Saturday, February 4, 2012

of curds and whey

The air was cool and the smell downright stinky. But stinky in a good way! I was being led through a chilled cellar housing racks of ripening cheeses, each with a characteristic shape and color that delighted my eye and tickled my nose.

I was taking part in a tour of the cheese-aging caves at Murray's Cheese on Bleecker Street. As a belated  holiday celebration, the staff of Wellness in the Schools (WITS) was being treated to this cheese tasting and cave tour.
Cheese has always been something I enjoy, but not a subject I have extensive knowledge of. No one in my family really eats cheese except moi, so I hesitate to treat myself too often to bringing home a tempting hunk, knowing I will eat the whole thing myself.

When I put together cheese platters for catered parties I always seek out a knowledgeable cheese vendor and allow them to make the recommendations, a practice that has not lead me wrong.

Murray's qualifies as a serious cheese vendor. Their selection is extensive and mind-boggling, a feast of the senses.

The shop is packed with cheeses from around the globe, coming in amazing shapes and sizes, from the tiniest ashy grey geometric blocks, to pristine white smooth discs, to gigantic amber colored wheels.

Murray's further distinguishes itself by having a comfortably appointed classroom on the premises where ongoing classes are conducted in cheese making, pairings, and regional samplings. They also boast the elaborate set of caves in the basement where through climate control they age the young cheeses that are purchased directly from small producers.

Touring the cave was awe inspiring. Rack upon rack of colors and shapes are on display. I was impressed and fascinated by the bread-like textures of some of the molds that cover the surfaces of the cheeses. These molds are carefully cultivated to enhance the flavors of the final product.

After the tour of the caves we sat down to a tasting guided by the highly knowledgeable and friendly instructor Elizabeth Chubbuck. Our own chef mentor Bill Telepan graciously supplied the wine we sipped as we nibbled our way around the slab of slate offering six sample cheeses, starting with a silky burrata, and ending with a buttery rich Chiriboga blue.
Necessary accessories for a cheese tasting: good bread. 
Needless to say everything was out of this world. I loved all the cheeses we tried, but went head over heels for an uncooked, unpressed raw sheep's milk cheese from France called Ossau-Iraty (don't I sound knowledgeable?) with a deep sophisticated and rich flavor that stole my heart. The wine was an Italian white 2010 Abbazia di Novacella (Stiftskellerie Neustift.)  Delicious and round with lovely sweet notes, the wine paired perfectly with the cheese.

I am feeling somewhat cocky that I could now put together a fairly impressive cheese platter on my own, armed with my classroom notes and some willing fellow cheese eaters to share the spread.

Thank you WITS for an informative and most delicious afternoon!


  1. Did Murray's always have those caves? In the '70s when I lived a few blocks from Murray's, I remember the place being exceedingly stinky, even for a cheese shop. Perhaps that was why.

    Thank you for your work in the schools. They have similar programs down here, linked with a very strong "eat local" movement to support family farmers, cheese makers & bakers. The kids are getting regular exposure to healthy fresh unprocessed foods and it makes a difference.

    1. You are correct Steve, the caves are a recent addition since the store moved to its new location on the south side of Bleecker Street. I too remember Murray's in the old site, the impossibly tiny store that we all squeezed into to taste the glorious offerings.

      Best of luck with your own local efforts to bring healthy food to school children!

  2. Absolutely eaten up with jealousy. Not the least because you don't have to share the cheese at your house!


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