Murray's Cheese: All that?
At the end of my recent trip, we stopped by Murray's to stock up on cheese for the trip home. I was not adventurous, and asked the cheese guy for his best examples of a gruyere and manchego. I also picked an aged gouda off the counter. Each of these cheeses bored me and were IMHO not as good as the ones I get at Whole Foods here in SC, and certainly not as good as what I've bought at D&D in the past. Only the aged goat the clerk picked for me (that I promptly forgot the name of) was excellent.
I've been to Murray's before, but at that time I got all cheeses I was unfamiliar with, so I really can't say how they compared.
So, did I just have an "off" day? Is Murray's the best cheese in Manhattan as I've been led to believe? Or is it for tourists (like me)?
In keeping with the American theme from Saxelby's, I have been buying most of my cheese from Valley Sheepherd Creamery at the Tribeca Farmer's Market on Saturdays... they're also up in Union Square and a number of other locations (just google). The cheeses are predominantly sheep's milk, although some are blended with cow milk. Many interesting varieties and flavors and different aging techniques, etc. They are not cheap ($20-25/lb), but the quality is high and its supporting a small, local outfit (NJ-based, about 1 hour outside the city). This stuff is legit.
I have a major problem with Murray's. It was over-priced even in it's heyday, when it was on Cornelia. That said, I ate so much Brie & Reggiano out of that place, I should've owned shares in the concern. In its present incarnation it is really a mess. I got bocconcini there once that were definitely off. The rather effete guy, who is the queen bee, I guess,of the counter, tried to convince me it tasted sour because lemon was used in the mozzarella's olive oil. I grew up eating mozzarella and it was definitely over its good date. I think he's so used to deer-in-the-headlight newbies that he thought he could make that story fly. I finally found the manager, who apologized and refunded the cheese's price. I go there for Amy's bread, because Amy's a door or so away is usually too crowded. I like the European and farm butters they have, but the pricing is really onerous. I'd much rather patronize Faicco's as it's less posh and more a true fixture of the neighborhood. The paninis are such a rip, I'm sorry, but they look scary and crusty and, even so, cost a small fortune. I think it is now mostly the domain of the tour buses, the denizens of which go in for tastes of cheese. I buy my Reggiano elsewhere for less, I buy my olive oil elsewhere for less. Almost all the brands there can be found at Citarella or even Jefferson Market for less. The cold cuts are not good. Once Faicco's was on vacation and I got some prosciutto or salami at Murray's, (for a lot more than Faicco's charges), and it was very blah. I do have a weakness for some of the sodas they stock, and weaken occasionally and pay them their price for a custom brew root beer or cherry soda.
I have the same feeling as SROF. Sometimes I found fantastic cheese at Murrays, but there are also times where I thought I paid too much on some mediocre cheese there. I used to love Murrays but with more and more artisan cheeses available in gourmet food stores, Murrays seems to have lost its appeal to me.
danna, it is funny that you mentioned the aged gouda at Murrays because this is one of the few cheeses that WF actually beats Murrays. The 5 year old aged gouda (and I bet it is longer than 5 year old... as it must have been sitting there for more than a year...) is definitely much better than Murrays' aged gouda. In fact I have yet to find an aged gouda better than WF's.
I've had mixed experiences at Murrays, mostly good but enough mediocre to cause me to sample every cheese before I buy from them - even if it's something I've been buying from them for years.
I agree with MMRuth (which seems to be happening a lot lately) on her recommendation of Artisanal. At the back of the bustling restaurant is a cheese counter which is absolute heaven. It's expensive, but if you're in from out of town and want to bring home cheese Artisanal is the place to go.
Anyone who, like me, used to shop at Murray's years ago when it was on the north side of Bleecker bemoans the fancy shmancy place it has turned into (sort of like the transformation Barney's went through). I also love Ideal cheese and Zabar's for cheese -real stores for real people rather than a food museum.
I wouldn't say it's for tourists, but I think one of the better places is Ideal Cheese. I also likes Saxelby's in the Essex Market - all American cheeses, as well as Il Fromaggio (sp?) in Essex Market. I find the WF cheese here very expensive and not so well stored, even at the one with a "special" cheese room. Artisanal is also wonderful, but also expensive. I do buy a lot of cheese at Murray's though, in part because I like to shop on that stretch of Bleecker St. I have found that when I've bought cheese on sale there, it's often been past it's prime.
I'm going to second MMRuth on Saxelby's (and pretty much everything else she says on these boards!). You won't get Gruyere or Manchego at Saxelby, of course, but the leaps and bounds American cheeses have made in the past decade alone are amazing. It's no longer necessary to say "pretty good for American cheese." IN addition to great cheese, what makes Saxelby SO much better than Murray's are the two people who work there--kind, generous, knowledgeable. Heck, they guy who works there is French, which tells you how great American cheese can be--it's converting the French. It's easily the best cheese shop in Manhattan, even if it doesn't have the largest selection.
Other places to go:
Union Square for Cato Corner (cow) and 3 Corner Fields (sheep)--cheeses that can stand shoulder to shoulder with European cheeses.
Tompkins Square Park for Consider Bardwell cheese.
Get your Manchego and other spanish cheeses at Despana.
Italian cheeses at DiPalo