With the exception of the dreaded Philadelphia roll, cheese and sushi are not usually mentioned in the same sentence, nor should they be. Leave it to Rachel Freier, cheese monger extraordinaire, of Murray’s Cheese Bar to link the two by creating a whimsical yet elegant cheese roll that owes as much to France as it does Japan. It’s part of The Monger’s Table—a new 10-course cheese dinner—an omakaise if you will, that Murray’s is rolling out this month. Not only is it an educational and gustatory journey into the world of cheese, it’s one of the more unusual tasting menus around.
Like many a tasting menu, The Monger’s Table begins with an amuse bouche, in this case a liquid one, a milk punch made with chamomile, sweet vermouth, and some hay from Vermont’s Jasper Hill Farm. “We went to Jasper Hill and sat on a hay bale inside a hay dryer just licking the air it smelled so good,” Freier recalled taking note that its fresh grass and hay that makes the creamery’s cheeses taste so good. I couldn’t help thinking of Sushi Nakazawa’s omakase as I inhaled the aroma of fresh hay. Next up was a dish called Salting the Curd that featured squeaky fresh curds, along with fried ones, which proved a good entry point for discussing cheese making.
“My take on a goat cheese salad,” is how Freier describes the cheese roll course, which features St. Maure, a bloomy rind goat cheese from the Loire Valley that Murray’s coats with ash in its caves to help it ripen. “Traditionally they’d use all kinds of different ashes. That’s one of things that people fear the most. They’re like, ‘Why is that cheese black.’”
The tangy cheese sits atop a shiso leaf and is served with a vinaigrette made from ash, pickled cherries, and honey. Rounding out the presentation are edible apple blossoms and pea wasabi. “You don’t have to eat with your chopsticks you can eat with your hands,” Freier notes as she presents the pairing, a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc.
Next up: a pair of cheese ravioli. You might ask, “What’ so unusual about that?” These are literally ravioli made of cheese, cool squares of mozzarella, filled with tomato sauce, garlic and basil. Paired with a Lambrusco, it’s the wittiest take on insalata Caprese to ever be served on Bleecker Street.
The next course was inspired by a question cheese mongers are asked on a daily basis, it’s one I’ve asked, and even answered as my own cheese knowledge has grown: “Can I eat the rind?” Freier’s answer in this case is an emphatic yes in the form of a spin on the classic frisée aux lardons.
Tiny cubes of rind—Spring Brook Reading raclette, a raw milk cheese from Vermont, and Hollander, a sheeps milk cheese from the French Pyrenees—make a fine substitute for bacon. “Sometimes it tastes like vegetarian bacon to me,” Freier notes. Along with the mushrooms and quail egg it all made for a lovely midcourse.
“The only thing European soldiers could take with them was cheese because cheese never spoiled,” Freier said as she introduced the next course: Soldiers in the Alps, a take on that old 1970s dinner party warhorse, fondue. “They didn’t have access to meat. Cheese actually sustained soldiers.” I’d be more than happy to have Murray’s Alpine fondue of Etivaz, Vacherin Fribourgeois and French raclette sustain me through the winter.
A shot of whey mixed with apple, ginger, and spinach served as a healthy palate cleanser and then it was time for the next course: Sunday Roast. The star of the mini pot pie? Ardrahan, a washed-rind cows milk cheese from Ireland. Pungent washed rind cheeses are misunderstood, the monger pointed out. “What we try to explain to people is they’re not stinky. They may be meaty and brothy,” Freier said as she presented the pairing, a glass of Bordeaux.
Soon it was time for dessert, a Norwegian take on the classic French tarte tatin, featuring gjetost. “You would think it was a big block of caramel candy,” Freier says of Norway’s national cheese, which is made from cooked down goat milk cream and whey. The combination of the apples, crust and slightly grainy gjetost was simply lovely. Freier paired it with the exquisite Eden ice cider.
“One of my babies in the cheese program is the Stilton ice cream,” Freier said as she set down the last course: a chocolate bon bon filled with blue cheese ice cream. It was an unusually delicious ending to one of the more unusual tasting menus I’ve ever tried.
The Monger’s Table at Murray’s Cheese Bar has two seatings, 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. every Tuesday. The 1.5 hour tasting is $75 without beverage pairing and $105 with. The next one takes place on January 19th. To reserve a spot click here.
Murray’s Cheese Bar, 264 Bleecker Street, 646-476-8882