The third in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. Though chzday09 actually took place on Sunday, June 28, Colleen and I did a practice run, so to speak, in Brooklyn the previous day. After spending some time at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum with the extended dccheese family and feasting on pastrami at Junior’s Deli, we made a quick stop at Stinky Brooklyn before I headed into Manhattan and Colleen went to the No Doubt concert at Jones Beach (lucky!).

A slip of a shop in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood, Stinky Brooklyn nonetheless packs in a large variety of cheeses, meats (you can’t miss the selection of hams with hooves still attached) and all the classic accompaniments into its four walls. While the bus of visiting cheesemongers in town for the Fancy Food Show made the shop very crowded, we managed to squeeze our way in to pick out a couple of cheeses from the Wine Spectator list that we had yet to sample. Colleen and I usually like to take time to chat with the cheesemongers, taste a few (or several) cheeses and poke around the non-cheese items, but the volume of hungry customers made it impossible this time. Hopefully, we’ll make it back another time for a more leisurely visit and tasting session.

We were excited to see one of the two Portuguese cheeses on the list at Stinky Brooklyn – Nisa, a raw sheep’s-milk cheese made in the country’s Alentejo region. A creamy, yeasty cheese, Nisa seemed lighter than the Gabietou, though it had a similar consistency. We noticed a less pronounced “sheepiness” (i.e. oiliness) to the cheese but still enjoyed its drier texture and herbaceous flavor. Being Portuguese, Nisa is a can’t-miss match for Port or a light-bodied red wine.

The bountiful cheese selection at Murrays

The bountiful cheese selection at Murray's

The second in a series of tasting notes from our New York Summer ’09 Cheese Tour. After brunch at Artisanal, we headed downtown to do some shopping, cupcake-hunting and, of course, more cheese-eating. Our next cheese-shop stop was the one I had been looking forward to the most, not only because it is considered one of the best cheese shops in the United States, but also because it shares a name with my grandfather. Murray’s in Greenwich Village did not disappoint.

Murray’s began as a wholesale butter and egg shop in 1940, when it was owned by Murray Greenberg, who, according to Murray’s Web site, was a Spanish Civil War vet and Communist. He sold the shop to one of his clerks in the 1970s, and it is now owned by Rob Kaufelt, who has since moved the shop twice and turned it from a bodega-type shop to one specializing in artisan cheese, charcuterie and the like. Squeezed into a narrow space on Bleecker Street, Murray’s nonetheless has an impressive variety of domestic and imported cheeses, including several that neither Colleen nor I have been able to find in our local cheese shops. The cheesemongers are generous with samples (always a plus in my book!), and the one who helped us took a keen interest in our blog (hello, if you’re reading along!).

Im like the Vanna White of cheese.

I'm like the Vanna White of cheese.

Yeah to Murrays for getting into the Pride spirit!

Yeah to Murray's for getting into the Pride spirit!

The cheese lover could easily spend an hour wandering through the store and browsing among the meats, breads, crackers, chocolates, olives, butters and such. We happily picked up a Murray’s insulated tote (essential because our hotel room did not have a fridge) and a brutal-looking cheese knife that I didn’t dare try to bring home on the plane. The C+C kids, O and N, proudly sport Murray’s T-shirts with the phrase “milk made” printed on the front, while Colleen and I have joint custody of the tote.

One of the cheeses we picked up at Murray’s was Gabietou, a French cheese made from a blend of raw cow and sheep mik in the Pyrenees. Being an imported raw-milk cheese, it has to be aged past 60 days, and most wheels you’ll find in the United States are aged anywhere from four to 12 months. We enjoyed the dense, creamy paste and how it melted in the mouth. We found the Gabietou to be a little gamey but sweet at the same time, typical of many washed-rind cheeses. Beaujolais is a recommended wine pairing, though in keeping with the theory of terroir, I’d be apt to sample Gabietou with some wines from the Pyrenees region.

Next stop: Casellula

Cheese is often omitted from newspaper food sections, so it was a nice surprise to see an article about choosing summer cheeses in today’s Washington Post. Guest writer and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti highlights 13 cheeses with “seasonal charms suited for warm weather,” with input from Sebastien Tavel, the owner of La Fromagerie.  C+C readers will find a few familiar cheeses, such as Tomme Crayeuse and Idiazabal, along with some newcomers to this blog, like Dragon’s Breath.

What do you think of Domenica’s picks? Did she miss anything? What are your can’t-miss summer cheeses?

This spring, a new cheese shop opened on the main street of Old Town Alexandria, Va. That makes two cheese-dedicated shops each precisely 1.1 miles from my home, plus several cheese-stocking gourmet shops, which makes this cheesewriter one happy clam. Or curd, I guess you could say. Despite its French name and inspiration —  co-owner Sebastien Tavel is a native of the Rhone region — La Fromagerie specializes in high quality, local and domestic artisanal cheeses. A blackboard behind the sales counter proudly proclaims their support for several cheesemakers in the Chesapeake Bay region, including Everona Dairy (VA), Firefly Farms (MD) and Keswick Creamery (PA).

While they have a handful of your old European mainstays, Roquefort and the like, this is not the place to go with narrow-minded intentions of obtaining a specific Alpine cheese or brand of Robiola. Rather, this is the perfect shop to spend some time letting Sebastien and his wife Mary fill you in on their latest find. They offer domestic prosciutto and charcuterie from La Quercia (Iowa) and Salumeria Biellese (NYC), fresh, local glass-jarred milk, butter and yogurt (from Trickling Springs and Blue Ridge Dairies) and a carefully chosen wine and beer selection.  They’re also planning to host classes in the near future.  And with drier summer days finally in sight (perhaps?), call in an order for a local cheese and Virginia country ham picnic basket and stroll down to the waterfront for a romantic cheese lovers’ tryst.

This Saturday, June 6, La Fromagerie will host Firefly Farms’ cheesemakers for a special meet-the-cheesemaker tasting from 4 to 7 pm, and they are having a sale on burger-ready bleu cheeses through the weekend. Visit the website for more details, or stop by the upper King Street shop en route to the water taxi if you’re headed to the National Harbor Food & Wine Festival.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA
Open Tuesday – Saturday, 10:30am – 8:00pm
Sunday 11:30am – 7:00pm
Closed on Mondays

Y’all know that I started writing for the Heavy Table, right? It’s the new online food magazine covering the upper Midwest. If you haven’t already, check it today – you’ll find my story about Ken Liss of the Premier Cheese Market in Minneapolis. Ken, photographer Becca Dilley and I spent a couple of hours last week trying out interesting cheese/beverage/condiment pairings, and the results may surprise you!

So I moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 2006 and made many happy trips to Surdyk’s, which was easy because it was just across the river from my office. But I was thrilled to learn there would soon be a cheese shop opening not far from my apartment in the ritzy 50th and France shopping district. Cheese near the office AND cheese near my house? Score!

The Premier Cheese Market is owned by Ken and Amy Liss, foodies who followed their passion for fine cheese and made it a career, just like Cheesetique‘s Jill Erber. The selection was small but satisfying at first, but Ken has really built it to become a well-stocked cheese counter, and I always find something to match my craving. You can find a variety of crackers, olive oils, olives, salts and other tasty treats, and I always pick up a loaf of Rustica Bakery‘s rustic bread – the crust is divine! (Cut thick slices and layer it with fresh tomato, mozzarella and a drizzle of fruity olive oil – oh, I wish it were August again!) Coffee, sandwiches, soups and desserts are also available, but I usually just come for the cheese and bread.

I’ve tried to convince Ken to hold cheese classes in the store at night, similar to Cheesetique’s, but he told me he thinks the store is too small. (I need to bring him pictures of the original Cheesetique to show him that’s absolutely not true!) But he does conduct classes on occasion at the Cooks of Crocus Hill store just down the block, and he’s also available for private wine and cheese parties. Hmmm, good to know…

And since Premier Cheese Market does not sell wine, it’s open on Sundays! The hours aren’t long, but hey, better than nothing. (The shop is closed on Mondays, though.) Visit the Premier Cheese Market at 5013 France Ave. S. in Minneapolis.

When faced with the prospect of moving to Minneapolis two and a half years ago, one of my first questions was, “Is there a good cheese shop?” My friend, Ariela, who was already living there and had developed her own cheese obsession, assured me that there was. “Oh yeah, I’ll take you to Surdyk’s.” So excited was I that I made her take me there on the first day of my four-day find-a-job, find-an-apartment visit, and I was not disappointed.

Located in Northeast Minneapolis, Surdyk’s is primarily known for its wine and liquor shop, which it claims is the Midwest’s largest. But when it moved into its current building in 1979, the owners added a specialty cheese and gourmet food shop, which is the first place I head. The cheese selection is top-notch, and the very knowledgable staff really don’t mind if you taste 10 cheeses during your visit. (I know, I’ve done it!) Besides cheese, the shop is stocked with all the traditional accompaniments, and some not-so-traditional ones, too (chocolate-covered potato chips, anyone?). You can also pick up lunch at the deli counter, which has a yummy array of soups, sandwiches and hot entrees that change daily. The huge brownies are killer, too.

Surdyk’s offers cheese classes as well, but I’ve never taken one because the fee is pretty pricey, especially compared to Cheesetique’s. Instead, I like to buy several cheeses at once and conduct my own class at home…with myself. I also try to convince my husband to taste my choices, but he doesn’t like gooey, blue or stinky cheese, so most of the time I get it all to myself. Can’t complain about that!

You can find Surdyk’s at 303 E. Hennepin Ave. in Minneapolis. Don’t go on a Sunday, though – thanks to Minnesota state law, you can’t buy alcohol on a Sunday, so the cheese shop is closed, too. But if you’ve got a hankering, don’t worry – the next stop on the Minneapolis cheese tour can oblige!