it’s aged up to 4 years, giving it the crystallization that lends to its crunch. Highly snackable, it’s a hard cheese (trust us, you’ll need a good knife) that has an intense sweet-salty butterscotch flavor. Not only is this one a customer favorite, it’s a Murray’s staff favorite, too!

4. Epoisses

Napoléon was rumored to have been a huge fan of this French cheese. And apparently so were many of you! This one almost disappeared after WW2 but luckily made a comeback. It’s got some serious funk to the smell but has a milder disposition with a complex, meaty flavor. Bacony, gooey, creamy—the paste is a flavor bomb and everything a good cheese should be.

5. Rogue River Blue

Named one of the best cheeses in the world last year, it’s no surprise this one surged to the top of the list. This seasonal blue is aged for 9-11 months and is wrapped in pear brandy-soaked grape leaves. Fudgy and rich with a craggy appearance, it has a vegetal and smoky blue flavor. It’s both bold and fruity at once. We wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up on next year’s list.

6. Murray’s Cave Aged Reserve Greensward

Scoop up this silky-smooth, spoonable cheese and enjoy it for another year. In fact, the American Cheese Society crowned as the best washed-rind in the country. Together with Jasper Hill, we created an exclusive cheese aged in our very own caves and wrapped in a spruce jacket. Like the Epoisses above, it’s a creamy-textured cheese with big bacony flavor. Prepare for an explosion of taste.

7. 18-Month Aged Comte

One of France’s most famous cheeses was also a 2021 customer favorite. This smooth variety has a supple texture and is a great melter—perfect to take your grilled cheese up a level. It’s also a great snackable cheese in its original form. Rich flavors of brown butter and hazelnut are balanced by the sweetness of dried fruit and subtle hints of citrus, making this one a must-have.

8. French Raclette

Hailing from the Alpine region, this cheese has been gaining in popularity for a while. Salty from its washed brine, it has a deep, fruity pungency. Its name translates into “to scrape” and that exactly how to serve it. Follow the French tradition and melt it over potatoes or roasted root veggies, then have yourself a cozy night in.

9. Murray’s Buffalo Mozzarella

Even a cheese novice is likely familiar with mozzarella. Unlike most cheeses, which come from cows, sheep, and goats, this one comes from buffalo. The result is a rich, creamy cheese that has double the content of cow’s milk. Ours is pillowy and dense, with a slightly sweet and slightly gamy flavor. Elevate your next homemade pizza with this version.

10. Humboldt Fog

Rounding out the top 10 is a cheese that may be the GOAT for some people. That being said, this tangy goat cheese is definite favorite. This bloomy cheese has a distinctive layer of ash on the exterior, with a line running through the middle. It has a fresh, fudgy texture of goat milk in the middle, surrounded by a pungent runny shell. It’s a true American classic.