Hooked on Cheese: Something Old Something New

Raymond Hook and friends sample Murray's Cheese
Murray's Cheese

Murray's Cavemaster Reserve C-Local is named for the C subway line in New York City.

It’s the eve of my 50th birthday and I just sat down to write, so at the moment I feel like I am the “something old” part of this story. However, as unfortunate as aging can be, as I get older I’ve begun to realize that some things do truly get better with age. Luckily for me, one of those things is cheese.

As a pre-birthday celebration earlier this week, I invited over two of my closest friends: Debbie Peterson, who works at Cypress Grove, the famed maker of Humboldt Fog and other delectable northern California goat cheeses, and Jason Donnelly, a big shot at Murray’s Cheese. I met Debbie twelve years ago on the set of Alton Brown’s Good Eats television program, where our first encounter involved her yelling at me for trying to abduct a pie. (What can I say? I love pie.) Jason has been a close friend of mine from way back during my time in Atlanta; he was a chef at South City Kitchen, and I can distinctly remember how we first bonded over our Southern-boy love of biscuits (Jason knows how to make a mean biscuit). Needless to say, I was really looking forward to having these two chums over for some birthday fun, since one of the best parts of getting older is having old friendships.

Debbie arrived first, and she and I were delighted (if not entirely surprised) to see Jason ambling up the stairs with an armful of cheeses from Murray’s. These cheeses were noteworthy because they were aged in Murray’s own caves as a part of their Cave Aged Program, which includes hundreds of young, “new” cheeses (“something new,” anyone?) ripened in their state-of-the-art caves at their aging  facility in Long Island City.

The first cheese we tried was the Torus, a donut-shaped goat cheese made by New England’s famous Vermont Creamery. This cheese had been aged at Murray’s for seven days, and had a light, sweet taste that was almost reminiscent of lemon meringue pie (did I mention how much I like pie?). We paired it with a crispy Belgian white ale – very tasty.

Next, we had the Cavemaster Reserve C-Local, a sheep’s milk cheese made by Old Chatham Sheepherding Company and washed in Brooklyn Brewery Local 2 beer at Murray’s. It is a very pungent and very tasty cheese. It was named for the C subway line in New York City, which, like the cheese, is quite smelly, but always gets you exactly where you want to go. As one might expect, the C-Local cheese tastes great when washed down with Brooklyn Brewery Local 2.

The last cheese we tasted was the Cavemaster Reserve Hudson Flower. Jason invented this cheese for Ai Fiori, the renowned New York City restaurant, to substitute for Fleur de Maquis, a Corsican sheep’s milk cheese crusted in herbs (typically savory, thyme, juniper berries and hot peppers) found on the mountainside. The Murray’s version comes from Old Chatham Sheepherding Company and is crusted in crushed hop flowers, rosemary, elderberries, thyme and lemon verbena. Its delicate taste cried out for a crispy Riesling from the Mosel region; who could have guessed I would have the perfect wine right in my fridge? Delicious.

It is always a pleasure to eat great cheese made by great cheesemakers, but it’s even more gratifying when I know that the cheeses were aged right here in the city I live in. And more than anything, I’m always grateful to eat good cheese with good old friends. Always enjoy your treats with folks you care about; food just tastes better that way.

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Additional reporting by Madeleine James.