Our friends at Murray’s Cheese agreed to chat with us about eating their way through Europe. Thank you Murray’s for your thoughts on tasty cheeses in France and Italy, savory meats in Spain and tips on local cheeses for times when you’re staying closer to home.
IF YOU’RE HEADING TO FRANCE, WHERE IS A GREAT PLACE TO FEAST ON CHEESE?
On any list of notable food regions, the Loire Valley is bound to be somewhere near the top. This 170 mile-long stretch of Central France is known well by wine lovers, as the nutrient rich soil makes way for grapes to grow with a characteristic fruity, fresh flavor. In addition to gaining fame from the wine produced there, the Loire Valley is also thought of as a hub for culture and history thanks to the stunning architecture and old world villages. And of course, there’s the cheese…
When cheese mongers hear Loire Valley they’re thinking one thing: goat cheese. That’s because the region is known, not only for its world class wines and culture, but also its fresh and creamy goat’s milk cheeses. The story goes that when the Arabs were defeated at the famous Battle of Tours in 732 by Charles Martel, the grandfather of Charlemagne, they left their goats in this region. Regardless of what brought these goats to town, we’re glad they stayed. A great reason for this is Valencay, one of the most well-known cheeses coming out of Loire, specifically the Berry province. Valencay is a pyramid-shaped wheel of cheese that’s coated with a thin layer of charcoal to help the aging process. The texture is soft and crumbly with a bright and tangy flavor.
WHAT ABOUT ITALY?
Think, for a second, about the cheeses that you have in your fridge on a daily basis. If you’re anything like us, there is always a heaping chunk of Parm squirreled away somewhere, waiting to be grated over pasta. Or maybe you break out a block to slice and snack on with a glass of red wine. Either way, you’re probably wondering where this cheese came from. And honestly, Parma in the northern region of Italy is so much more than its golden wheels. The name Parma is synonymous with so many culinary masterpieces – Parmigiano Reggiano, Parma ham and by extension Prosciutto di Parma, even barrels and barrels of Lambrusco wine.
Any cheese monger worth their salt knows that our favorite aspects of Parma have a symbiotic relationship, and it’s been this way for centuries. Dating all the way back to the Middle Ages, Parmigiano Reggiano has maintained basically the same recipe and production – a testament to both how delicious this cheese is and how beloved it is by its hometown. Tied into the process is the production of Prosciutto di Parma, their fates tangled together in a delicious Italian cuisine web. Whey leftover from making the Parmigiano is traditionally fed to the pigs that will eventually become Parma ham. This diet adds a distinct nuttiness to the meat – reminiscent of the delicious cheese it is often paired with after both are aged for about a year or so. There are few places in Parma that don’t highlight this partnership, so when you visit, settle down in any restaurant and feast like the locals do.
AND THOUGHTS ON SPAIN?
With shores that border the Mediterranean Sea, the Iberian Peninsula is a stretch of land that encompasses both Spain and Portugal, but its food history is not to be missed. It’s in the Holm oak forests that some of the best meat and cheeses from Europe emerge from – if it has the name ‘Iberico’, you’ll want to eat it. But what is it about this region that makes everything so delicious? Well, tradition and terroir (that taste of place that cannot be denied) are the simple answers, but a lot of it has to do with the pigs.
Pigs? That might not sound like the most unique thing, but when you have Black Iberian pigs that are local to your land, you realize how much potential there is for your food. Their existence is deeply rooted in the Holm oak forests that border the Mediterranean shores, having adapted to the pastoral setting where the land is rich with (delicious) resources. These little porkers forage for and feast on roots, berries, and most importantly, acorns, as they roam the forests for most of their lives. Happy, well-fed pigs mean delicious meat. From spicy, piquant Chorizo Iberico, to robust and nutty Iberico Paleta, to the earthy sweetness of Iberica de Bellota, there is nothing quite like these Iberico meats.
WHAT ABOUT GREAT CHEESES CLOSER TO HOME?
If you’re a cheese lover then you know that we’re living in an exciting time where we don’t have to travel too far for a memorable cheese-sperience. If your love has advanced into cheese obsession (welcome to the club) then you know that while Wisconsin has long been considered the cheese capital of America, these days Vermont is coming to steal that title.
Vermont’s rolling hills and stunning greenery set the scene for some incredible cheesemaking, especially in the Northern Kingdom town of Greensboro where cheese powerhouse, Jasper Hill Farms is crafting wheels of deliciousness on a level that the world has never seen. Not only does Jasper Hill have their own herds of cows and whey-fed pigs, but their expanding operation also includes a creamery, their own cellars, a lab, and a cropping center where they are the only farmers in the country using solar power to dry their own hay in order to maintain the plant’s nutrients and nourish their cows with the highest quality food.
Aside from catching a sunset over Lake Caspian, the calming body of water in the middle of town, you simply can’t leave Greensboro without tasting some of Jasper Hill’s creations. Lucky for us, it’s hard to find a business that sells food in Greensboro that doesn’t carry a selection of their cheeses. Some of Jasper Hill’s most famous pieces of milk mastery include Bayley Hazen Blue: a sweet and salty blue cheese, Winnimere: a funky, bark-wrapped dreamboat that took home Best In Show at the 2013 American Cheese Society Awards, and Cabot Clothbound Cheddar: a flavorful classic with notes of onion and walnut that’s also claimed a blue ribbon at the ACS awards.
NOTED AND THANK YOU MURRAY’S!