He’d Eaten Cheese His Whole Life Long

Here at Murray’s headquarters, we do a lot more than sell cheese. We teach classes about cheese, we age cheese, we make t-shirts about cheese, we devise the perfect pairings for cheese, we write about cheese….and the newest piece of writing comes from our own Rob Kaufelt. He put a spin on Renard the Fox, the 13th century French text that was translated in 1983 by Patricia Terry.

To set the scene: Renard has been injured by a trap and is attempting to eat Tiecelin the crow.

The crow uttered a mighty screech,
Attempting to get his voice to reach
Still higher, but the claw that gripped
The cheese relaxed, the treasure slipped.
It fell to the ground at renard’s feet,
But he, that master of deceit
Woe to the one he takes for prey!
Just simply left it where it lay,
Hoping, by this joy deferred,
That he’d also get to eat the bird.
The cheese in plain sight on the gound,
Renard the fox staggers around,
One foot behind the other drags,
His skin hangs off like tattered rags.
(although he’d only recently managed
to flee the trap, his leg was damaged).
All this for tiecelin’s benefit:
‘Alas, he says, ‘that god sees fit
To afflict poor me with miseries,
By saint mary, i swear that cheese
(God’s curse on it!), it smells so strong
Will do me in in before too long.
For everyone i know agrees
There’s nothing as bad for wounds as cheese.
It’s strictly forbidden in my diet;
I haven’t the least desire to try it.
I beg you, tiecelin, come down here.
If you don’t help, my end is near!’

Tiecelin takes pity on him, but realizes his mistake in getting too close, losing four feathers. he chides renard for his deceitful acting, and annoyed, tells him the cheese is all he’ll get that day.

Renard didn’t bother to insist,
He was busy making up for what he’d missed.
By eating the cheese to the very last bit
(but there wasn’t very much of it);
The way it went down would make you think
It was some kind of delicious drink.
You could look in any land you please
And never would you find such cheese;
He’d eaten cheese his whole life long
And certainly he could not be wrong.
So did renard add up the score,
And his injured leg did hurt no more.

Revised by Rob Kaufelt. Photo courtesy of reynaerts.be

I Just Can’t Wait to be King (of Cheeses)

Miriam Arkin

Here at Murray’s we find that the coming of fall (heralding all the delicious things that can be pulled from the ground, cut from the vine, and thrown into a pot) is the perfect time to pay homage to a bounteous cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano.  We’ve stacked big golden wheels all over the store, and even split a few open—all the better to see how the two-inch thick rind gives way to a perfectly grainy texture.  But don’t be too quick to look beyond the rind!  It too has become an Italian staple, used to flavor soups and stews, and given to infants as what must be the world’s best teething companion.  Italians produce about 3 million wheels of Parmigiano annually, of which only 16% is exported abroad.  Interestingly, whether it is consumed domestically or exported, every single wheel of Parmigiano is inspected for quality by a member of an organization whose very existence seems like an ornate American fantasy—the Consorzio Parmigiano-Reggiano, whose responsibility it is to test and grade every single wheel of Parmigiano made in Italy.  Why care?  At the heart of the Consorzio are its inspectors, masters of cheese whose wise judgments guarantee quality even as production of Parmigiano increases every year.

Parmigiano-Reggiano is made on farms in the provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna left of the river Reno and Mantua right of the river Po.  Cheesemaking follows a careful pattern: the evening’s milking is set aside overnight, allowing the cream to rise.  The following morning, the cream is skimmed off the top, and the skimmed milk is then combined with that morning’s whole milk in bell-shaped copper cauldrons.  The milk is heated and rennet is added to curdle the milk.  After a few minutes, the fresh curd cut with a long bladed tool called spino into rice sized grains.  It is then heated again, allowed to cool, and removed from the copper vat with a cheese cloth, yielding about two wheels worth of cheese.  Once these wheels have spent 25 days in a salt water bath, they are set in special temperature and humidity controlled rooms where they age for at least 12 months.

After a year of aging, the Consorzio steps in, sending inspectors out to test every single wheel.  This is a feat in and of itself, but more fascinating still is how the inspections are carried out.  Instead of using a cheese iron (the long tubular beak used to reach the middle of cheeses) to take samples, the inspectors use them to gently tap along the exterior of the cheese.  They are able to listen for sounds that indicate cracks, voids, or other undesirable faults in the cheese.  That’s right, listen for them.  Based on their determinations, the 80lb wheels of cheese are seared with one of two large and clearly defined oval brands—“Parmigiano-Reggiano” for top quality cheese that can continue aging, and “Parmigiano-Reggiano Mezzano” for lesser quality cheese that should be consumed young.  These lesser wheels are further branded with broad parallel lines, making it impossible to sell them as their worthier cousins.  If a wheel doesn’t meet the requirements to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano the smaller dotted inscription applied at the time the cheese was made is scraped entirely off the cheese, so it cannot be sold as the real thing.  After 18 months of aging, cheesemakers can have a Consorzio inspector come back to determine whether cheese can be further categorized as “export” or “extra” quality.  Export quality gets shipped around the world, extra quality is set aside to age for longer than the traditional 24 months, producing a dryer and more intense cheese.

We’ll be celebrating this auditory genius all month, and we’ve got enough wheels of export quality Parmigiano to circle the store, so please do come in for a taste.

ACS 2010: Celebrating America’s Cheese

Photo Credit: Vermont Butter & Cheese CreameryPhoto Credit: Vermont Butter & Cheese

Michael Anderson


Many of you out there may have been gearing up for the Emmy awards this past weekend.  The red carpet, the glamour, the production numbers – sure, it’s flashy enough.  Around these parts, though, there was considerably more anticipation for a slightly more workaday awards ceremony: the 2010 American Cheese Society Conference & Competition.  Held this year in Seattle, Washington, this annual event is an unparalleled opportunity for cheese professionals (and more than a few enthusiastic amateurs) to congregate, celebrate, and consume all things cheese.  It lasts five days, and nearly every moment is stuffed with cheesy goodness.

A number of seminars and panels are available for attendees each year, and the most difficult part of going to the conference is probably selecting from all of the fantastic & fascinating choices in each time slot.  The list of panelists is full of names familiar to the cheese enthusiast – industry giants like Mateo Kehler (Cellars at Jasper Hill), Mary Keehn (Cypress Grove Chèvre), & Steve Jenkins (author, Cheese Primer); European liaisons such as Hervé Mons, Roland Barthélémy, & Raef Hodgson; and a host of others: cheesemakers, retailers, scientists, authors, even an entire panel devoted to artisan cured meats.  Endlessly fascinating, continually stimulating, and very nearly overwhelming.

Behind closed doors, however, is where the real monumental task is taking place: the tasting & judging.  This year, the judges had to contend with a record-setting number of entries: over 1,400 different cheeses were sent by their makers to be critiqued, and hopefully to be recognized as among the best.  From all over the United States (as well as a few Canadian and Mexican entries) cheeses in this competition run the gamut.  Sorted by style for the judging and awards, there are entrants from producers of every size in every conceivable style: classics like Cheddar, Gouda & Brie; American Originals like Brick, Dry Jack, & Liederkranz; as well as butters, yogurts, chèvres, and every other cheese style under the sun.

At the end of the day, though, there has to be a winner. The top three spots are chosen by the judges from the blue ribbon winners in each individual category.  This year, we were thrilled to see three world-class American cheesemakers (and good friends of ours) ascend to the stage to collect their accolades.  Jeremy Stephenson of Spring Brook Farm collected 2nd Runner-Up honors for his Tarentaise, a superlative alpine-style 100% Jersey cow’s milk cheese from a farm & education center in Reading, VT.  Fellow Vermonters Allison Hooper & Adeline Druart earned 1st Runner-Up for their Bonne Bouche, from the pioneering Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery.  And the climax of the entire weekend – the coveted Best in Show ribbon – went to Wisconsin original Pleasant Ridge Reserve, from Uplands Cheese Company.  This is actually the third time this incredible cheese has won this award; no other cheese has won more than once.  It was a nearly poetic moment, as cheesemaker Mike Gingrich and his wife Carol are about to enter semi-retirement, passing the torch to heir apparent (and cheesemaker since 2007) Andy Hatch.  It’s downright heartwarming to see Pleasant Ridge (a cheese a lot of us would consider a national treasure) in such good hands for the next generation.

We’ve got the top three winners in the store, as well as a slew of other fantastic cheeses that were recognized in their individual categories.  We’ll taste my own personal favorites of these in a class I’m leading on September 14th, as well as a very special treat: Andy has sent us a couple of wheels of his blue-ribbon batch of extra-aged Pleasant Ridge, a batch that he’s been guiding to perfection for over a year.  Believe it or not, it’s in very high demand after taking home the gold, so get it while you can.  And look forward to next year’s winning cheeses – they might be in a cheese case near you right now.


Murray’s New Midtown Flagship

Since 2002, Murray’s Cheese has been rocking Grand Central Market. In 2008, we opened up Murray’s Real Salami, our second shop in Grand Central. For nearly two years cheese and meat worked down the hall from each other, diligently providing the midtown crowd with the country’s best selection of cheeses and artisan meats. Last week, these two solo artists merged to become the Market’s finest duet.

Cheesemongers worked through the night on July 29th to carefully pack up every product in both stores, move equipment, and reset our brand new mega-store in time for our 11 AM inspection on July 30th. We passed with flying colors and were open in time for the lunch crowd to be the first to experience our second flagship store – stocked with our full line of cheeses, cooked & cured meats, oil & vinegar, olives, antipasti, jams, honey & more!

The new combined shop is 1,000 square feet, making it the largest in the Market. Our new 10 year lease ensures that we will be a midtown mainstay for a long, long time.

Sleepy mongers put the final touches on the new shop early Friday morning
Cheese & Meat…together at last!

Grand Central Market is open 7 AM to 9 PM Monday-Friday, Saturday 10 AM – 7 PM, and Sunday 11 AM-6 PM. Come visit us soon!

Murray’s Does the VT Cheesemaker’s Festival

by Tim Erdmann

There isn’t too much that can draw me out of my apartment at seven o’clock on a Saturday morning. Promises of coffee and the cheese adventure of a lifetime, however, made this Saturday a little different. I, and 34 like-minded cheese adorers, arrived to Murray’s bright and early, eager to journey to the second annual Vermont Cheesemaker’s Festival. We were beaming. The sun was, well, not. Likely on an errand, we hoped it’d return soon. Goodie bags, bagels, and coffees in hand, we set out into the northern morning.

It was around the point where 17 meets I-87 that I think we all began to notice our new terrain. The color palette had shifted dramatically: our urban grays changed in favor of new greens and blues, the topography likewise ruffled and varied. The consideration of our environment could not have been more appropriate as we pulled into our first stop, The Farmer’s Diner in Middlebury, VT. Tired of the commercial food scene, the diner purchases as much as possible from local farmers. They are currently spending an impressive 83 cents to the dollar on products from within 70 miles, all ingredients with only the most enviable pedigrees. Greeted with Raspberry Sangria by Chef Denise, we were honored to celebrate their mission. While she delivered us a four-course feast and we quieted our stomachs, we heard from the local and charismatic cheesemaker Steve Getz of Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport, VT. It was an excellent taste of what was to come.

With satisfied bellies and happy spirits, we rejoined at the bus. Driver, and whey-cation alumnus, Sylvester adeptly maneuvered us across a beautiful mountain range to our next stop, the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery in Websterville, VT. Seemingly joined by fate, cheesemakers Allison Hooper and Bob Reese pioneered the company in 1984. Though it’s hard now to imagine Vermont without its artisanal cheeses and locavore ethics, the pair started as dairy mavericks. Allison was even so bold as to foresee Vermont as cheese’s Napa Valley. Today, their spirit is just as alive, and their approach to production has barely changed, except for maybe a little more cows’ milk and fancier gadgetry on site. Wearing lab coats, hairnets, and protective booties, we played cheesemakers for a day as we toured the drying room, laboratory, production spaces, and churning room. Even more impressed by the cheesemaker’s duties, we gathered again to taste the final products, the little gems that quietly explain why it’s all worth it.

After we checked in to the hotel, which boasted a pool, sauna, and all the luxuries due a proper cheese lover, we found ourselves at the festival’s kick-off cookout. Shelburne Vineyards hosted the night, and naturally, we were invited to tipple on the property’s wines and other local brews. A light drizzle and a local band made the soundscape as we lined up to get one of Marc Druart’s delicious burgers. As the Murray’s crew gathered to sit and eat on the grass, I realized that it was one of those iconic summer moments that I will treasure for the rest of my life. As the night closed, we made our way back to the hotel. Though we were all tired from a busy day well spent, I don’t think any of us could temper the excitement stirring for the coming day.

At last, the time had come. In spite of all of our anticipation, I don’t think anything could have prepared us for the beauty of Shelburne Farms. The 1400+ acre estate sits on the shores of Lake Champlain, with silhouettes of the Adirondacks finishing the landscape. The farm’s buildings and stables are veritable agricultural castles. Built in 1886 by Lila Vanderbilt Webb, and William Seward, the estate – now also an inn, nonprofit, and restaurant – maintain a presence of another time, where the relationship to the land is reciprocal and tender. Few communities that can mirror that sentiment like the producers of Vermont.

The festival’s arrangement was notably casual. We entered through a large tent housing old friends and new, tables running the spectrum from Cabot to the Vermont Cheese Council. One of the most surprising was a producer offering local ice cider (Eden Ice Cider Co.), made in the style of the famous and luxurious ice-wines. At least a few Murray’s employees escaped with a bottle or two. After the tent, the rest of the producers were set up in long great halls within the permanent structures of the farm. In total, there were 50 cheesemakers, 20 wineries and breweries, and 15 other artisanal producers, all of whom offering generous and wonderful samples. In case our palates needed a rest, there were a few seminars and demos to distract the mind, not to mention the entire estate grounds to explore. Any of us could have spent days at the festival, but alas all things must end. With goodie bags refilled, souls rejuvenated, and perhaps some career-paths drastically altered, we boarded the bus for the long return home, already looking forward to next year.