Suitcase ripened or cave aged?

So I’ve had a couple of posts about the cheese shops of New York but no list would be complete without mention of New York City’s Cheese Institution –Murray’s Cheese.

When Murray’s Cheese owner Rob Kaufelt built his new store approximately seven years ago, there were two things he wanted to include over and above the cheeses available for sale at the Bleeker St retail counter. One was a classroom in order to make cheese education a focus, the other was the construction of  ‘caves’ under the retail store in which to mature and store cheeses at optimal conditions.  So I thought it was only fair to try and make sure I explored both the classes and the caves during my stay in New York City.

The first class I attended focused on the ‘Secret Cheeses of England’ but may have been more aptly named ‘Smuggled in a Suitcase Cheeses of England’. The class was run by Chris George of Neals Yard Dairy (UK) and Liz Thorpe, Vice President of Murrays Cheese. What made this class all the more special was that we were lucky enough to have the cheesemakers of some of the UK’s finest cheeses in the room with us including Billy Kevan of Colston Bassett Stilton and Steve Bridges from Montgomery’s Cheddar. There was also a large contingent of Murrays staff members who were just as eager to hear about cheeses that they are generally not able to buy in the USA due to the country’s 60 day pasterurisation laws or the tiny prodction scale of the cheeses on tasting.

Chris and Liz took us through our cheeses which included:

Secret Cheeses of England

Cotherstone - incredibly small production cheese made by Joan Cross of Barnard Castle, County Durham who learned cheesemaking from her mother and has been making Cothertone for approximately thirty years. When Neals Yard first started buying this cheese, Joan Cross used to make it in her kitchen – how inspiring for all of us homecheesemakers out there! Cotherstone is a semi hard cheese with a simple but long lasting, citrus flavour and a crumbly open texture.

Stawley – unpasturised goats milk cheese made with a mixture of morning and evening milk with a geotrichem rind. Caroline and Wil Atkinson who make Stawley (in Stawley near Wellington, Somerset) have managed to get their Geo rind just right. Geo is like the Pinot Noir of cheese world – hard to get right but when you do, it’s fantastsic! Caroline used to work at Neals Yard – so I guess she got to see and taste some fabulous cheeses prior to producing her own.

Innes Log – unpasturised surface ripened goats milk cheese made by Stella and Joe Bennet of Highfields Farm, Staffordshire who personally deliver their cheeses to Neals Yard Dairy.  This cheese, which was lemony and tangy had three distinct layers – a slightly ashy rind, a super creamy inner layer and a pasty centre. Innes Log is made using Kid rennet, which helps to give the flavour more depth.

St James –  An unpasturised washed rind sheeps milk cheese made by Martin Gott of Holker Farm Dairy. You would be hard pressed not to call this cheese ‘full on’ and with it’s bright, brittle, meaty rind and its highly sqashable paste, Liz’s description of this cheese as ‘stink on fat’ was pretty apt. That said, it was so well balanced it was my personal favourite cheeses on offer.

Cardo  – Made by Mary Holbrook of Sleight Farm in Somerset (who interestingly enough used to be the curator of the Archaeology Museum of Bath), Cardo is an unpasturised goats milk cheese that is one of the least goaty cheeses I’ve ever had. This may be due to the use of cardoon stamen (thistle) in place of traditional rennet or it may be the really gently nature in which Mary cuts her curds, using only her arms rather than any knives or wires. Neals Yard Dairy buy Cardo when it’s young and help it develop its savoury washed rind and floral pudding texture.

Stichelton –  Made by Joe Schneider using organic, unpasturised cows milk from Collingthwaite Farm, Nottinghamshire, Stichelton is inspired by original Stilton recipes – it can not be called Stilton however as Stilton is a recognised  ‘protected designation of origin’ (PDO) cheese, and as part of that PDO the industry decided in 1989 to only make Stilton from pasturised milk.

The name Stichelton refers to the name of the village where Stilton originated. The flavour is super sweet and slightly tangy, with a spiciness that comes from the blue mould alongside a caramellike sweetness.

Chris also provided some insight into some of the challenges cheesemakers have faced and how Neals Yard has worked with producers to ultimately develop cheeses that targets customers’ palettes and buying patterns.

Chris from Neals Yard Dairy sharing his cheese knowledge

I took a few interesting cheese facts away from this class, including that American Cheddar was traditionally coloured orange to distinguish it from British Cheddar and Epoisses, the ‘Durian’ of the West is banned from being carried on the Paris Metro because of its extremely pungent aroma!

I also discovered ‘The Mystery of the Caves’ class, hosted by Neuroscience student turned Cave Manager, Brian Ralph. I’m sure building subterranean aging cellars in the middle of New York City was no small feat but Murrays has managed to squeeze five caves into their basement of various temperature, humidity and stinkiness. Brian took us through each cave, explaining how Murrays looks after each cheese type and how he decides when cheeses are ripe for the shop floor. The class was finished off with a tasting of a selection of cheeses at various levels of maturity.

Murray’s motto is “We Know Cheese” and after visiting the cellars and attending these classes, it’s safe to say they do!

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