The Murray’s Mongers are a ragtag bunch. We all have different stories, but most everyone here has two things in common: that they did not plan to work at a cheese shop, and that they are now completely obsessed with cheese.
SEAN KELLY, Cheesemonger, Bleecker Street
I used to work in publishing. Not the kind of publishing that enabled me to read a bunch of great, interesting work from rising new writers (though the unsolicited manuscripts my company received were almost always insanely entertaining), but rather the more obscure realm of academic publishing. I would work with books on areas of anthropology I had no idea existed, medieval poetry, renaissance philosophy and a range of other subjects that have since slipped my mind. When I first began, I made an effort to read some of the works I was dealing with. After about thirty pages on the history of Newark parochial schools, I promptly gave up. The more I worked with these books, the less I felt I knew about them; and the fact that about one third of them were written in languages that I don’t speak certainly didn’t help things.
A few years later, desperately needing a change of scenery and wanting to do something a little off the beaten path, I applied for an internship working in the caves here at Murray’s. It seemed to make sense: I had been a long time customer, loved cheese and had heard from many a friend who had graduated college and moved into the job market that employers appreciate a few interesting additions to a resume. So I started taking care of cheese. I made the rookie mistake of wearing a pair of shorts my first day (I insisted that I wasn’t too cold, but I was freezing and probably looked really dumb). I left work dirty and smelling like cheese, and, much to the dismay of my fellow subway riders, wore it as a badge of honor. I took to it pretty quickly.
Several months into the internship, I had developed an affinity for different types of mold. I began to love the smell of a room full of washed rind cheese. I realized that this was different than anything else I had done before. Obviously, none of my previous jobs had involved racks and racks full of cheese, but there was a much more important difference here. Unlike the shelves of French literary theory that I used to deal with, the racks of cheese in front of me made me want to know more about them. They were living, changing things that everyone could experience in a different way, and they could turn out beautiful or horrendous with just the slightest modification. I thought about this most when I worked with the Loire Valley cheeses, namely the lovely little Valencay pyramids. Watching a lump of fresh goat cheese turn into an aged, mature creation, carefully picking mold off of it all the while, made me feel connected to the thing that I was working with in a way I had never felt before. I got excited about it, and felt like I needed to tell other people about it.
My friends seemed to get tired of my constant rambling on about butterfat and bloomy rinds, so I suppose it was a good thing for myself and those around me that I moved up to the counter at Murray’s when my internship concluded. From a bookcase to a cheese case, I finally found something I could work with and want to understand. Of course, it certainly helped that understanding came from eating instead of reading this time around. I’m better at eating, anyway.