As part of the New York City Food and Wine Festival earlier this month, Murray’s Cheese held a tasting event at the Norwood Club, a historic townhouse on 241 West 14th Street. The goal was to introduce customers to their new line of cave-aged cheeses, which (as you might’ve guessed from their name) have been a long time coming. Murray’s Cheese on Bleecker Street is home to five subterranean cheese caves–rare in this town–where over 100 varieties of cheese are aged by on-staff experts. For the event, the Norwood Club’s four floors were turned into “caves,” each designed to showcase a specific type of cheese, including natural rind cheeses and cheddars on the second floor, washed rind and alpine cheeses on the third floor, and bloomy rinds up top.
On hand in “cave” three–those washed rinds and alpines, which, according to a Murray’s expert, are “made in the mountains and good for melting”–was Brian Ralph, a cave manager at Murray’s. He stood attentively at the table overflowing with blocks of dairy goodies like Twin Maple Hudson Red, Spring Brook Farms Tarentaise, Reading Raclette and Pawlet, to name a few. Ralph advised us to start with the Uplands Pleasant Ridge Reserve–“as you don’t want to blow out your palate”–and then move on to nibble on the Vieux cru des Cremiers.
Pleasant Ridge was “consistently one of the best cheeses in America,” says Ralph, and the “only cheese that’s won best in show three times” at the American Cheese Society’s annual competition in 2001, 2005 and 2010. It hails from Dodgeville, Wisconsin, and is made by cheesemaker Andy Hatch, with whom Murray’s has had a relationship with for years, just as with many of the cheese artisans the Bleecker Street-based company sources from. Young Pleasant Ridge is cave-aged at Murray’s, Ralph proudly told us, and the makers trust the Manhattan shop to develop the cheese to acquire a favorable finish.
That scenario repeated itself at every floor: At “cave” two (tables of natural rind cheeses and Cheddars) I was taught over tasting 5 Spoke Creamery Tumbleweed and Montgomery’s Cheddar that the natural rinds cheese occure where “molds grow and matures on the cheeses.”
On the fourth floor I found bloomy rinds like Selles-sur-Cher, a pasteurized goat cheese from France with a texture like buttercream icing, and a Murray’s Cave Aged Valencay from the Loire Valley in France. Meanwhile a video played that showed cave aging process over 14 days at Murray’s. The video offered a glimpse into what goes on in the underground aging process of affinage, the French-style craft of cheese ripening and aging, which is what happens below the street (you can peek in from the sidewalk) in the caves of Murrays, where a cheese manager like Ralph pats and flips cheeses.
Overall, the tasting was an effective and fun way for the public with an interest in eating and serving excellent cheese to learn more about how great cheese gets made. It was an afternoon of sensory delight, where guest intermittently nibbled on cheeses–sometimes served with bread from Tom Cat Bakery, Z Crackers or Harvest Song Preserves when the Murray’s expert felt that a particular pairing would enhance the cheeses.
An oft-heard refrain: from the participants was “I’ve been eating cheese all afternoon but, alright, I’ll try another piece.” And if you missed out, don’t worry, Murray’s offers plenty of classes where you can learn by tasting, including the three day Boot Camp we highlighted earlier this year on our weekly NY1 show. Rest assured you’ll end up saying just what others did at the Norwood Club: “We are high on cheese.”