Cheese Pairs Best With People: Interview with Elizabeth Chubbuck
Interview with Elizabeth Chubbuck of Murray’s Cheese
In a rich 3-year partnership with Murray's Cheese, Base embarked on a journey to capture the essence of the iconic NYC institution, translating the dynamic relationship between the customer and the cheesemonger into a digital experience. During this unique collaboration, Base and Murray's created a one-of-a-kind website that brings the distinctive in-store Murray's experience and passionate cheesemonger interactions to life in the digital space. Base’s Partner & Digital Director, Mirek Nisenbaum, sat down with Elizabeth Chubbuck, Murray’s Chief Strategy Officer and the visionary behind the new rebranding, to explore her journey and uncover the secret ingredients that make this cheese haven truly extraordinary.
One of Murray’s brand pillars stems from the idea that cheese pairs best with people — can you share with us what this means for you?
ELIZABETH CHUBBUCK: Cheese pairing best with people starts with the industry. The specialty cheese industry is international but still relatively small, and the connections in the sector span generations, continents and oceans. This spirit of community translates into the way cheese is brought to market and the way it's shared with the customers.
Cheese starts with people and ends with people. The cheeses that we sell at Murray's represent the work of hands. The exchange across the cheese counter between the monger and customer is unique, because they have a very close interaction. The customer might come into the store with something in mind, maybe they are simply curious; wherever it starts, there is an exploration together between the two people around the product, which inevitably leads back to the stories of the artisans who've made it and a shared moment of tasting cheese together, discovering something new. Ultimately the customer takes the cheese home to enjoy it themselves or to share it with friends or family, creating moments for community, for people to come together and enjoy.
Tell us about your professional journey — how did you start in specialty foods and what inspired you to build your career in this field?
EC: My entry to Murray's was actually as a volunteer in our tasting classes, and I was really thrilled by what I was learning. Cheese is at the intersection of science and culture, history and politics, and agriculture and enjoyment. It lit me up in all ways, setting my brain on fire.
When I started working at Murray's in Wholesale, we had 50 employees and 2 locations, and we had just started opening our stores within Kroger. I sought out areas where we could build new systems and propelled myself forward to take on more responsibility. I distinctly remember a few months into my job there, I was talking to my father about what I wanted my legacy to be at Murray’s. A lot of the work that we are launching this year, which Base has been our partner in, is the culmination of that: bringing all of our businesses under one. To create a cohesive brand that is framed by a clear and concise reflection of who we are, which in turn gives us a roadmap to grow and move forward.
What made you fall in love with cheese in the first place?
EC: I remember a specific moment when I was volunteering to help with the cheese classes where I had done all the setup and sat down in front of a plate of cheese, just waiting for the class to start. It was the first moment I'd sat down all day and I took a deep breath and sighed. The smell of the cheese on the plate in front of me triggered this emotional reaction as if somebody had placed a puppy in my lap. This is the way I know how to describe it: an overwhelming tenderness and softening. This was an initiation moment for me in terms of my relationship with food. I didn't understand exactly what had happened at that moment, but over the course of the next 2 months as I began to explore and experience the different flavors and aromas in all kinds of foods, I realized that what I had smelled was the smell of a horse stable. I grew up riding horses. It's my greatest passion outside of cheese. And that smell had subconsciously triggered the emotions that I have associated with horses, unleashing a passion that I did not know was there until that moment.
“We've [...] really sunk our roots deeply into who we are and where we started from, which is what comes to life with the new branding and website.”
The Murray’s brand today is undergoing a pivotal moment with an exciting rebranding and the launch of a new website. What makes this such a special time for Murray's?
EC: In the summer of 2022, we had a milestone by opening our 1000th location within the Kroger family of supermarkets. The juxtaposition of that milestone combined with the launch of the new visual identity and the website is a really important moment for the brand, because we have grown and expanded beyond our wildest dreams of how far we may reach in terms of bringing cheese to our customers. In parallel, we've also really sunk our roots deeply into who we are and where we started from, which is what comes to life with the new branding and website. Murray's has always strived to stay true to our neighborhood roots. The fact that we are reaching this level of expansion within Kroger at the same time that we're clarifying who we are as a brand in ways that are linked back to those roots is a testament to how fiercely we have held onto our own identity even as we have grown with one of the nation's largest traditional supermarket chains.
Murray’s Cheese is known for its signature charm and personality, could you explain what that means to you?
EC: Greenwich Village has a reputation for authenticity. New York, in general, is such a diverse city that really welcomes authentic expression of people, and Murray's is a reflection of that. When I joined in 2009, the cheese shop was this boisterous, raucous environment. The mongers behind the counter showed up in all different expressions of themselves, in goofy hats with crazy pins – sometimes in costumes. They would be loud and confrontational in a friendly, welcoming, silly kind of way.
Spiritedness is at the core of what Murray's is, and the brand evolved from that. The personality of the mongers behind the counter influenced the personality of the brand, and helped to put Murray's on the map globally as a destination. One of the things we've always wanted to be able to do is to bring that level of authenticity into the way the brand shows up.
The new brand universe hits the high points, the mellow points, the kooky, goofy points, and brings the cheesemonger to life through these cheese characters that are playful, nostalgic – but also somehow modern in their nostalgia. The new logo, which is balanced and modern, embodies some of the elements of the traditional Murray's logo. We have something that anchors the visual identity, while at the same time there are fun fonts that dance around it in stark comparison to one another. All of that is grounded in the photography, putting the cheese front and center. We've done a great job of capturing that bold but approachable, inviting spirit of the brand in the visual identity.
Looking ahead, what's next for Murray's Cheese? Are there any exciting plans or developments on the horizon that you can share?
EC: Launching the website. In addition to the work we've done to build the new visual identity for Murray's Cheese, we've also been building a website which is a really exciting tool that brings the monger experience to life online in a dynamic way. The website is our vehicle to reach our customers as far and wide as they possibly could be. We know that not every customer has an appetite for all of the information on every cheese, but some of them certainly do. And so we've designed the website to be this “choose your own adventure experience” where our customers can find information about cheeses that will quickly and easily help them make decisions about what to purchase while at the same time, creating this rich environment of information. Launching this website is a huge milestone for the brand and a tool that is going to define the next few years of Murray's on a national scale.
“Launching this website is a huge milestone for the brand and a tool that is going to define the next few years of Murray's on a national scale.”
What is your favorite cheese and how do you like to have it? With whom?
EC: When I worked in our Wholesale business, I would easily taste 80 different cheeses in a week. Comté, which is a French Alpine cheese from the Haute-Savoie region, is what I referred to as my Saturday cheese. After eating cheese all week long, Comté was the cheese that I came back to again and again on weekends. It's nuanced enough to be really intriguing and interesting from a flavor perspective, but it also melts well and you can grate it onto things and it's very durable. It’s also not an overwhelming flavor. If you're tasting big flavors all week long, you want something a little bit more subdued on the weekend.
I happen to be married to a Frenchman who eats cheese with such regularity that it astonishes me – a meal isn’t complete for him without a few bites of cheese. He is the person I think of when I shop for cheese. It gives me endless joy to see him delighted with a new cheese and to watch him be surprised by a flavor or a texture. Nothing gives me greater happiness than when I present him with an American-made cheese and he believes it to be French-made. That's the moment I get to stick it to him!
Elizabeth Chubbuck is the Chief Strategy Officer at Murray’s Cheese. BaseNYC Partner & Digital Director, Mirek Nisenbaum, conducted this interview.
Edited by Julie Tentler, Editorial Director at Base Design.