Say Cheese: New York's oldest cheese shop hits Houston
Do you dream of an old world shopping experience, where the deli is next to the cheese shop which is next to the bakery, all staffed by knowledgeable craftsmen, all offering quality and variety?
It's a philosophy being recreated at Kroger, where classic New York cheesemonger Murray's Cheese is setting up a store-inside-a store — a mix of New York quality with Texas convenience.
This isn't just clever branding. Murray's Cheese is an NYC classic, located on Greenwich Village's Bleecker St. since 1940, and often named the best cheese shop in the city, as well as being the oldest.
"We're also the oldest in the country, we think, but we can't prove it," says Murray's vice president Liz Thorpe.
The partnership with Kroger is the company's first, and the dedicated shop inside the Kroger on West Gray at Woodhead (commonly known as "posh Kroger") is only the third in the country, after those in Cincinnati and Atlanta. Additional Murray's are in the works inside the Kroger in West University (opening Dec. 4) and in the Heights (opening Jan. 8).
Before opening, Kroger sent its cheesemongers, including cheesemaster Joe Grandstaff, for a three-day bootcamp at Murray's in New York to learn all about the 175 cheeses they'd be stocking as well as tips and information on storing, serving and pairing.
Kroger says the association with Murray's will give them access to hard-to-find, limited quantity cheeses from Europe, and Thorpe says Murray's will be working with the Houston Dairymaids to bring more local cheeses from small producers into the stores by February 2011.
Some standouts from our tasting included a buttery fromager d'affinois, similar to brie but "sexier," according to Thorpe; an English-style clothbound cheddar by Vermont's Cabot that was so flavorful (but not overly sharp) it made me want to kiss it; a sweet and creamy gorgonzola and a salty, distinguished parmigiano reggiano (don't call it parmesan cheese), which runs $13.99 per pound (Thorpe says Murray's price is the lowest in Houston).
The Murray's shopping experience isn't quite the boutique cheese shop of my New York dreams — you are still in the middle of a grocery store — but the knowledge base and customer service is that of a mom and pop shop.
Frankly, Murray's arrival might just be the best thing since, well, sliced cheese.