My favorite place to get cheese is Murray's Cheese on Bleecker. It is the most magical place ever--incredible descriptions of the cheese, a mind boggling array of cheeses, sandwiches, meats, and the smell is intoxicating!
The best part of being the person who buys the cheese is tasting them before you buy them. There are a few cheeses that are sold individually as squares or pucks that you can't taste, but that's part of the adventure, non? Gouda, cheddar, parmesean--soooo passé. I want to buy only the cheeses that I have never tried before and that my guests have never tried. One should bear in mind, however, that some palates can be...unsophisticated...close minded...? Is there a kinder word for the unadventurous? In any case, I bought the cheese for a cheese party a couple years ago and I went to Murray's and bought a bunch of unknown cheeses and by the end of the evening, everyone only tried each cheese once and that was it. I was stuck with the rest of the cheese plate with no one else to help me eat it, not that's a bad thing, but, you know, too much of a good thing... Anyways, lesson kind of learned because some of my cheeses had more left over than I would have liked, even though I tried to buy more accessible and less stinky/crazy cheeses. I guess you can't please everyone. A good guideline for buying cheese for a cheese plate is "something old, something new, something stink and something blue":
Here's a breakdown of what I bought and the Murray's description:
Ewephoria Sheep Milk Gouda
The punny name that only makes sense in English should give it away: this cheese was invented for the American market's infamous sweet tooth. Presumptuous--if only the butterscotch sweet, nutty result wasn't so gosh darn successful. And there's an upside to a focused market: the single producer of pasteurized milk is much smaller than most export sources--the farmer's wife posits that the sheep eat better than her children on lush pasture surrounded by a nature preserve. The crunchy stuff makes a blissful snack with drinks like Sherry or Porter and is delicious melted on pies or dessert breads.
From the great wine region of Piedmont comes La Tur: a dense, creamy blend of pasteurized cow, goat and sheep milk. Runny and oozing around the perimeter with a moist, cakey, palette-coating paste, its flavor is earthy and full with a lingering lactic tang. the effect is like ice cream served from a warm scoop: decadent and melting from the outside in. An ideal regional paring would be sparkling Asti Spumante; effervescence will whisk away the richness while matching the mild acidity. We recommend you get back-up: La Tur is always the first to go at a party.
Pont l'Eveque Tradition
These plump and rosy tiles have been toted by townspeople in Normandy since the 12th century. The cool, misty climate is the perfect setting for the robust, often pungent flavor of this brine-washed cow's milk cheese. These are pasteurized for export, but you won't miss any of the authentic complexity or charm: a skillful adaptation of the recipe, using carefully blended cultures, has retained both. Slice up with apples for a restorative snack or smear on dark bread with cider or Calvados for an after dinner treat.
Fourme d'Ambert, Affinage
Raw cow's milk is gathered from the Auvergne region of France to create this signature "fourme" or "tall cylinder" of mild blue cheese. You won't find the metallic punch of Roquefort here due to the difference in cultures: Penecillum roqueforti is the namesake mold that causes bite and spice, whereas d'Ambert is laced with P. glaucum--more often found in Italy's balanced, creamy Gorgonzolas. The result is a rich, velvety treat that will win over blue-weary guests with its gentle, earthy pungency and relative sweetness. One of the few blues suitable for lighter reds. Aged by Herve Mons outside of Roanne.
The favorites of the evening were La Tur (they're not kidding when they say it's like ice cream. Serve it up with some baguette and brace yourself) and Ewephoria (Gouda--reliable, creamy, tasty). I especially liked Fourme d'Ambert and La Tur. Pont l'Eveque is good, mild--not as stinky as I thought it would be...sadly..--but the rind is too thick and it's better cut off. It's also good for melting. Trying to finish it off these past few days, I found it particularly fun/tasty to put a little slice on a piece of baguette and nuke it for a few seconds so it gets all melted and the you can taste the flavor better too. Fourme d'Ambert (the poor thing wasn't finished at the party) the blue--I have been putting it on my sandwiches: baguette spread with homemade mayo, spread on some of the cheese, mixed greens, a slice of black forest ham and it is quite excellent, if I do say so myself.
I hope this has inspired you to try some not your run of the mill cheeses!