Paul Kinstedt: Blowing Minds, One Washed Rind Cheese at a Time

Thank you, Jasper Hill Farm. Thank you for not only throwing a raucous (and fiery) 15th anniversary party, but to also mark the occasion with the launch of the inaugural Jasper Hill Science Fair. It seemed inevitable that the revered farm, creamery and cellar would mark their anniversary with a smorgasbord of cheese and possibly the largest bonfire Vermont has ever seen – and they could have settled with just that. Instead Jasper Hill furthered its commitment to strengthening the ties between artisanal cheesemaking and academia by hosting a day of lectures examining the role of science in the dairy world, culminating in a talk by University of Vermont professor Paul Kinstedt that absolutely blew my mind.

Professor Kinstedt recently published, along with Gil Tansman and John Hughes, a series of papers exploring the development of crystals in various types of cheese. Pat Polowsky, of Cheese Science Toolkit fame, has been proselytizing this work around the country over the past year, so many of the cheese professionals in the room were already aware of the work being conducted at UVM. This gave Paul Kinstedt the opportunity to ruminate on the implications of the work and the subject was riveting.

Before diving into meat (paste?) of the talk, allow me to clumsily summarize a bit of the research conducted. One of the great, false assumptions of the cheese world has surrounded the grittiness found on the surface of many washed rind cheeses. The common assumption had been that this delightful texture was caused by the buildup of salt from the brine typically used to wash this style of cheese. What Kinstedt and his team found was that this grit was in fact mineral crystals that formed during ripening of the cheese. They were able to identify the presence of two rather unique crystals on the surface of washed rind cheeses: struvite and ikaite.

It is that second crystal, ikaite, which formed the basis of Kinstedt’s talk about the applications of his research. Ikaite is found outside of the world of stinky cheeses. Most notably tall columns of it have been found in artic marine environments. As it turns out the formation of ikaite can act as a marker for studying historic climate change. The way that ikaite crystallizes in marine environments is directly influenced by the temperature of the surrounding seawater. Since these crystal columns are thousands of years old, a close examination of their structure can yield information about the change of temperature in the ocean over time. The problem, however, is that we don’t know that much about how ikaite forms. Until recently we only found it at the bottom of very cold oceans – not the most hospitable environment for conducting research.

And this brings us back to the cheese. Ikaite forms on cheese. Kinstedt conjectures that the surface of washed rind cheeses can serve as a laboratory to further study how ikaite forms. This will yield better models of historic climate change. As he noted in his lecture, the Middle Ages saw a slight rise in global temperature which led to a rise in ocean levels. In the grand history of cheesemaking, the rising sea levels had a direct impact on the Netherlands who resorted to a greater reliance on dairying after whole swathes of land became unfallowable. Luckily for us, the end result was the development of the grand cheeses Edam and Gouda. So what Professor Kinstedt is suggesting is that we can use cheese surfaces to model the climatic impacts on history that led to the development of classic cheeses. Boom, Full Circle Mind Blowing!

Murray’s Olive Oils & Vinegars

The importance of oils and vinegars in food culture simply cannot be overstated, and neither can the wide range of styles and uses. They are present and essential in every micro-cuisine on earth. What would Carolina barbecue be without its vinegar-based sauce? Who could imagine a Cantonese wonton without hot chili oil? Who would want to do such a thing?

That’s why we are excited to announce our very own in-house collection of oils & vinegars. Our expansive line is sourced from the world’s best regions of production and features bottles of all types, from the most straightforward balsamics to flavored finishing oils. And we’d like to tell you a bit about them.

Murray’s Olive Oils

Of the gradations of olive oil, the highest quality comes from an early crush. Early crush olive oils are made at the beginning of harvest season, when olives are still young and only yield small amounts of oil. The oil they do yield, however, is of incomparable flavor and quality. It’s healthier, more delicious extra virgin olive oil. And the count of polyphenols, those compounds that are tied to all sorts of nutritional benefits, are present in significantly higher quantity. Simply put, early crush olive is the best there is. Only 3% of the world’s olive oil is early crush, but at Murray’s, 100% of our olive oil is in this category.

Because facts deserve graphs, here’s a breakdown of what sets our extra virgin olive oils apart:

Should you not be a scientist, what you are looking at is quite simple: Murray’s olive oil is far less acidic and far, far, far fruitier than the standard baseline of olive oil quality. The takeaway? Our olive oils really are way more tasty, way more nutritious, and way more all-around excellent than what you’ll otherwise find.

We have a range of oils—eleven in total. How could we have so many unique expressions? The best way to illustrate it is by showing you a few:

Mediterranean Blend

We’ve brought together olives from multiple Mediterranean climate zones to craft one worldly olive oil. This is a medium-bodied blend with a fruity complexity that is assertive but never overpowering, making this a go-to everyday finishing oil.

Italian Blend

This olive oil is a crescendo of Italian cultivars, combining to create a balanced blend with an almondy profile and a persistently peppery finish. Because of its even, harmonious nature, this oil is ripe for culinary versatility.

Arbosana

An early-crush Chilean olive oil with an herbaceous nose and fresh, zingy notes of cut grass, green apple, and spearmint. This is a multi-purpose olive oil that especially shines when drizzled over soups and steaks or used for baking with chocolate.

Hojiblanca

The Hojiblanca olive is one of the iconic fruits of Andalusia, Spain, and it gives an oil that is deep green in both color and flavor. Expect notes of sage, mint, and green apple, as well as the pungency of black pepper and nettle.

Picual Reserva

In Spain, it has long been custom to withhold the best of each olive harvest for the creation of a premium “Family Reserve” oil. This Reserva Familiar is robust and fruity, with additional notes of green tea, nettle, and black pepper.

And that’s less than half of our olive oil collection. We could spend all day talking olive oil (and here at Murray’s HQ, that’s something that’s happened more than once), but every bit as conversation-worthy are our…

Murray’s Vinegars

Yes. Vinegar. Zippy elixir of love. Like so many products, vinegar’s flavor is tied directly to its quality. The simple reason that Murray’s vinegars taste so good is that they are made with the utmost integrity. Pure grape must and natural fruit purees are what make everything from our apple cider vinegar to our fig balsamic taste as good as they do. They’re natural flavors and nothing else, which is why work so well as both salad dressings and drinking vinegars.

These varieties run the gamut, so lets get to know a few of them:

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Modena is in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy, the only place that true balsamic vinegar is produced. This bottle is thick and syrupy, with a honeyed sweetness that counterbalances woodsy acidity.

Balsamic Condimento

Condimento is low in acidity and high in viscosity, with deep, well-balanced flavors of dried prune, honey, blossom honey, and caramel. It’s the ideal all-around balsamic, perfect for incorporating into dressings, pairing with olive oil, and drizzling over Parmigiano Reggiano.

Barolo

A big, bold, astringent red wine vinegar, with the classic white pepper and red stone fruit characteristics of a crisp vintage. This bottle has a bright acidity to it, making it ideal for dressings, marinades, and pickling.

Raspberry

This vinegar tastes like freshly jammed raspberries and the effervescent tartness of a champagne toast. It makes for a sublime summer salad vinaigrette and the ripe, lingering berry notes are a terrific base for shrub syrup.

Pink Grapefruit

Floral, citrusy, and effervescent, this vinegar reminds us of freshly zested grapefruit rind and mimosa brunch. It’s a traditional balsamic that’s been infused with rose wine vinegar and essence of citrus, and makes for an excellent vinaigrette or shrub syrup.

Perhaps you are now thinking about what you’re making for dinner. That would be an appropriate reaction. Perhaps you are now salivating. That would be appropriate too. The good news is that you can pick up all of our olive oils and all of our vinegars both online and in our stores. No matter what you are making, we’ve got just the oil, just the vinegar, just the bottle to do it justice. And because Murray’s oils and vinegars are of such quality, your meal will be all the better for it.

Introducing: Two Year Annelies!

A few years back, Walter Räss, the cheesemaker behind the legendary Challerhocker (and it’s delightfully terrifying label), 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.

As 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? If we never decided it became so delicious at 9-12 months that we needed the world to know about it? What would happen if, say, we continued to wash, flip, and age this cheese for double the amount of time? What would a two year Annelies taste like?

No need for such a question to go unanswered, we figured. Our caves team reserved some wheels and kept doing what they do to them for twice as long. The result: our newly released Two Year Annelies.

So, what does an extra year in our caves do to such a cheese? At two years, Annelies takes on an even fuller flavor and develops a richness of those ever-lovable cheese crystals. Simply put, if you like Annelies, you’ll love 2 Year Annelies. If you love Annelies, well then 2 Year Annelies might just make you faint with joy.

Though we’ve been making Annelies for a few years now, it’s never actually gotten the chance to turn two until now. So we figured we’d celebrate by throwing Annelies a birthday party.

Like any good birthday party, this one needed to have ice cream. And considering Annelies’ profile of butterscotch, cocoa, and hazelnut, a thought came to us: what if, for Annelies’ second birthday, we made Annelies ice cream? Reader, that’s exactly what we did. Well, not us per say. We know cheese, but we don’t claim to know ice cream in the same way. There are others who do, though, like our friends at OddFellows Ice Cream Co. in Brooklyn. So we told them our idea, and they dreamed up a recipe. It’s sublimely rich and creamy, with that unmistakable Annelies taste. Frankly no ice cream is quite like this, but after trying it you’ll wish that more were.

Why stop there, though? We love this cheese so much that a bowl of ice cream simply does not feel a sufficient way to celebrate it. After all, it took Annelies several years to turn two. This is quite a feat. One deserving of something like a one-of-a-kind sundae. And that’s just what we made: an Annelies sundae with fig jam, candied walnuts, and peppered whipped cream. It is decadent. It is indulgent. It is splendid.

You can celebrate Annelies’ second birthday, too! Over on our Great Taste page, we’ve shared the recipe, including how to make the ice cream itself in your very own home.

Le Severac: A Rustic French Classic

Le Severac is a cheese made with raw cow’s milk by a third-generation family-run farm in the Alps and aged for up to a year—it doesn’t get more classic than that. And Severac has all the signs of a classic cheese, from its mottled, rustic rind to its firm, straw-colored paste to its flavors of cooked custard and button mushroom. No surprise, then, that even though Le Severac is over a century old, it is still winning ribbons. Just last year it took home the Gold Medal at the 2017 World Cheese Awards.

Take a look at that little cylinder. It almost looks like an ancient stone, something along the lines of a mile marker from Roman times:

Indeed, Le Severac is rustic through and through. The story goes like this. In the early 1900s, a woman named Marie Severac began making cheese as a means of valorizing the milk of her small farm in France’s Auvergne region. She raised Salers cows, which give an exceptionally creamy milk that they will only give when their calves are nearby. So it’s almost impossible to create this cheese on anything but a small, personal scale. You have to really care about what you do to make a cheese like this.

That respect for the land, for the cheesemaking tradition, for the Severac farm itself, was passed down through the family, and today Marie’s grandson Pierre has adapted his family’s cheese into this smaller size, concentrating the flavor and authenticity of the Severac terroir into a renowned little piston. If you like Cantal, you’ll love Le Severac. If you love tradition, this might just be your new favorite cheese. And with French Cheese Month coming to a close today, there is no more appropriate way to say au revoir than with a wheel that’s been made by the same family, on the same farm, from the same cows, for generations.

The Cheese World’s Not-So-Secret Society

Cheese has a rich history of being central to governmental affairs. Banks in Italy accept Parmigiano Reggiano as collateral for loans and for decades Switzerland had literal cheese cartels. So if you’ve ever thought to yourself, “You know, the Cheese Illuminati seems like it could be a thing,” well, you wouldn’t be entirely off the mark. It’s not some secret society conspiring to pull the levers of government or influence world events so as to establish a cheesy equivalent of a New World Order. Members do, however, dress in long cloaks and elaborate headwraps and wear heavy medallions with pyramidal shapes on them and generally all this regalia is strikingly similar to that of Professor Quirrell, so you’d be forgiven for assuming something surreptitious was afoot. This not-so-secret society is called La Guilde Internationale des Fromagers, and as French Cheese Month comes to a close, we want to tell you a bit about it.

In a nutshell (or, more appropriate, a cheese rind) the Guilde is a group of the most tenured, influential, well-connected, and essential individuals in the world of cheese. Earlier this month we featured a post on Pascal Vittu, Head Fromager at Restaurant Daniel. He’s in the Guilde. We here at Murray’s are proud to have four current team members who have been inducted. The Guilde’s roster essentially doubles as a who’s who of the artisanal cheese industry.

Great, so the movers and shakers of high-quality cheese gather from the world over and wear robes together—but what exactly does the Guilde do? The official mission is “to transmit knowledge through cheese companionship.” If you care deeply about cheese (and of course you do, you spend your time reading the blog of a cheese company) you would want the world’s cheesiest individuals—dairy farmers, affineurs, mongers extraordinaire, fromagers like Pascal—to all have a way of being in touch with one another, sharing their wisdom and methods. The Guilde exists to facilitate that very thing.

This all started back in 1969, when a man named Pierre Androuet decided the world of cheese could benefit from such a network. Today it is run by Roland Barthelemy, whose official title it “Provost,” but who one of Murray’s Guilde members refers to as the “Pope of Cheese.” Barthelemy began his cheese career close (in both time and place) to where the Guilde was founded. In the 1970s, he had a small Parisian cheese shop and affinage space. His displays were so aesthetically beautiful that it was almost like he was making floral arrangements, and patrons would queue up for hours to shop there. Before Barthelemy’s cheese papacy, cheese wasn’t always scrutinized and considered with the same level of refinement as high cuisine. He’s in large part responsible for encouraging the boom in artisanal cheese in the past few decades.


(Our own Walshe Birney [blue shirt] and Elizabeth Chubbuck [blue dress] being inducted into the Guilde this month.]

But Provost isn’t the only rank in the Guilde. There’s Protectors, Ambassadors, Masters, Judges, and on and on. Expect nothing less from a society so finely tailored. And next time you notice that the quality and assortment of cheeses available near you has improved, or that imposter cheeses are no longer as prevalent beside their AOC and PDO counterparts, or that you’re seeing more cheese programs at your favorite restaurants, think of these Protectors and Ambassadors and Masters. They may not be covertly directing the global order, but they are making life cheesier, and that’s something we can all be happy about.