Murray’s Cheese is often celebrated as the best cheese shop in New York. Frequently I walk past it and wonder, “If I go in there, what will I buy? And how can I make a meal out of that?” I’m very meal-oriented when I food shop: I usually ignore long-term ingredients like high-end oils and designer vinegars in favor of short-term ingredients like vegetables and meats that I can put to use right away. And with cheese, there are very few short-term things you can do with it, in terms of making a meal, that I find satisfying. 1: you can make mac and cheese; 2. you can…? See my point? So the only reason to buy cheese is if you want to keep cheese around long-term to snack on. But I don’t shop for long-term snacking, I shop for meals. Which is why, the other night, walking past Murray’s, I had a provocative thought: what if I served cheese for dinner?
To understand the significance of this thought you should know a few things. I grew up in a cheeseless home, a home where the idea of cheese on pasta or any other dish was verboten. This was mostly because my dad hated the stuff: he still does. If a cheese cart rolls past him with the lid off, his face turns green and he makes a very unhappy face.
I was pretty much the same way until I met Craig. If I grew up in a cheeseless home, Craig grew up quite the opposite: his family loves cheese. Loves it. The first time I visited his family, I brought them cheese from Murray’s; the second time I went, I bought his mom a cheese plate. Suffice it to say, when I told Craig I was serving cheese for dinner, he was very, very happy.
Me? I’ve really grown to enjoy cheese. It’s still not my favorite thing in the world, but I like it enough to buy the good stuff and appreciate it. Which is exactly what I did when I walked into Murray’s and told the man behind the counter that I was serving cheese for dinner.
“Sounds like a good dinner,” he said, no irony in his voice.
I asked for his help choosing three cheeses, for around $20, that’d go well with salad and wine.
“White or red?” he asked.
I said white, but next time I’ll say red (just because then you’ll get bolder cheeses.)
He selected three cheeses which he let me sample (all were great) and I bought some Sullivan Street Bakery bread at the check-out. Before heading back to Brooklyn, I popped into Citarella and bought some salad greens and a shallot; then, once off the train in Park Slope, I went to Sip (a nice wine store on 5th Ave.) where they helped me choose a wine that’d pair well with cheese. In this case, a wine called Quattro Mani:
I’m pretty sure the man in the store said this was a Latvian wine, but doing research online I can’t corroborate that. What I can say is that the wine was excellent–bright, acidic, and a really good foil for cheese.
And the cheese! Ok, let’s start on the right with the stinkiest (I know you’re supposed to start with the mildest, but in this case the mildest was my favorite so I’m saving it for last). Meet Hooligan:
This creamy cheese had that smell that cheese-haters love to hate. Foul, like dirty gym socks, this cheese had Craig beaming. “Whoah,” he said, biting his first bite, “that’s stinky.”
Yes, yes it was, but I didn’t mind it. I just didn’t love it. What I loved better was Cheese #2, Podda Classico:
This cheese had the texture of a Parmesan or a Pecorino but, like it says on the label, it delivers “the sensation of an electric shock” when you bite in. It’s true: it almost crackles with sharpness and saltiness and tang. It’s a great cheese.
But my favorite, by far, was the goat cheese–Monte Enebro:
I’ve never had goat cheese this good before. It was so, so rich and so, so flavorful–it was like all the goat cheeses of my past were meaningless encounters and this cheese was true love. I plan to go back to Murray’s to buy this cheese again and again and if you live close by, or if you have a cheese shop in your town (and most do, right?) ask for this. It’ll blow your mind.
As far as the dinner itself, I made a quick salad by whisking chopped shallot with some mustard, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper and then dripping in olive oil, drip by drip, creating an emulsified dressing. I lightly dressed the greens in a big bowl, sliced the bread put it on the plate, poured the wine and set everything out on stacks and stacks of New Yorkers on our table:
Doesn’t that look like a dinner you’d want to have? I know one customer was very happy:
And that, my friends, is how you have cheese for dinner.