Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Nothing Too Cheesy about Cheese

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her weekly column in the Norwood Transcript & Bulletin.
I’m lucky that my youngest daughter works in Manhattan. I’m lucky enough to have another wonderful reason to visit one of my favorite cities and several times a year.

My shopping excursions in New York City always include a trip to the West Village and Murray’s Cheese Shop on Bleeker Street. Murray’s is a cheese lover’s Mecca. The store sits over a subterranean cheese cave where experts (or the French word, “fromageres”) are creating, checking, aging and storing cheese. (You can arrange for tours and classes at Murray’s and you can also visit their Grand Central Station store.)

A visit to Murray’s can’t be quick and there are several reasons why. A crowd of customers swarm in a relatively small space and there is nearly always a line at the cashier. The main reason, though, is that you need to take your time. Choosing and tasting a cheese or two or three can never be rushed.

Murray’s cheesemongers, or those who sell and advise about cheese, stand behind the cases and listen intently. You won’t find an impatient store clerk at Murray’s. Each of them will good-naturedly ask you if you like your cheese crumbly or soft, punchy or mild, firm or buttery. An example might be a choice between twenty odd blue cheeses which range from American Black River or Irish Cashel Blue.
Only after you are satisfied with a type and taste do you leave the cheese counter at Murray’s. On your way to the door you can choose olives, fruit, jams and crackers as perfect companions for your cheese.

On one my trips to Murray’s this year I picked up a 30-Minute Mozzarella Kit. We’ve been making fresh mozzarella every week in our house and there is nothing like it. Don’t plan on a rubbery chunk of grating cheese if you are making it fresh. This mozzarella is soft but sliceable and it also melts in your mouth. It will lose its shape within days, however, so it needs to be eaten on a regular basis. In the summer it melts yummingly over fresh garden tomatoes and basil when left to sit at room temperature. In the winter it can be baked on top of mushrooms or added to your favorite Italian dish. Homemade mozzarella is buttery, soft and sweet.

In “The Cheese Lover’s Companion: The Ultimate A-to-Z Cheese Guide” (2007), author Sharon Tyler Herbst explains that mozzarella was traditionally made from water buffalo’s milk and the cheese originated in southern Italy. Of course, immigrants from Naples and Rome did not find water buffalo milk plentiful in the United States but mozzarella made from cow’s milk became very popular in the US and has been known as “pizza cheese”. Herbst’s book contains over 1000 listings for cheese and even includes a pronunciation guide.

“The Cheese Bible” by Christian Teubner is coffee-table sized and includes hundreds of photographs, encyclopedic entries and recipes. I was given the book as a gift from my husband last Christmas and I searched for a copy for our library. It is a wonderful sourcebook. Another recent addition to the Morrill Memorial Library’s collection is the “World Cheese Book” edited by Juliet Harbutt. She includes tasting notes and suggestions for how to enjoy 750 cheeses.

“The Murray’s Cheese Handbook” written by Rob Kaufelt (owner of Murray’s Cheese) includes a description of my favorite blue cheese, Great Hill Blue, made nearby in Marion, MA. (You can get it locally in the gourmet cheese sections of the large supermarkets.) Try it topped with warmed fig jam on crackers. You’ll have a brand-new appreciation for blue cheese but be careful because it is addictive.

Love of cheese has turned many “cheese enthusiasts” into cheese makers. “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” (2010) is Gordon Edgar’s started out not knowing much about cheese (other than that people loved and would pay dearly for it.) He became an expert, selling it in a cooperative grocery in San Francisco. “The Cheese Chronicles: A Journey Through the Making and Selling of Cheese in America, from Field to Farm to Table” (2009) by Liz Thorpe is another definitive source and it is also enlightening and fun to read. Thorpe is second in command at, you guessed it, Murray’s Cheese in NYC.

A very funny read is “Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese” (2010) by Eric LeMay. LeMay and his girlfriend, Chuck, traveled the world appreciating cheese including fondue and Parisian chic. LeMay also includes explanations of the slang term, cheesy, which slowed up in the 19th Century to mean something “less than the best” or even “cheap” and “nasty.” Today it is used to mean “tacky” or “corny” among other things.

If you enjoy non-fiction, you’ll also like “The Year of the Goat”. Author Margaret Hathaway and photographer Karl Schatz leave the big-city behind and travel 40,000 miles across the United States in a “quest for the perfect goat cheese.”

Perhaps you’d like to try your hand at cheese making like me. Start with the simple recipes and borrow Ricky Carroll’s “Home Cheese Making” with instructions for delicious mozzarella and ricotta. (Carroll, or the Cheese Queen, lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches cheese making in day or weekend workshops in Ashfield. She also produces the kit that I bought in NY City.) Other great instructional books are “The Joy of Cheesemaking” by Jody Farnham and Marc Druart (2011), “Making Artisan Cheese” (2005) by Tim Smith and “The Complete Guide to making Cheese, Butter and Yogurt At Home” (2010) by Richard Helweg. Yogurt is another very easy and delicious dairy product that doesn’t have to be purchased at the grocery store but can be made daily or weekly at home.

For help searching in the Minuteman catalog for these titles or for placing requests for all library materials please visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the Reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website,