Cheese, Please!

cheeseWe sent our new intern Haley Hamilton off on a tough assignment — to explore Murray’s cheese shop at the Bellevue Village QFC in search of tips for picking the right cheese. Here is her report.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the variety of cheeses displayed at the Murray’s cheese shop at the Bellevue Village QFC, but with the guidance of certified cheese expert, Marie Smith, I was able to score some helpful tips that will be sure to make your next holiday party a success.

With a warm smile, Smith giddily begins by showing me her favorite type of cheese. A Murray’s French morbier made with raw milk (which simply means it’s made using unpasteurized milk to keep a full flavor in the cheese.)

Born in the Philippines, Smith laments that growing up, cheddar was the only type of cheese she knew. When she moved state side her love of cheese blossomed while she spent 17 years as a deli market manager before coming over to QFC. After an in-depth training in New York, where the original Murray’s cheese shop opened in 1940, Smith is proud to share her knowledge with all costumers who come through the store.

Leading me away from the morbier, Smith begins to rattle off questions about the kind of party we want to throw. Asked first is how many people are attending and what part the cheese is going to be served in the meal. We decide to plan an appetizer for 8 people.

“We recommend 1 oz. per person for each cheese and for an appetizer, it’s easiest to stick to 3 types of cheeses.” Smith says. That way, the cheeses don’t have to compete for attention.

Smith suggests you serve your cheese at room temperature. She says it can depend on the type of cheese, but the safest bet is to take your cheese out an hour before guests arrive to insure you’ll get the full taste of the cheese.

As Smith guides me through the different cheeses, she stops and shows me a few local picks. She points out a tasty brie from Rivers Edge, an Oregon creamery, and also points out two young cheeses from Washington’s Mt. Townsend Creamery: the Seastack and the Cirrus. Smith warns that these washed rind cheeses may come off as stinky, but taste delicious.

Smith recommends you always smell your cheese first. That action will help you get the full sense of the flavor of the cheese and enhances the taste, much like how you smell a good wine first.

Not wanting to forget some of the harder cheeses, Smith leads me over to 2 Sisters Isabella Gouda and the cheese shop’s best seller, the Bourbon Bellavitano.

Smith informs me that all the cheese experts have their favorites, but always take into consideration what the costumer wants. For example a lot of people are put off by bleu cheese. She picks up a wedge of Murray’s Cambozola Black label. “I call this a starter to bleu cheese. It’s creamy and brie like so it’s not as scary.”

I like bleu cheese, so Smith guides me over to display of natural honey. Sheexplains how a dab of honey on any bleu cheese really complements the flavor and suggests a jar of Oregon Grower’s & Shippers raw Wild Blackberry honey.

For brie, Smith says a good go-to is a fig spread or if you want a tapas feel, try Mitica Spanish figs alongside the cheese.

Located next to the cheeses are a variety of pairings for between cheese bites. Including the Spanish figs, Smith recommends California dried bing cherries and Washington’s Freddy Guys dry roasted hazelnuts.

For crackers, Smith picks up Effie’s oatcake crackers. “Oh these are great for bleu cheeses and brie,” says Smith, “but in general, I always recommend thin crackers, after all you want to taste the cheese not the cracker.”

Smith also notes that olives are a must with any cheese plate and the Murray’s cheese counter has a wide selection of olives to choose from. “They go well with cheese and more importantly with your Martini,” she says.

That last comment led us to everyone’s favorite cheese pairing: wine. Smith excitedly takes me over to the vast wine selection at QFC. When I try to get her to pin down specific wines for specific cheeses, Smith shakes her head and tells me the best wine for cheese is your favorite wine.

Her favorite is Nelms Road, a full-bodied merlot made by Washington state winery Woodward Canyon. She also enjoys Chateau Ste. Michelle’s merlot, anything by Mark Ryan winery, a red blend called “Night Owl” by aMaurice. Smill believes Washington wines offer you more for your dollar.

Smith tells me that they make cheese paper to store left over cheese in or you can use wax paper. Which would be a useful tip if I ever have left over cheese (I won’t). But I thank Smith for all her help and armed with my new knowledge I ask her if she has anything else I should know for my future cheese ventures. She thinks for a moment and tells me, “Go to the wild side. Try something new, oh and of course, enjoy!”

You can find Murray’s cheese counters at QFC and Fred Meyer stores in Bellevue, Issaquah, Redmond and other cities throughout the Puget Sound.

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