Monday, July 18, 2005

Murray’s After Hours: Cheese Store by Day, A Celebration of New York Artisanal Cheese by Night

It was 8:00 on a Wednesday night; closing time at Murray’s and yet outside a line of people stretched around the block waiting to enter the store. Inside, the store was abuzz with activity. Murray’s staff scrambled around moving display stands and hauling crates of olive oils, pastas and other groceries into the back service area while a mini-grill station was erected in the middle of the room by BLT Steak. Tables bedecked with delectable looking hors d’oeuvres, Artisanal cheeses, Long Island wines and local microbrews were set up. I rushed into the back room with a crate of Sicilian chocolates where a group of men and women were hastily undressing and donning brightly colored t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "The Cheese Stands Alone". What the?! Ah yes, the volunteers from Slow Food NYC.

With less than a minute to go, everything was in place and we were ready to begin the first ever Murray’s After Hours, a fantastic opportunity to learn about the New York Artisanal Cheese movement, tour Murray’s own cheese aging caves and of course, sample some prime examples of New York artisanal cheese paired with local wines, beers and ciders.

After Hours was organized by Slow Food NYC Consortium and Murray’s to benefit the New York State Farmstead and Artisan Cheese Makers Guild educational program. As the enthusiastic turnout showed, it was a fantastic success. Cheesemaker Brendt Wasser of Sprout Creek Farm was personally handing out samples of his labors in the form of Touissant as well as cheeses from six other New York cheesemakers. Artisan cheese based appetizers devised by New York Chefs Colin Alevras of The Tasting Room, Laurent Tourondel of BLT Steak, Fish, and Prime and Galen Zamarra of Mas were being devoured with gusto. I was making the difficult decision between the mini-toasts topped with pungent “Hooligan” washed-rind cheese and black truffle shavings or the Cayuga blue with bamboo honey, bee pollen and pecans on nut bread when Rob Kaufelt took the stage (the milk crate actually) and introduced Ed Yowell, the head of Slow Food NYC, Erika Lesser, director of Slow Food USA and Sue Sturman of the New York Cheese Guild.

Rob Kaufelt addressing the audience

Sue Sturman spoke about the tradition of cheesemaking in New York, which has recently witnessed a renaissance as an increasing number of small dairies focus on producing high quality artisanal cheese. The New York Cheesemakers guild promotes small scale artisan cheesemaking by creating a community of cheesemakers, strengthening the lines of communication with government agencies, retailers, and restaurants as well as educating consumers about cheese made in New York. Many of the cheeses featured at After Hours are currently available only at local farmers markets and small family run stores in the cheesemakers local area.

“Go out and explore what New York Cheesemakers have to offer!” Sue implored.

Liz Thorpe giving a tour of the Aging Caves

Erika Lesser followed Sue, urging us all to not consume passively but to "put your money where your mouth is and buy locally".

By supporting locally produced artisanal foods one is intrinsically supporting food heritage, bio-diversity and a sustainable food supply. Fortunately, as evident by the burgeoning popularity of locally produced artisanal cheese, the Cheese does not stand alone! If you missed After Hours and would like to contribute to the New York Cheesemakers Guild or find out about artisanal cheesemaking in you area, log on to the New York State Cheesemakers Guild website: