By Matthew Spiegler
Happy Birthday to Murray’s Cheese! In honor of their 75 years as one of the top cheese shops in New York City (and also one of the oldest), Murray’s shared a couple of their CaveMaster Reserve beauties with us, aged with care in their affinage facilities in Long Island City, Queens. The two wheels were the Hudson Flower, their “riff on a Corsican classic,” and Little Big Apple, a decadent, apple brandy infused triple-cream.
Murray’s was founded in 1940 by Murray Greenberg, a Jewish veteran of the Spanish Civil War, who opened the first Murray’s location on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. In the 70’s the shop was sold to one of Mr. Greenberg’s clerks, Louis Tudda, an immigrant from Calabria, Italy, who ran the business for the next couple of decades, moving it to its current Bleecker Street location along the way. It was in the early 90’s that Rob Kaufelt, son from a family of grocers in New Jersey and a recent transplant to the neighborhood, heard that they were losing their lease and decided to buy the business. The timing was kind of perfect, as America was then in the early stages of the cheese revolution that has only grown exponentially into the present day, and Murray’s had the experience, quality products and the reputation to tap right into that.
Under Kaufelt’s leadership, the shop expanded their portfolio of both European and domestic cheeses, built out the caves under the store, developed the educational programs, expanded to other markets inside and outside the city, and much more, all the while bringing in an ever expanding and impressive line of cheeses, charcuterie, beers and other gourmet culinary items from around the world. For many native New Yorkers (especially those who grew up below 14th street in the years before cheese counters started popping up like mushrooms) Murray’s was their first introduction to great cheese and an essential stop on any grocery trip.
Murray’s has also become one of the unofficial boot camps for cheesemongers in New York City and beyond; step into almost any of the top cheese shops in Manhattan or the boroughs and you’re more likely than not to cross paths with a Murray’s alum, still slinging cheese after getting a taste for the lactic arts at the Bleecker Street counter.
Hurricane Sandy hit Murray’s hard, as it did many cheese shops in the city, but the silver lining to that rather large storm cloud was that it led to moving their affinage facilities to a larger space in Long Island City, where they have been able to improve and refine their processes, with space to allow for greater variability in aging conditions and controls. Under the guidance of a dedicated team of cavemasters, Murray’s has expanded its affinage program steadily, working with many domestic and European cheesemakers, including Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, who make the cheese for the Hudson Flower, and Champlain Valley Creamery, who make the triple cream for the Little Big Apple.
The Hudson Flower is inspired by the Corsican classic Fleur du Maquis, also known as Brin d’Amour. “Maquis” refers to the dry shrublands that are the trademark of the Corsican hills, a dusty landscape that is known for the herbs and plants that give it a trademark scent, which infuses into the milk of the sheep and goat that graze on it. Old Chatham provides Murrays with young wheels of rich sheep’s milk cheese, which is then enrobed in a thick coating of a secret herb blend that includes rosemary, thyme, marjoram, elderberries and hop flowers, and then aged until the interior paste has gone fudgy and a little creamy at the rind, and the herbs, now coated with a jacket of white molds, have infused into the wheels. Flavors are milky, citric and bright, with the aroma of the herbs and piney, slightly tart notes enveloping the mouth.
For the Little Big Apple, cheesemaker Carlton Yoder starts with his Organic Champlain Triple, a soft-ripened triple créme bloomy rind (Silver Medal Winner, 2007 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition). Murray’s then takes the cheese, and wraps it in hand-picked apple leaves which have been macerated in Warwick Valley’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Apple Liqueur. These little packages are then aged in Murray’s Caves, allowing the liqueur to infuse the cheese with a complex blend of flavors and aromas. The buttery, mushroomy flavors of the the Triple blend with the sweetness of apple, with vegetal notes from the leaves and a slightly fermented, yeasty, earthy essence, especially at the rind, with a bit of bite from the alcohol. The paste is oozing at the creamline, but firmer and creamy in the center.
So get on over to Murray’s to try these and their other CaveMaster Reserve cheeses! They’ll also be celebrating their 75th with a series of tastings, events, classes, giveaways, and much more, so get over to MurraysCheese.com/75th to see the full schedule and learn more!
Published 12/20/2015 courtesy of Matt Spiegler