Who Cut The Cheese?

Er, actually...I did. But only in the literal sense (as far as they know). Last night I assisted at an educational class at Murray's Cheese on Bleeker Street. The class was titled "Unfiltered Wines and Raw Milk Cheeses" and was taught by two impossibly thin hipsters, Murray's Wholesale Manager Elizabeth Kubbuck and wine expert Alex Alan. I am perplexed at how they stay so thin with the jobs they hold. I was at Murray's one night and already my face has swollen three times it's normal size.

You know the saying, never trust a skinny chef. How about a fat cheeked food-blogger? Nonetheless, I have to hand it to the two toothpicks, they were entertaining, knowledgeable and on the cutting edge of wine and cheese. I, on the other hand, was on the cutting edge of a serrated knife, cutting a half dozen baguettes into paper thin slices for our 45 students. And I have the bruises on my hands to show for it. I was also in charge of wiping, setting, cleaning, and putting away of a mere 266 wine glasses (I did the math). Standing over a steaming industrial-strength dishwasher for five hours isn't exactly glamorous, but I tried to think of it as a really cheap facial. Plus I got to take home the leftover cheese and wine, which I will attack with glee after work. At this point, no amount of salt could make me bloat any further - I hope.

But I got more out of last night's class than a moon face and bad gas (wait, what?). But be warned: once you go raw, you'll never go back. What exactly is raw cheese? I hesitate to answer, for fear of being digitally flogged by some blogospheric frommagier - but for those not growing their own cheese in Brooklyn, raw means cheese that it unpasteurized and less than 60 days old. The law of the land is that any unpasteurized cheese entering the US must be aged at least 60 days to - in theory - protect us from bacterial infections. Some argue that this is in fact an antiquated and unnecessary regulation, and many have been known to casually ignore it. Either way you slice it (queue laughter), Americans therefore miss out on the gloriousness that is young, European cheese.  Anyone that has traveled through Europe is nodding their head in agreement.

Last night we tasted some of the best, 'don't ask, don't tell', raw cheese imported into the United States. I used a highly technical rating system to keep track of my favorites: ✓-, ✓, ✓+. I tried to be critical and I tried to stay sober, though I can't help but notice how many ✓+'s I had towards the end. All the cheeses are available at Murray's and the 'fromagiers' specifically said NOT be shy about pronunciation when you're in their store. Feel free to point, grunt or gesticulate your way to good cheese.

The favorites of the night, with my own quirky descriptions, in descending order:
  1. Tomme Fleurette: this one wins the 'most likely to be confiscated at customs' award. May or may not be under 2 weeks old, it tasted like melted butter. And who doesn't like butter?!
  2. La Serena: A cheese made alongside the sweaters I wear (Merino sheep) with a name from one of my favorite television shows (hint: xoxo). What's not to love? Soft and delicate like their wool.
  3. Tomme Crayeuse: We called this the 'Tom Cruise' of cheese, but more 'Top Gun' Tom than 'jumping on Oprah's couch' Tom. Earthy and creamy.
  4. Mrs. Quicke's Cheddar: far from the Cabot cheese we know and love, this cheddar tasted like horseradish biscuits to my untrained palate (say what?). The rind tasted like my Grandma's dank basement. And in some twisted way, I really really liked it.
  5. Jura Erguel: A Swiss made cheese that tasted like pineapple? that will definitely be in my next grilled cheese.

The cheeses were paired with variety of unfiltered wines, which is raw cheese's alcoholic counterpart. I learned that unfiltered wine, in short, means that the yeast used to ferment the grapes is the naturally occurring yeast of the plant, rather than that which is cultivated in a petri dish. The wines were therefore rather intense and actually tasted crude. While I didn't love them all, I found it amazing that I was drinking wine the way it was drank by kings and queens hundreds of years ago. Needless to say, I got drunk and felt quite courtly.

My favorites, all in the $20-25 per bottle range:
  1. Thierry Puzelat Ko "In Cot We Trust" 2007: a French Malbec from the Loire Valley. Alex described this as having a smoked bacon taste, which I liked, but admittedly didn't 'get'.
  2. Domaine Leon Barral Faugeres 2006: a smooth, deep red that tasted even better when I learned the grapes were grown biodynamically (which basically means naturally, whilst respecting the earth around it).
  3. Don Chisciotte Campania Fiano IGT 2007: This tasted more like a cider or a hefeweizen to me, though he swore it came from grapes. I don't believe him, but I liked it. Fool your friends.
The Heat


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