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Hooked on Cheese: Interview with Murray's Rob Kaufelt

Hooked on Cheese: Interview with Murray's Rob Kaufelt

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In this week’s Hooked on Cheese column, we interview Rob Kaufelt, the owner of New York’s oldest cheese shop: the inimitable Murray’s Cheese. A third-generation grocer, Rob ran his family's supermarket chain through the 1980s. He moved to Greenwich Village in 1990 and has been at the helm of Murray’s ever since.

Murray’s has flagship stores on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village and in Grand Central Terminal, but they also now have an online business and an ever-expanding partnership with Kroger, where Murray’s Cheese kiosks can currently be found at more than one hundred stores nationwide.

Rob is a frequent author and educator on cheese and specialty foods, and wrote The Murray’s Cheese Handbook in 2006. He divides his time between SoHo and his beloved farmhouse in Stockton, New Jersey with his wife and their three children.

Raymond Hook: First of all: who is Murray? People must often assume that you are.
Rob Kaufelt:
Murray is – or was – Murray Greenberg, who founded the shop in 1940 as a wholesale butter and egg shop, back when they had such things in New York City. His widow told me (he died before I got to town) that he was an immigrant, a refugee from Eastern Europe who fought on the communist side in the Spanish Civil War. When he arrived in New York he became a capitalist and he'd buy cheese for cash and pay from a roll of bills he kept in his pocket.

RH: Your family comes from the conventional grocery business; how and when did you transfer into specialty cheese?
I always liked good food, and I thought mom and pops were cool; even my grandfather had a grocery store back in the day (in the 1920s, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. He was an immigrant, too). I left the grocery business to open what I hoped would be a small group of gourmet stores (full-service specialty food shops) and opened a pair in Summit and Princeton, New Jersey. Times were tough but I learned plenty, and cheese was one of my passions.

RH: You've now brought Murray's kiosks into Kroger stores all over the country – well over one hundred right now. Tell us a little about your decision to shift from simply helming an intimate cheese shop on Bleecker Street to making great cheese available nationwide.
The small thing is great, and so is the larger thing; the one being intimate and hands-on, the other good fun because it brings good cheese to the communities the Kroger markets serve across the country (excepting the Northeast, where they have no stores yet) and in the process creates a whole new career path for those interested in fine cheese.

RH: Where's the weirdest, wildest, strangest place you've been compelled to go to seek out the maker of an incredible cheese you've tasted?
A yak cheese was once brought to me in New York, and I tasted a camel cheese at the Salone di Gusto once in Torino.

RH: You have a lot of fantastic coworkers who are all incredibly knowledgeable. Can you tell me a little bit about Frank Meilak? He's been at Murray's longer than you have!
Frank was the original winner of the Best Monger in New York title in New York Magazine almost twenty years ago. He represented the United States in the International Monger Invitational in Lyons, France twice. But he started as a delivery boy at Murray's before I bought it, a local kid, son of Maltese immigrants – his father was a building supervisor nearby in the Village. After college, instead of a "suitable" job, he stayed with Murray's as a monger, then as store manager and finally now as a Vice President. He is the most loved member of all my staff.

RH: I know you're a family man with young kids. What types of cheeses do you keep in the fridge for them? Follow up: what types of cheeses do you keep in the fridge for yourself?
These are the cheeses in the fridge right now: Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh mozzarella, Montgomery cheddar, Irish cheddar, Cambozola black, grana padano and Ben's Cream Cheese.

RH: What do you see as the next great trend in cheese?
Cheese cooked as comfort foods; cheese to eat as a grab-and-go in airports and such; better versions of cheeses scorned, such as Muenster (American), pepper jack, Havarti; more cheese shops; more artisan cheese makers; more dairy farmers making dairy (yogurts, puddings, etc.); more great makers growing to medium-size from small; more mediocre cheese sold simply because it is local somewhere; the growing up of the American Cheese Society and the world of cheese we've been living in since its toddler years.

RH: When people come to your home, what is the perfect cheese plate you serve?
There is no such thing. My wife would have to answer that, anyway, as she shops most of the time in order to have the experience of the mongers, so the real answer is: whatever the mongers recommend. Typically, a soft or washed rind; often a goat cheese; often a blue; and usually something aged in our caves exclusively.

RH: How many times a week do you eat cheese?
Daily. I do like a bit of cheese and a bite of apple or pear after dinner.

RH: What are your passions in life OTHER than cheese? While running such a large business, how do you find time for them?
My passions are my wife and family; life at the farm; riding around the back roads in an old caddy convertible; writing songs on my guitar; reading and writing; hanging out in downtown New York; getting my tired ass to the gym; teaching my young staff; and I've just discovered Game of Thrones and the new Sherlock.

Tamasin's love feast turns sour

They had all the ingredients for a perfect relationship - she was a successful TV chef and food writer while he ran two upmarket delicatessens.

So when the striking Tamasin Day-Lewis, daughter of the late Poet Laureate Cecil and sister of Hollywood actor Daniel, first met handsome New Yorker Rob Kaufelt at a food fair in Ireland, the attraction was instant.

Indeed, as the couple's relationship blossomed, Tamasin decided to devote her latest book - the best- selling Where Shall We Go For Dinner? A Food Romance - to their love affair.

That Tamasin was besotted with Kaufelt, there is no doubt.

Calling him 'irresistible', she writes: 'Crazy as it may seem, I remember thinking just one irrational thought: "My whole life has changed" as he fixed his megawatt stare full-beam on me.'

Alas, just weeks after the book was published last month, I can reveal there is a twist to the affair that leaves a bitter taste - Somerset-based Tamasin and Kaufelt's love is no more.

Indeed, Kaufelt has returned to his native New York to run his cheese shops and is living with fellow American Nina Planck, who has recently given birth to his first child, a son called Julian.

"There was a great deal of love on both sides, but sometimes there are just other things which get in the way," Kaufelt tells me.

"It is hard to have a sustained relationship between two people who come from two such different worlds and live so far away from each other - she in Somerset and me in New York."

All this is a far cry from how mother-of-three Tamasin, 54, who is separated from her husband, former Antiques Roadshow supremo John Shearer, describes her "mutual passion" with Kaufelt, 60, as she charts their simmering romance following their first meeting five years ago.

Highlights of their travels included a trip to Italy - where they celebrated Kaufelt's 59th birthday in Venice - as well as gastronomic tours of Lyons and Gascony in France, not to mention holidays in Ireland and visits to Tamasin's Somerset home.

Adds a friend of Kaufelt's: "He looks a good 20 years younger than he is and Nina is only in her 30s. He is charming and a lovely guy. It is no wonder Tamasin fell for him."

Haslam closes the book on his tales

For more than four decades he has been the favourite party guest of every hostess. So when man-about-town Nicky Haslam decided to write his memoirs, publishers were clamouring to secure his signature.

The manuscript was snapped up by Weidenfeld, where insiders tell me the book is a "brilliant" account of London life written with "great style". And although it only goes up to the late Sixties, the publishers believed they had a potential bestseller on their hands.

Now, I hear, interior designer and decorator Haslam, 68, has had second thoughts and plans to buy out his contract.

"Nicky is prepared to repay his advance, which is in five figures, in order to get the manuscript back," says a friend. "Most of the people he's written about are dead so he's decided to bring it up to date by including the past 40 years or so."

Although wittily waspish in private, the Old Etonian style guru insists he is not a "James Lees-Milne-style" diarist and that his book is an affectionate look at the personalities he has known.

A Weidenfeld figure tells me: "Someone is going to pick up a very good book, but it isn't going to be us."

After landing the role of head girl in the St Trinian's remake while at RADA, starlet Gemma Arterton is graduating to another British institution - James Bond.

For I can reveal Gemma, 21, has been picked to star next to Daniel Craig in his second outing as 007.

Gemma learned of her success only this week and has been sworn to secrecy until the cast is declared later this month. Says a source at Bond-makers Eon Productions: "Gemma has the modern look and fits perfectly with the new vulnerable image of Bond."

The movie is described as a direct continuation of Craig's first Bond film, Casino Royale. Filming is due to start next month with shoots set up in Italy, Austria and Panama.

The role crowns a remarkable year for Gemma - as well as St Trinian's, she has also starred in Love's Labour's Lost at The Globe.

"It's the kind of thing you dream about when you are starting out," she said at the time. "I hope it proves I'm a versatile actress."

Future political historians will search in vain for the Formica-topped cafe table where John Major sought nourishment before and after his illicit liaisons with Edwina Currie.

Tevere, the former Tory PM's favourite greasy spoon in Great Peter Street, has closed after more than 70 years of serving politicians and civil servants as well as clergy from nearby Westminster Abbey.

A regular haunt of former Cabinet minister Jonathan Aitken, Conservative frontbencher Alan Duncan and Tory fundraiser Lord Ashcroft, it also played host to such diverse figures as Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams and politician-turned-TV personality Michael Portillo.

Facing a four-fold increase in rent, Tevere served its last fry-up on Tuesday.

Has James cracked it?

Olympic oarsman James Cracknell admits his "Boys Own" adventures with fellow pretty boy Ben Fogle have been tough on their wives.

But after reluctantly supporting their husbands' seafaring challenge to row the Atlantic, TV presenter Beverley Turner and Ben's party organiser wife Marina have at least been consulted about their planned epic trek to the South Pole next year.

"I didn't have the courage to tell my wife Ben and I were going to be crossing the Atlantic for 70 days so I just put the entry form on the kitchen table and waited for Beverley to find it," Cracknell revealed.

"She wasn't very happy, not happy at all. So this time round I sat her down and asked her permission. It is difficult for our families when we're away, but we hopefully make up for it when we are at home."

Whether the wives offer them a warm welcome home remains to be seen.

Briers makes a splash

It could have been a scene from The Good Life - the TV comedy that made Richard Briers into a star - when during a stay at a Norfolk hotel the 73-year-old actor got stuck in a roll-top iron bath.

"Richard was staying in the same hotel as me and he got wedged in this old-fashioned bath," chortles actress Phyllida Law, mother of Oscar winner-Emma Thompson.

The pair were staying at Strattons Hotel in Swaffham while filming the new series of ITV1's Kingdom, in which Briers plays a randy OAP who falls for a much younger woman.

Good-humoured Briers took the incident in his stride. "They got him out and he was telling everyone he wasn't embarrassed," adds Phyllida.

Generous supporters of Elton John's Aids Foundation dug deep for his autumn hoopla, lavishly staged in Covent Garden last month.

A final reckoning of the accounts now reveals the event, attended by Liz Hurley and a host of other celebrities, raised in excess of £350,000 for the charity, which does such brilliant work funding educational programmes and fighting discrimination against HIV sufferers.

PS Today inquisitor John Humphrys, 64, made a rare public foray at the first night of Dealer's Choice in the West End.

His companion was not long-time love Valerie Sanderson, mother of his seven-year-old son, but attractive Guardian writer Catherine Bennett.

Miss Bennett, 50, who is about to join the Observer, was once married to Lord Sackville, whose family home is a 365-room mansion in Kent. He left her after six years for one of the female employees of his publishing firm.

Catherine, however, has been much admired by literary types ever since. She and Humphrys failed to go on to the aftershow party at the Empire Casino, where director Sam West, actor Roger Lloyd Pack and writer Anthony Holden played poker into the early hours.

The Jaguar F-Type S That Cheese Bought

Rob Kaufelt, owner of New York-based Murray's Cheese shops, discusses British cars and Stilton, as told to A.J. Baime.

I'm a third-generation grocer. My wife was urging me to get myself a treat, because I work all the time. I haven't had a fast car since I plowed my old BMW 530i under a truck in 1981. So a few weeks ago, I went to the Jaguar showroom on 11th Avenue.

I've always loved the old Jaguars in British racing green. And they had an F-Type S in that color—the midlevel engine size in the roadster launched this year. [It's the first Jaguar two-seat sports car since the E-Type of the 1960s.] My wife and I have three young kids, so I texted her: "The car I'm looking at only has two seats." She wrote back, "Great. One for you and one for me!"

The experience of driving the car is that intense voluptuousness that omnivores seek, whether in a food or an automobile. If I had to compare the car to a cheese, it'd have to be British. The car drives as smooth as a Stinking Bishop, one of my favorite English cheeses. It's as reliable as a raw-milk Cheddar, as tangy as a Cotswold and as assertive as a good Stilton.

My kids love to play with all the bells and whistles. They call it "Daddy's roadster." I still don't know what half the buttons do. For me, out near the farm we own in New Jersey, the most wonderful thing is to drive my wife around a curve at 60 miles an hour instead of 25—and hope we don't hit a deer.

May 20, 2021

Eye Prefer Paris Tours

 I want to thank everyone for watching my live Rue de Martyrs Food tour yesterday and also for your generous tips to my PayPal account. I'm sorry I couldn't thank all of you individually, but know I really appreciate it. CLICK HERE to watch the video and CLICK HERE if you would like to leave a tip in my PayPal account (you don’t have to have a PayPal account), which I would greatly appreciate, as I do these tours free of charge for  Enjoy!  

With the exception of a Parisian taking one of my tours in February 2021, I have not given a live Eye Prefer Paris tour since February 2020.

I was overjoyed when I read a few weeks ago that France is going to open its borders on June 9 to people who have been vaccinated.

This means that I can start giving live tours again, and I am very excited to do so. Many of you said that soon as the Covid restrictions in Paris were lifted, you would be coming to Paris and taking my tours. If it’s your first time taking an Eye Prefer Paris Tour, I welcome you, and if you have taken a tour previously, I can’t wait to see you again.

Below is a current list of my tours and CLICK HERE if you would like to book one or more. You can also email me at [email protected] if you have questions or need mire information. 

Le Marais Neighborhood Walking Tour

Come take an insiders stroll through the lovely Marais, one of the oldest and historical areas of Paris. Marais expert Richard Nahem (he has lived in the area since 2005) will share the breathtaking, historic buildings and private mansions dating back to the 1600s, beautiful manicured parks and gardens and some of the finest art galleries and small, jewel-like museums. Discover the city’s chicest designer clothing and accessory boutiques and food lovers can feast at some of the top food shops, patisseries, and chocolate shops. The tour also includes a visit to the Jewish Quarter exploring an Art Nouveau synagogue, the Shoah Memorial, and the tasty Jewish food shops. Enjoy this unforgettable tour of a truly magical part of Paris. Tour includes a stop at an award winning bakery for a pastry and a coffee. (Not included in price).

225€ for 1 to 3 people, 75€ for each additional person for a 3-hour tour. 500€for a full day/7 hour tour that includes a 1-hour lunch break. (Price of lunch not included). Each additional person 90€.

Tour time: 3 hours for half day, 7 hours for full day 

Morning tour 10:30AM-1:30PM

Murray’s Cheese Bar

Murray’s Cheese is expanding… literally down Bleecker Street in the West Village. Rob Kaufelt, with the help of Cheese Guru, Tia Keenan, has opened a Murray’s Cheese Bar serving many of the great cheeses he ages and sells at his 254 location.

As many of you know, The Lady travels to New York often to hang with her Cheese Geeks at Murray’s flagship store in Greenwich Village. She is there to continue her (and by extension…my) cheese education which I then share with other Cheese Geeks, my loyal readers… a win-win for us all…

She spent part of this week at Murray’s with two of our favorite Cheese Swells, Nathan “Roll Tide” Aldridge and Denise S. along with new Geeks from Louisville, Kentucky… our cheese friends keep growing… which just proves that yes, we do have many friends in cheeses… but I digress… but only slightly…

This trip The Lady and Denise had appetizers at Murray’s Cheese Bar and were treated to several of Tia Keenan’s specialties. Tia is the Director of Food Services for Murray’s Cheese. Before joining Murray’s she opened and guided the evolution of Casellula Cheese and Wine Bar. Far more important and as far as I’m concerned, she is a leading Cheese Swell.

In addition to the cheese flight offerings, Tia has designed a menu of small dishes sure to please every turophile and those who merely adore cheese…
Because The Lady and Denise had reservations at Otto, one of Mario Batali’s New York eateries, the two went “light” and ordered a trio of spreads: Pimento Cheese… now there’s a surprise Fromage Fort and Kopanisti.

The pimento spread was made with Prairie Breeze Cheddar, pimento and paprika… as with most pimento cheese spreads that come her way, The Lady loved it. It had a nice biting finish and was perfect with both the yeast rolls and flatbreads that accompanied the trio.

Next on the plate was a spicy taste of Greece: the Tia-created Kopanisti combined Feta, Peperoncini and Dill. Another hit that finished with quite a kick in the heat department.

The third spread was a French marriage of Fromager d’Affinois and AOC-protected Bleu d’Avergne. A nice finish to cool the palate after the Kopanisti.
The two chose a Pinot Noir to accompany the plate.

Tia surprised them with her Gruyere Malakoff. Known in Switzerland as the soldier’s meal, Malakoff is fondue in a fried ball. Tia combined the ingredients that make a traditional fondue set them on top of a rye crostini and deep fried it… my, oh my… The Lady and Denise were in heaven…

As usual I was left at home with The Man… evidently New York has some of those same “no animals allowed” rules that seem to plague me most everywhere I wish to travel… thank goodness for Holiday Inn Express and their pet-friendly attitude…

With another winner on his plate… one wonders what Rob is scheming to do next… you’ll learn more in my recent interview which will be posted here on the website on September 30th.

In the interim, The Lady declares Murray’s Cheese Bar a 4 Paws winner… how can I refuse to lend her my paws. She holds the key to my heart… cheese…

When Class Meant Brie and Pears

SURELY it tells us something about the fickle nature of the American appetite that Harry & David is looking for ways to remind its customers of the existence of trees.

Harry & David’s fruit baskets have been a staple of American life for decades, but the firm has been going through a rough patch lately. Sales cratered during the recession, and a debt crisis forced the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week.

Ross A. Klein, the executive vice president and chief brand officer at Harry & David, never introduced the word “bankruptcy” into our phone conversation last Friday, but he did use the word “sustainable,” as well as the phrase “carbon footprint.” He talked about fruit (pears, in particular) and how to get the American consumer stirred up about “the ritual of sharing and giving,” as he stressed several times on the phone.

He talked about the microclimate in Medford, the town in Oregon where the famous pears are grown, and how Harry & David, founded more than 75 years ago by two soil-under-the-fingernails entrepreneurs, Harry and David Rosenberg, still feels like an “independent farm stand,” even though the fabled orchards are now owned by Wasserstein & Company, an investment firm in New York.

“Our roots are literally in the Rogue Valley in Oregon,” Mr. Klein said. “Over the last three or four years, we’ve seen a return to ‘farm to table’ as part of our messaging.”

In case customers need convincing, the Harry & David team has been busy hooking a camera up to the Internet so people can eventually watch the sweet bounty of Medford as it ripens.

Debt may be a serious threat on the financial front, but Harry & David’s orchard cam illustrates a different sort of peril for anyone who makes or sells a food product that has long been viewed as an established emblem of luxury. When there is a profusion of new choices, the allure of earlier choices can begin to dim. Sometimes it’s hard to stay smitten with a care package shipped from the Pacific Northwest in the belly of a jet when you can pick your own heirloom fruit right off the branches at a nearby orchard that supposedly provided sustenance to soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

Think of this as Brie Syndrome. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, it was de rigueur, when guests came over, to haul out a cold wheel of Brie.

“It was the first imported cheese that we knew and we could pronounce,” said Jason Tesauro, an author of the book “The Modern Gentleman: A Guide to Essential Manners, Savvy & Vice,” who curates high-end parties and tasting events from his headquarters in Richmond, Va.

Over time, though, Americans began to learn about manchego and Humboldt Fog and mimolette and Époisses. “Everybody just started getting more and more sophisticated about cheese,” said Susan Holland, a New York event producer. “There’s fabulous Brie, but Brie got pushed aside in the rush to learn new things, and it became not chic. It became the opposite of chic.”

These days, as the American gourmand becomes increasingly obsessed with the origins and purity of every organic nibble that might appear on, say, a cheese and fruit platter, it takes extra effort to fend off the vogue for shaggy, independent upstarts.

“The new fancy is knowing the provenance of your food,” Mr. Tesauro said. “Fancy is that muddy boot-print on the kitchen floor from where Farmer Clark brought in the first asparagus of the season.”

More than ever, in this craft-fixated era, what’s ordered in a restaurant, sent as a gift or served at a cocktail party acts as a subtle gesture about one’s level of culinary sophistication. Which means people have to stay alert to the shifts.

“What you see with Harry & David is that they really didn’t adapt,” said Pamela N. Danziger, a consultant and author who has focused, in books like “Let Them Eat Cake,” on the fine points of luxury marketing. “We are really evolving toward more of a connoisseur culture. Why would you buy a Harry & David pear when you can go to Whole Foods and get the same quality pear?”


Brie Syndrome afflicts a wide range of foods and drinks that have had a challenging time holding onto their Fancy Champion of the World status. Chowhounds who are old enough to remember the days when Whitney Houston and Phil Collins dominated the pop charts can attest that, yes, there was a time when a plate of cold pasta salad with sun-dried tomatoes, accompanied by a glass of Perrier and followed by a handful of Famous Amos cookies, was considered a lunch fit for a duchess.

If tiramisù could speak, it would surely tell us that nothing lasts forever. (Watch your back, pork belly.)

Nowhere is Brie Syndrome more striking than in the realm of chocolate. Around the time that Brie was fastening its moldy grip on the American consciousness, the go-to brand for cocoa-bean luxury was, indisputably, Godiva. Back then, even though the chocolatier was owned by the Campbell’s Soup conglomerate, which later sold it to a giant Turkish company called Yildiz Holding, Godiva was often portrayed with the kind of lingo that we might now use to describe some small-batch chocolate ambrosia made by elves stirring medieval bronze caldrons in a monastically temperature-controlled loft in Seattle.

“Our positioning is clearly as a super-premium chocolate in the Belgian tradition,” James A. Goldman, Godiva’s president and chief executive, said in a phone interview last week. “We’re very much true to that.”

On the other hand, “one of the big challenges we’ve had is, yes, we’re super-premium, yes, we’re luxury and prestige, but we don’t want to be viewed as unapproachable,” he said. “We were kind of putting ourselves into a corner by being so up on a pedestal.”

To that end, boxes of Godiva sweets can now be bought in malls and corner drugstores. There are American-palate-friendly flavor combinations, such as mint-chocolate chip, red-velvet cake and chocolate lava cake, whose terroir probably has more in common with T.G.I. Friday’s than with Brussels. There are nods, too, to the current jones for provenance and all things handmade.

“That has been a trend, and I think it actually has made all of us better,” Mr. Goldman said. “We have a line of artisanal barks. These are kind of lumpy, bumpy, crunchy slabs of chocolate and other ingredients. We even have a cookies & cream one. That sort of links to the artisanal desires out there.

“One of the best products we’ve got for Easter is this sort of beaded egg, which is very artisanal-looking,” he added.

As a $600-million colossus, Godiva doesn’t have to worry much about a $1.2-million-a-year pipsqueak like Madécasse, a chocolate start-up, with a main office in Brooklyn, that prides itself on a bean-to-bar ethos. Its ingredients are grown and harvested in Madagascar, and the bars of chocolate are made there, too, putting more money in local hands. For customers, that story is a selling point.

“It’s why they pick us up,” said Tim McCollum, 33, a founder of the company. “The education of the chocolate consumer has evolved pretty considerably.”

Madécasse may be small, but the threat to mainstream dominance isn’t always a new product. In this case, it’s a new idea. “For anyone who’s into chocolate, Godiva is a weird concept,” Mr. McCollum said. “If you go back 10 years, high-end chocolate was Lindt, Ghirardelli and Godiva. Now that’s what you’d buy at CVS, at Duane Reade, at a rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike.”

All of that class-to-mass growth may lead to a frothier revenue stream, but it changes the way formerly fancy entities like Godiva and Harry & David are perceived.

Then again, it would be a mistake to rule out the power of nostalgia — or at least dug-in habits.

Rob Kaufelt, the owner of Murray’s Cheese Shop, points out that in the 20 years he’s been introducing New Yorkers to an endless variety of cheeses, Brie has remained among his top 10 sellers.

“Brie is still popular,” Mr. Kaufelt said. “Things may go out of fashion, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not popular. And like all of fashion, if you wait long enough, it’ll come back around again.”

He could be right. On the phone, Ms. Holland started mulling over the idea of a theme party at which the formerly fancy wheel of cheese could act as a curveball pièce de résistance.

“If you wanted something retro and ironic, then we could serve baked Brie,” she said. “And it would be delicious.”

HOUSE PROUD Renovating With Industrial Strength Lace

IT'S Patricia Fox's world. We just live in it.

''Go ahead, punch me,'' she said recently, extending her stomach. Ms. Fox was wearing several layers of antique lace, full makeup and a jeweled snood. A tomboy when growing up, she trains now at the new Equinox Fitness Club on Greenwich Avenue, a rhinestone's throw from the front door of the house she and her husband, Rob Kaufelt, have just finished renovating.

At 105 pounds, Ms. Fox, 53, is in every other respect a heavyweight. Mr. Kaufelt, 54, who owns Murray's Cheese on Bleecker Street, has understood this since meeting her in 1988 and marrying her in 1993, after several escape attempts (other women) and a couple of ice-cold shoulders (Ms. Fox didn't like the fact of other women much).

''I have a hard time holding on to him,'' Ms. Fox said affectionately, in a voice out of a 1940's film where the heroine is playing the odds on her husband's life insurance.

''She made me suffer for a long time,'' said Mr. Kaufelt, a big dog of a man who looks frayed with love, as if he's been petted a lot.

Ms. Fox, an artist who makes decorative objects like music-box shoes and magic wands, sat in her front parlor last week as the house -- her first renovation and her largest art project to date -- sparkled around her with a kind of vintage luster not unlike the jewelry or clothing she collects or the curious objects she creates.

''I had a dream about a hat once,'' she said. 'ɺ very big hat, with grapes and berries hanging off the brim. When I walked around, I could see the fruit in front of me. When I woke, it was so important to me to make that hat. And I did. I used to wear it around West Orange, N.J., where I lived, walking around with my dream on my head. I think of this house that way. I walk around here like it's a dream, because so much of it was in my mind.''

The interiors of the house, built in 1837, are like everything else about Ms. Fox, extraordinary (underscore extra). The cast-iron stair railing that now runs up the four floors of the house was manufactured in Paris in 1890 for a bank in Cairo. An Egyptian named Mohammed who sells iron in New Jersey talked the bank out of it, then talked the government into letting him export it after Ms. Fox telephoned him in Egypt and told him not to come home without it.

''Mohammed, are you bringing the mountain to me, or do I have to go get the mountain?'' she recalled asking.

The house, like Ms. Fox, has the blunt force of personality in every square inch of its 3,400 square feet, like a perfume that knocks grown men down.

Ms. Fox had just finished making a lampshade for a floor lamp in the living room, constructed from an antique wedding dress she took apart, whacked down and rerigged into an Easter-hat-size shade.

''Rob had two friends over,'' she said. ''These macho kind of guys. They just sat there, looking at that lampshade. They didn't understand what they were looking at, but they knew it was a thing of beauty.''

Two niches in the parlor behind where Ms. Fox sat feature two costumed figures, like fairies in 'ɺ Midsummer Night's Dream,'' that represent her and Mr. Kaufelt. ''I want it to be the first thing that people come in and see,'' she said.

Ms. Fox commissioned them from a close friend, Van Craig, who dresses the windows at Saks Fifth Avenue.

''It's my fantasy of me,'' she said, holding her plaster head igniting into silk flames like Greta Garbo as Mata Hari. ''Independent, free-thinking, ethereal.'' Ms. Fox herself was wearing a black-sequin tiara and a black jersey dress that emphasized her silhouette from the back, '�use I knew I was going to be interviewed, and that you would be following me through the house,'' she said.

Ms. Fox's tactics in renovating were equally personal -- she supervised every detail meticulously, yet took life as it came: workmen dropped the onyx sink and cracked it as neatly as an egg. It was repaired no voices raised, no fingers pointed. The modest house, last occupied by a cooking school, had lost its historical properties years ago. Ms. Fox spoke with 11 architects, inviting them to share her vision on what a house renovated with enchantment would be. It was ultimately gutted to its brick exterior walls the project's cost was $1.2 million.

''One architect wanted to 'restore' everything,'' Ms. Fox said. ''I canned her right away. She wanted to look up in the library the authenticity of everything. I couldn't imagine. Not to mention she was wearing a pantsuit and didn't stand up straight.''

Mr. Kaufelt, back from the gym in sweat pants and a sleeveless exercise shirt, stretched restlessly on the floor.

Ms. Fox hired Gertler Wente Kerbeykian Architects on West 30th Street.

''Larry picked up on our personalities,'' she said simply of Larry Wente, who has careers as a psychic or a psychologist waiting in the wings if he ever chooses to stop practicing architecture.

Rather than going to bid, Ms. Fox bird-dogged a contractor, Howard Chezar, at a construction site in the neighborhood, Gwenyth Paltrow's house on West Fourth Street.

At times Ms. Fox's renovation tale reads like a romance novel.

''I knew right away,'' she said, surveying Mr. Chezar and his work. ''I wined and dined him. He slept over.''

Mr. Chezar, based in North Egremont, Mass., was suddenly homeless when Ms. Paltrow moved into her house. Ms. Fox and Mr. Kaufelt, renting a house on Bank Street while they waited for the school to vacate their house on Greenwich Avenue, put Mr. Chezar up in a spare bedroom, hoping he would take the job.

''Patricia has three dishes in her repertoire,'' Mr. Kaufelt said.

Ms. Fox made chicken noodle soup. No contract. The chicken dish with parsley, garlic and pepper. Nice meal, no commitment.

''So I make him my vegetable lasagna,'' she recalled. ''Which is my last dish. ɺre you going to do the house or not?' I said. He says, 'This is the best meal I've ever had. I have to think about it.'

''Well, Rob pounds his hands on the table, stands up and says, 'Look Howard. This is it for you. My wife doesn't have anything else to make you. The vegetable lasagna was it.' ''

Ms. Fox said that she learned the business from him. They went with Mr. Wente on buying trips for stone, windows, tiles and other materials. Ms. Fox bellied up to the bar at every stop. Mr. Chezar's wife, Famke, an artist, painted flowers on a hard hat and gave it to her.

Ms. Fox told the story of the bidet in the master bathroom.

''Mr. Straight Contractor says, 'The water should come in from the back only, not the bottom,'' she recalled. '�use that's $1,000.' Rob says, 'Well, how much is it from the bottom?' and he says, 'That's $4,000.' I said, 'Rob? Do you love me?' He looks at me, and he says, 'Give it to her from the bottom.' ''

Ms. Fox took a trip on her own to the D&D Building, the decorators' resource at 979 Third Avenue, to shop for upholstery .

''I went to Christopher Hyland,'' she said, speaking of the exclusive fabric maker. ''I marched into the showroom and this guy says, 'Who are you?' I said, ɿorget who am I. Who are you? He said, 'I'm Christopher Hyland.' ''

Ms. Fox's allegiances are now as tightly sewn as buttons.

''Not only did Christopher Hyland not ignore me, but I'm looking to buy four yards of his $350 fabric, trying to figure out how I can squeeze it across three pieces of furniture,'' she said.

At every step, Ms. Fox knew what she wanted. She described the house, as she might have herself, as 'ɺ momentum of little visuals that became an entire package.''

Mr. Kaufelt agreed, recalling an early tryst with Ms. Fox. He started to undress her.

''It was the first time I really understood all of those layers,'' he said, still astonished. ''It was well over 20 -- underthings, overthings, hats, jewelry. I said, 'How many things do you have on?' You get that sense here too -- all the richness.''

Ms. Fox smiled. At times, their romance reads like a renovation tale.

''I was married, very married,'' she said, recalling meeting Mr. Kaufelt, who owned a fancy foods shop in New Jersey at the time. Ms. Fox, a customer, proposed herself for a job dressing the windows.

''What would you do with lobsters?'' Mr. Kaufelt asked. As his interview, he asked her out to dinner. She was wearing gloves, which hid her wedding ring. Ms. Fox was hired as a consultant.

''I've always been a woman who knew what she wanted,'' she said. ''I saw Robert and I was struck with lightning -- it was horrible. I hit bottom big time, getting out of a marriage. No apartment, no money, personal bankruptcy, the I.R.S., the whole thing.''

Ms. Fox worked nights for the California Closet Company, taking Mr. Kaufelt on calls and telling clients he was a trainee. Ever the cavalier, Mr. Kaufelt carried the heavy sample cases.

''One woman, I'm sitting in her kitchen, designing her closet, and all of a sudden we hear a 'Zzzzzzzzzzz,' '' Ms. Fox recalled. ''She turns around and says, 'Your trainee is sleeping on my sofa,' and I looked at her and whispered, 'I don't think he's going to make it.' ''

''I always wanted a fabulous girl,'' Mr. Kaufelt said, sitting next to Ms. Fox. ''Why spend your life with somebody who's not fabulous?''

He could have described his life in his new house in the same terms. Domesticity doesn't have to be dull.

'ɾverybody looks at this house and they think that it's me,'' Ms. Fox said with pride. 'ɻut it really is Rob. 'When in your life have you ever had the opportunity to surround yourself -- and me -- with what you can see in your mind,' he said. 'Go out and do it.'

It’s Sunday Morning: Time to Talk Cheeses: Interview with Sid Cook, Owner and Master Cheesemaker of Carr Valley Cheese

Sid Cook holds the enviable title of “Most Award-Winning Cheesemaker in the World”, having won hundreds of awards, worldwide, with his “American Originals” since 2001. In 2010, The Lady visited Wisconsin and met Beth Wyttenbach, Marketing Head at Carr Valley Cheese. That meeting began a love affair between me and the cheeses created by Sid Cook.

Spaulding Gray: Sid, I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down with me and answer a few questions for our readers.

Sid Cook: Let me start by telling you a quick story. I hate to admit it to you especially, but I’ve never particularly cared for cats and never owned one until about a month ago. One morning, I came out of our hose on the way to the cheese plant and heard a strange noise that I couldn’t identify. Sort of like a painful moan of some sort. I heard it a second time and followed it to find a kitten in distress. One leg had been eaten off and his belly was ripped open with his intestines in plain view. Obviously the little guy had been attacked and was in bad shape. I called for my wife and we decided to take him to the vet. At first he hissed fearing he would be hurt again. But he finally allowed me to gather him up and off we went to the vet.

The vet cautioned us that to get him well was going to be expensive and not an easy road neither for the little guy nor for us. My wife remarked that he wasn’t really our cat to which the vet just laughed and said that actually he was because we brought him in. He needed to have the rest of the one leg removed so that it wouldn’t drag when he began to walk again, causing further problems for him.

Now a month later, he’s tripled his weight and living the good life with us. The vet suggested we name his Tripod, but we went with “D. Lucky” the “D” standing for Damn. He has taken possession of the laundry room, claiming it as his own, but some nights he ventures out and decides to sit on Lisa, my wife, while she sleeps, staring into her face with these big eyes until she awakens and takes care of his needs. Lisa is convinced he’s an alien those huge eyes boring into her brain to control her while she sleeps…

I’ve read on your website, Spaulding, that The Man has speculated that you might be an alien… care to comment.

Spaulding: Sid, I have no comment although I’ll add that your wife and The Man indeed have active imaginations when it comes to those of us of the feline persuasion… but we digress…

You are a fourth generation cheesemaker and became a certified cheesemaker at the age of 16. When did you start working in the factory and what was the first cheese you made?

Sid: I did receive my first cheesemaker’s license at the age of 16 but I remember as early as 3 or 4 riding my toy tractor around the cheese factory, trying to help out with cleaning and probably getting in the way. But I loved being there and by the age of 12 I was making cheese boxes and cleaning vats.

The first cheese I made was a cheddar and the second was a Monterey Jack. By 16, I was making 4 or 5 cheeses on a regular basis

SG: You are a Master Cheesemaker. Tell us about your journey to reach that honored degree. Also, how many cheeses are you a “Master” at making?

SC:When I was a young boy and asked what I wanted to be, I always answered that I wanted to be an engineer, referring to the kind that run trains. I loved trains and that was my boyhood dream. In college I majored in Political Science and planned to become a lawyer. As law school drew nearer, I knew I had to make a decision and choose between sitting at a desk, which didn’t sound very appealing, or in the factory making and creating new cheeses.

In became an easy decision. When I graduated college at the age of 22, my dad was in his sixties and ready to retire. My older brother and I bought him out and became the owners of Irish Valley Cheese. Ten years later, I bought out my brother and became the sole owner. At about the same time, Carr Valley Cheese became available for sale. The Irish Valley plant was located too close to the highway and couldn’t be expanded. I closed it down and moved everything and everyone to the Carr Valley facility and assumed its name.

(Editor’s note: Sid holds Master licenses in making Cheddar, Monterey Jack and Gran Carnia, another of his American Originals.)

Spaulding:You have created more original cheeses than most cheese factories. What was your first original creation? What are your inspirations in creating originals? Do you have a favorite? If so, which one and why?

Sid:When I bought Carr Valley, it had two cheese shops that sold the cheddars we made. I realized that I could sell more cheese to our visitors if I offered more styles of cheese. In Wisconsin, we get lots of visitors who come to tour the cheese factories and buy our cheese to take home. They wanted to experience more than just cheddar.

We Americans had created Colby and Brick and those had become icons of American cheeses. I wanted to create more cheeses that could become symbols of American Artisan Cheese. Also, I felt that our visitors, especially those from Europe, wanted to experience more than just Americanized versions of the great cheeses they had at home.

At first I began experimenting with mixed milk cheeses, which up until that time was an almost untapped market. My first original was Menage, a mixture of cow, goat and sheep milks.

SG:You have won more awards than any other cheesemaker in the world. Elvis Presley had so many gold and platinum records and trophies/awards that he built a separate building at Graceland called the “Trophy Room”. How do you display your trophies and awards? What was your first award?

SC:About ten years ago, I decided to get my feet wet and enter a cheese contest in Washington D.C. I knew the judges shared their notes with the cheesemaker and I felt the feedback could only help me improve my craft. To my delight and the amazement of the cheese community, we won 13 awards including 2 of the top 4 awards that were given. Keep in mind that in 2001, there were a lot fewer categories and fewer cheeses competing. It was considered quite a coup and I think had my fellow cheesemakers wondering who the heck was Sid Cook? And was he a one hit wonder? Later that same year I entered a few of my cheeses in another contest in San Francisco and walked away with 17 more awards.

Janet Fletcher, Cheese Expert and Writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, reported that my Mobay missed winning Best of Show because the judges consensus was they just weren’t sure about a cheese layered with two different milk cheeses (Mobay, while it looks like Morbier, is actually a layer of goat milk cheese and a layer of sheep milk cheese, separated by a layer of grape vine ash.) Janet flattered me by speaking highly of Mobay in her article.

My American Originals raised the bar and helped encourage other cheesemakers to experiment and think outside the cheese box. I am pleased to believe that my originals became inspirations for others. They also encourage me to experiment more obviously the cheese world was ready for something new and unique.

I know there are some who would like to limit the number of entries one cheese producer can enter into contests. Obviously I disagree. If you make good cheese, then enter it into as many contests as possible. You’ll get great feedback from the judges and that tool, in turn, will make you a better cheesemaker and help you create the next great cheese.

Spaulding: What is the oldest cheddar you have aged? Do you market it or is it in your private stash of cheeses?

Sid: We have 5 or 6 blocks of white cheddar that is fourteen (14) years old and if someone specifically asks I can sell them some of it. But ten (10) years is about it for aging cheddar there’s not really any improvement beyond that point. We charge about $22.50 a pound for it and we’re losing money when you factor in warehousing cheese for a decade.

(Editor’s note: Get ready… I’ll bet one of our loyal readers will be contacting you…)

SG: What is your favorite grilled cheese sammy?

SC:Tough question but I’d keep it simple: lots of my Wildflower Cheddar making it gooey and filled with the floral tones of what the cows are eating in late spring. It’s aged 60 to 90 days and I consider it an extraordinary value.

Spaulding: Which of your cheeses would you pair with Peromyscus leucopus?

Sid:That’s easy. Snow White. My cave-aged goat has lots of earthy flavor that would pair nicely with your peromyscus leucopus.

Spaulding Gray: Sid, thanks again for taking the time and let us know when your next American Original is ready for the marketplace. The Lady and I hope to see you in Madison next August for the ACS Conference.

Spreading the Corporate Holiday Cheer

With Thanksgiving behind us and the holiday season kicking into high gear, it's time to reward and recognize the hard-working people who help make your business possible. I'm not just talking about the employees who work for you directly but your customers, vendors and referral partners as well.

Back at my Internet-marketing company, NetCreations, we always gave our employees a $500 bonus right before the holidays -- even when we were a five-person home-based business. The bonus wasn't based on individual goals or company performance. It was based on our desire to make sure that even those employees who lived paycheck to paycheck had some jingle in their pockets to put some presents under the tree for their families.

In my new career as a West Village landlord and real-estate developer, I always make sure that my contractors, my handyman, the sanitation guys and other key members of my team are taken care of. It's not just the right thing to do. It's good business. The next time I ask one of my guys to go the extra mile for my tenants, I can reasonably expect that the answer will be yes. (I also send gift baskets to my tenants – after all, they're the ones who pay my bills.)

Of course, not every small-business owner hands out holiday bonuses like I do. Many companies prefer to award year-end performance bonuses tied to overall sales growth and profitability and each employee's contribution toward achieving company goals.

One such business is Murray's Cheese, a West Village specialty cheese shop that employs more than 60 people in its retail, wholesale and educational divisions. "We've been fortunate enough to be successful," says Rob Kaufelt, chief executive. "We had record years in 2008, 2009 and 2010, and we want to spread it around."

May 13, 2021

Marcella the Cheesemonger

SAVE THE DATE! Please join me for my live, Facebook Fabulous Food Tour on the Rue des Martyrs on Wednesday, May 19 10am EST (east coast time), 9am Midwest time, 7am, West coast time, and 4pm Paris time.

Despite a few misgivings about Facebook in regard to some of their practices and policies, I still think their initial idea of connecting people is a fantastic idea. While I have connected with many long-lost friends and high school classmates, I have made some wonderful new friends, some who I have met in person, and others have become good online friends without ever meeting.  

New friends also come in the most peculiar ways. About two months ago, I received a comment about something I posted on Facebook from a woman named Marcella. She then said to have a look at her website, I went to her site and was immersed in Marcella’s cheese universe. Her resume and long list of awards and citations really impressed me, and I said, boy, this lady really knows her cheeses. I was so fascinated that I asked Marcella if could interview her. Here’s the delightful interview with Marcella Wright. Make sure you have some cheese to nibble on while reading this!  

What’s the first cheese you remember tasting, how old were you, and what was your reaction? What cheeses did you have at home when growing up?  

In the summer, my grandfather drove a delivery truck for a Michigan creamery (winters he drove a snowplow). He brought home milk, cream, and cheeses for the family. Later my father was a traveling salesman for a meat company in Atlanta, Georgia, and every Friday he brought home steaks, chops, sausage that were outdated but still fine to eat (in some cases even better because of a little age). Both my mom and her mother were excellent cooks my grandmother taught me a lot of basics of southern cooking. I never mastered baking too scientific for me. From an early age I ate “real” food rarely eating fast food. Bit of trivia – I haven’t eaten in McDonalds since the 1970s and I’ve never been to Taco Bell or Arbys.

I don’t remember my first cheese but I do have a first cheese memory. My mom and I were in a grocery store and I noticed Velveeta on a shelf (not refrigerated). I asked my mom why it wasn’t with the other cheeses and her reply was simply “Because it’s not real cheese”.

My first exposure to specialty cheeses was in the 1990s at Wally’s in West Los Angeles. Wally’s is a bottle shop with an impressive selection of domestic and imported wines. At Wally’s, the wines are left in the boxes and stacked around the shop (at least that’s the way it was in the 90s). My husband aka The Man and I were invited to a Cheese and Wine tasting (before they were fashionable). One of the cheeses was an extra-aged Gouda speckled with “crunchies” (which I later learned were tyrosine, an amino acid found in many Goudas, Alpine and Italian cheeses). I fell in love with this cheese. (BTW, these cheeses came from Norman Wabnig’s Cheese Shore of Beverly Hills, opened in 1967 – again before the specialty cheese appreciation took hold in the US).

My mom always kept Cheddar, “Swiss” (an American marketing term developed to describe Alpine cheeses), String (mozzarella sticks), Baby Bels (they are “real” cheese), Colby, Monterey Jack and Blue in the house. She kept Velveeta for sauces (a popular – but rarely acknowledged – ingredient chefs use because it adds a velvety finish to cheese sauces). Mom and Dad were lovers of cheese and kept a cheese drawer in the fridge which my brother and I could raid without asking permission.  

Aged, sharp Cheddar remains one of my favorites but instead of a cheese drawer I have a dedicated cheese refrigerator. My cheese fridge includes back-stock for my cheese shop inside Sweet Combs of Honey, charcuterie, dried fruits, nuts and chocolates plus one shelf of what I call “everyday cheeses” that The Man can raid without asking permission… funny how habits are passed from generation to generation…

There’s an impressive list of cheese trainings and certifications on your site. Please tell us more about those and what the trainings were like.  

In the late 2000s, the American Cheese Society began exploring a Certification process for Cheese Professionals: Cheesemakers, Importers, Distributors, and Retailers. A Body of Knowledge (several domains of knowledge from cheesemaking to affinage to food safety to retail sales) was developed over the next few years and in 2012, the first Certification exam was offered. The exam included 150 questions. The Cheese Professor site recently capsulized the requirements in this interview with Gayle Martin, another CCP.

I sat for the exam in 2013 while working with Kroger/Murray’s Cheese. For fifteen weeks MC hosted weekly conference calls to discuss the various domains of the BOK. I also had a study buddy who worked at Whole Foods. She and I exchanged info we received from our employers. I spent every weekend reading, researching and getting ready for the exam.

The day of the exam, I was terrified. My first question asked what milk a Nubian goat in the Southern Hemisphere would yield in September. (All questions were multiple choice – 4 choices – 1 “most” correct answer. I use “most” because some answers were kind of correct and we had to choose the best of the 4.) Thankfully, I passed.

After leaving Kroger in 2014, I developed a study program tailored for Cheese Professionals sitting for the exam. It is posted on my website and shared via the Cheese Study Group I created at Facebook. I ran the group until January of this year building the membership to 7500+. I made the choice to pass the torch to Amy Sherman, Editor of The Cheese Professor. In 2017 and 2018, I spear-headed a crowd-funding project to raise funds to assist those taking the exam (and had no employer to help defray the expenses). We raised almost $20K and were able to help more than a dozen persons sitting for the exam.

In 2017, I was humbled to be inducted into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers – New World Order. By invitation-only, the Guilde is one of the highest honors a Cheese Professional can attain.

In 2018, I realized I needed to know more about food safety and enrolled at a nearby technical college to take a sixteen-week course to secure a Serv-Safe Food Protection Manager Certification. In the US, if you own or manage a restaurant, you are required to have this Certification. I don’t plan to work in a restaurant, but it is useful when preparing my cheese spreads and marinated cheeses in a certified kitchen.

Making cheese at Sartori Cheese Wisconsin

Your first trip to Paris in 2019 was an add on to an invitation for a press tour of the Jura region of France by the Franche-Comte Region in 2019. Please describe your experience and also your impressions of you first trip to Paris?  

Comte Association USA invited me to be their guest for the 2019 Press Tour. The purpose of the trip was to introduce social media persons (there were five of us) to the Jura region with emphasis on the iconic French Cheese, Comte AOP. As you know, Comte is the number one selling French cheese in France (90% stays in France and only 10% is exported – during the pandemic, it has been exceedingly difficult to find it here in the US.) We spent 5 days and four nights visiting Comte farmers, cheesemakers and affineurs. We visited La Ferme du Montagnon, a historic farmhouse that was a Charcuterie Museum we visited an organic absinthe maker. We were treated to gourmet lunches and dinners in the region, enjoying the foods and wines of the Jura. I found a new appreciation for the French Roses. On our last day we visited La Petite Echelle and enjoyed traditional fondue and rosti which the chef/owner allowed us into his kitchen to assist in preparing.

After the tour, a friend and I headed to Paris, the last city on my bucket list. Because it was my first trip to Paris, we visited all the monuments and a few of the museums, including the Louvre and Orsay. We spent as much as fourteen hours a day exploring the city. It was magical. Often, we build up an event or place to the point that when we arrive, we are underwhelmed/disappointed. Not Paris!! It was everything I had imagined and more. However, five days is not enough time to enjoy Paris next time I plan to designate at least two weeks to get to know the City.

I had been warned that not speaking the language (I read some French and have a small French vocabulary) would incur derision from the residents. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Everywhere we went, Parisians were friendly and eager to help. Two residents walked with us to our destinations (Edith Piaf’s grave and a small restaurant on a side street near the Bastille Monument that was known for Aligot) to make sure we didn’t get lost.

Occasionally, I would stop and say out loud, “I can’t believe I am in Paris”.  

I know that you visited the Laurent Dubois cheese shop, one of the best in Paris. What was your impression and what were some of   the favorite cheeses you bought? Did they differ from the imported French cheeses you get in the U. S.?  

While touring the Jura, I asked our host which of the several prestigious cheese shops in Paris, should I choose for my purchases to take home. Without hesitating, he recommended Laurent Dubois. Monsieur DuBois is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France which translates literally “Better Worker of France”. In the Cheese World, it means that Laurent DuBois is “the real thing” when it comes to knowing and caring for cheese.

And that is where I went my last day in Paris. I chose the location on Saint Germain. The big difference between French Cheese shops and US Cheese shops is that US regulators require cheese be stored in cases with temperatures under 40 degrees F. In France, in the dedicated cheese shops, the cheese sits out at room temperature. Being used to the US, I reached for a piece of cheese (which was wrapped) in the shop and the fromager “fussed” at me. There were signs that clearly said “Don’t touch the cheese” but I wasn’t thinking. I was embarrassed.

All the cheeses I chose to bring home were not easily found in the US or are banned for sale. The FDA allows US citizens to bring home any cheese for personal consumption however, cheeses made with raw milk and aged less than 60 days cannot be offered for sale in the US. Cheeses that fall into that category are mostly soft-ripened cheeses such as brie, camembert and those lovely goat cheeses made in the Loire. I brought home several Loire cheeses, Brie de Meaux, Reblochon, Timanoix and a few aged cheeses that don’t find their way across the Atlantic.  

You worked for Kroegers supermarket chain setting up in store, gourmet cheese shops. What was that experience like and also what’s it like interacting with customers who may be exposed to these types of cheeses for the first time?  

In the late 2000s, Kroger made a deal with Rob Kaufelt, the owner of the iconic Greenwich Village Cheese Shop, Murray’s, to open mini-Murray’s Cheese shops inside select Kroger stores. The first shops were opened in Cincinnati, Ohio and Dallas, Texas. The program was successful and in 2011 Kroger and Rob decided to expand the program across the Kroger system. I joined the program at that time and for the next three years I traveled fifty weeks of the year catching a plane on Monday AM and returning home late Friday PM.  

During those three years I opened seventy-five shops (setting up the shops and training the personnel) across the US from Aiken, South Carolina, to Anchorage, Alaska and more than ten states in between. The Man was a good sport about my traveling but Spaulding Gray, my beloved cat who “wrote” my blog from 2008 until his return to the Mothership in 2013, switched his allegiance from me to The Man.

Opening cheese shops and training Associates was the best way to increase my cheese knowledge but was a position better suited for a younger person. After three years, it was time to slow down and hang out with The Man.  

God has a way… three weeks after leaving Kroger, my father became ill, and I came to Georgia to help my mother care for him. While caring for him I realized my mom was having more than normal memory issues. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few months before my dad passed. The Man joined me in Georgia to care for mom and after she passed away, we decided to stay in this small Georgia town with only one traffic light.

Currently you work with Sweet Combs of Honey. What kind of events do you plan for them and why the switch from cheese to honey?  

 In Georgia, I wanted to stay in cheese and “re-purposed” myself to fit the area. I approached the owner of Sweet Combs of Honey about staging cheese events and selling cheese within her shop, which is an Artists’ Collective, wine shop with a small café in the back.

I installed two small refrigerators and stocked them with specialty cheeses not available at the local grocer. I also sell charcuterie and olives. Once a month, we offer a Cheese event. In February we had a “Be My Brie” event for Valentine’s Day. In March, we welcomed spring with a fondue night. To celebrate The Masters Golf Tournament (a big deal here in Georgia) I made three small-batch Pimento Cheese spreads. Next month we are offering a Cheese and Wine 101 pairing cheeses from six cheese families with six different wines.

I offer special order cheese platters and boxes with everything that goes with cheese that allows the customer to “Just Add Cheese” (from my refrigerators) to complete the box. The customer can also add from the wine selection and other specialty foods available in the shop.

You recently received the title of Amazon Influencer. What does this mean and what is in entailed in keeping that status?  

I received an invitation from amazon to apply to become an “Amazon Influencer” and establish an Amazon storefront. The invitation was based on my social media presence. Every post on my blog contains at least one link to an Amazon item offered for sale through my storefront. For every purchase I get a few pennies. Not a lot, but one hundred pennies equal a dollar it adds up.

What are the latest trends in cheese?  

Sadly, in our industry, the Pandemic has adversely affected Cheesemakers, especially the smaller producer whose customers often are primarily restaurants. As with every business around the world, the past year has been more about keeping alive and open. I have been impressed with the many ways the industry has found creative ways to get cheese to cheese lovers everywhere. More online cheese sales and subscription boxes are being offered. Cheesemakers have banded together to form Victory Cheese to assist the smaller producers.

Instagram is a fun place to visit to see ways cheesemakers and retailers are “slinging” cheese. One concept I saw that didn’t work for me was “jarcuterie” – cheese, meat and olives speared and sitting in a mason jar. Kind of hokey not very classy, in my opinion. “Jarcuterie” is a trend that I hope goes away.

Okay, the cheese survival question. If you were on a desert island, what three cheeses would you choose to survive?  

I recently wrote a post about “favorite” cheeses. When someone asks me “What is your favorite cheese?”, my answer is “The last one I ate”. It’s too hard to pick one picking three isn’t much easier… but since you asked:  Comte, Rogue River Blue (2019 World Cheese Awards Grand Champion) and Parrano.

Watch the video: Murrays Cheese 101: Choose Your Cheese (June 2022).


  1. Gabi

    like would read carefully, but did not understand

  2. Gadal

    I beg your pardon, this variant does not suit me.

  3. Lateef

    I absolutely agree with you. There is something in this and I think this is a great idea. I agree with you.

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