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Kevin Sharkey's talents may be more aesthetic than edible, but he knows a good thing when he tastes one. The curator of our cheeseboard shopping guide, Kevin visited Murray’s Cheese in NYC’s West Village for supplies, suggestions, and plenty of samples -- all of which he devoured with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy (er, cheese) shop. Read on for a taste of your own.
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If a grocery case stocked with waxy slices sums up your retail dairy experience, prepare yourself. Murray’s Cheese, a specialty boutique and national wholesaler, is a fantasy land for fromage fanatics. To round out its namesake offerings, Murray’s offers artisanal dry goods and made-to-order sandwiches, while a full-service gastropub doles out dairy-centric dishes next door.
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So where does one start in a place like Murray’s? At the cheese counter, of course! Spanning 30 feet, the display features more than 350 cheeses, many of which are aged on-site in caves below the store. Kevin arrived with a list of ideas from our food editors, but there were still decisions to be made -- flavorful, decadent, and sometimes stinky decisions.
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Not sure what you're looking for? Don’t be afraid to ask for opinions or information -- like with wine, the enjoyment of cheese can be as casual or as nuanced as you’d like. Shoot for a range of tastes, textures, appearances, and milks (that’s sheep's, cow's, goat's, and even water buffalo's). A good host should also be a good guide, so Kevin took full advantage of Murray’s liberal sampling policy.
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Truth or Dairy
Before digging in, Kevin got a lesson on slicing and serving from one of the Murray’s cheese whisperers. Notice how she holds the knife at an angle to get a clean edge. For hard cheeses, precutting spares guests the task of unwieldy knife work. Go light on quantity for maximum freshness -- you can always pop off to the kitchen and cut more once the platter clears.
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Tempted though you may be to go all out for company, stick with three to five different cheeses -- fewer than that can look skimpy, but more might overwhelm guests and hinder their ability to savor the flavor of each. A good rule of thumb is to purchase one ounce of each cheese per person. If cheese is the only thing on the menu, get a bit more.
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Cheese should be stored cold, but served at room temperature. To keep it funky in only the right way, use a cooler for transit and refrigerate your purchase upon arriving home. Set out an hour before serving. If you’re lucky enough to have leftovers, the next steps are up to you -- soft cheese will keep in the fridge several days, hard cheese several weeks, and both can be frozen for several months.
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A fun cheese fact that nearly threw a wrench in our plans? Like fruits and veggies, cheeses have seasons -- meaning not all types are available year-round. “Goats and sheep tend to mate in the fall and stop milking during the winter,” explains the Murray’s website. “Cows can produce milk at any time, but the early spring and fall milk, when cows munch on grasses and flowers, is considered the most flavorful.” Fortunately, a good jam or preserves will keep for considerably longer.
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Of course, your thoughtful spread deserves more than any old plate. A slate board like the one shown here brings a charmingly rustic contrast. Give each cheese its own knife for serving, and by all means, pull in accessories -- crackers, bread, fruit, nuts, meat, pickles, jams, and more. We’ve got just the pairings to get your party started.
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Upon arriving at Murray's, the first thing to do is take a number. As curious creatives, counter service is just the type of engaging exchange we love -- but if you opt to order delivery, you can skip the (sometimes outrageous) line. Murray’s will ship fresh to doorsteps in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, giving you more time to prepare a posh appetizer spread.
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With a whole galaxy of cheeses to explore, you'd be remiss to settle for the same old supermarket cheddar. Whether your palate prefers a triple creme Brie or a pungent Roquefort, we challenge you to order up an unfamiliar offering -- if only at the sample counter.