From her Georgia home to NYC, a telecommunications engineering career to turophile-in-training to full-fledged cheesemonger, Murray’s Cheese’s Griselda Powel’s path to cheese has been a circuitous one. After moving from Atlanta to the Big Apple and being hooked by a Cheese 101 class while working as an engineer in the the area, Griselda turned a burgeoning love of cheese into a post-retirement enterprise. And after a transformative Vermont Cheese Trail tour, a stint at Whole Foods, and an affinage internship at Murray’s Caves in Long Island City, this full-time cheesemonger has made cheese a big part of her next chapter.
We chatted with Griselda to learn more about her exciting story and her approach to cheese from the expert herself.
Q: How would you describe your role at Murray’s Cheese?
Griselda Powel: A cheese evangelist—spreading the good news of cheese, especially American cheeses. During my visit with cheesemakers, I saw the passion and dedication they had for their craft and the love they placed in each wheel of cheese. It’s my job to convey the cheesemaker’s passion to the end customer—describing the expected taste and texture, providing insight of how it was made and the best ways of enjoying the cheese.
I also see myself as a customer advocate—I was a customer of Murray’s cheese for years. I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed by large variety of cheeses and the intimidation of feeling “ignorant” about cheeses. My goal is to make cheese selection a fun and intimate one-on-one experience. By providing a bit of cheese knowledge, good conversation, and a few of samples, my hope is that the customer walks away a happy memory—not just a few wedges of cheese.
Q: What qualities do you find yourself gravitating to in a cheese?
GP: Seasonality: I love the anticipation of waiting for my favorite seasonal cheeses. It makes the act of eating that cheese more special. I get even more excited about sharing these time limited cheeses with customers.
Another aspect of seasonality that I enjoy is how the taste of a cheese sold year round varies, based on external factors like what the animal producing the milk is eating. I always remind customers to periodically sample their favorite cheeses in order to identify any changes of flavor.
Additional aging: There are times when we get a wheel or two of a cheese that was aged a bit longer than normal, and the flavor profile is different and surprising compared to the normal aged variety. Such wheels are usually a special case and the likelihood of seeing another wheel like that maybe slim. The transformed flavor from the additional aging is extremely enjoyable. But knowing that I may not have a chance to eat this aged cheese with this flavor profile again for a long time makes it even more special.
Q: Can you give me three cheeses that you are really enjoying right now?
GP: 1. Winnimere by Jasper Hill Farm, 2. Bonne Bouche by Vermont Creamery, 3. Meredith Dairy Sheep/ Goat Feta
Q: Do you have a favorite cheese? Is that too narrow a question?
GP: Cheese is like music. My favorite cheese or song depends upon how I feel at the moment, but I do have a few ‘go to’ cheese:
My “let’s just chill out” cheese is Rogue River Blue.
My “I’m having a bad day and I need to be cheered up” cheese is a very ripe Bonne Bouche.
Q: Let’s talk about pairing a classic cheese: Can you give me three interesting or exciting pairing options for a cave-aged Gruyere?
GP: Gruyere with Three Little Figs French Onion Confit - Get your French onion soup thing going…
My take on an open face Ham & Cheese: Gruyere and Red Table ‘The Royal’ smoked ham (a ham spiced with rosemary, garlic, allspice, juniper, coriander, and black pepper) topped with Hillside Piccalilli Relish and pumpernickel.
Something sweet: Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream with Grated Gruyere.
Q: How about a very different and more modern classic in, say, Humboldt Fog?
GP: Every spring I make my own strawberry-rhubarb jam. I spread the jam on top of Humboldt Fog and eat the combo with a piece to hearty raisin nut bread.
Another one of my spring favorites—roasted beets. I toss some Humboldt Fog with chopped roasted beets to make a nice beet salad.
Something simple: Humboldt Fog on Raincoast Crisp Cranberry & Hazelnut crackers with either a piece of honeycomb (like Red Bee Honey comb) or Velvet Bees Honey Butter.
Q: What would you say is one recurring misconception you encounter while selling specialty cheese?
GP: An expensive or popular cheese does not always translate to the best tasting cheese. I have had customers requesting samples of the most expensive or popular cheese and walk away very disappointed.
An essential point I convey to customers is that enjoying cheese is a very personal and individual endeavor. You need to spend time sampling and discovering what cheeses appeal to your individual palate.
An accomplished evangelist of the cultured stuff, Griselda leaves me with a veritable epistle about the experience of eating and selling cheese.
“Cheese is a sensory adventure. There is joy in discovering new cheeses through smell, touch, and taste. But this process requires patience and a good cheesemonger to guide a customer,” she says. “Once a customer discovers that special cheese, he or she will come back.”
For more on specialty cheese, keep reading Deli Market News.