Carol Johnson traded her Tennessee roots for the bustling streets of New York City, where she has worked as the head cheesemonger at Murray's Cheese for two years. The Greenwich Village-based cheese mainstay is world famous for their selection of domestic and imported cheeses. We peppered Carol with questions about her love of cheese and the inspiration behind her holiday cheeseboard that singles out American cheeses, check it out here. 

This post is part of our Holiday Cheers to Cheesemongers series, for more monger spotlights, click here. For more holiday recipe and pairings inspiration, thumb through our recipe collection here.

Name: Carol Johnson

Hometown: Memphis, Tennessee.

Cheese shop: Murray’s Cheese

Cheeseboard: “The Great Escape: Runaway American Cheese”

How long have you been a cheese monger? Two years

What brought you to the cheese counter? Poverty and a deep love of cheese

Let’s talk about cheese.

What’s the most common question you get asked behind the counter? “I want three cheeses for a dinner party and I have no idea where to start?!?”

What should a novice cheese buyer look for in a cheese? A novice buyer should definitely look for cheeses that are well balanced in flavor, vary in style and are sold in a shop that keeps them fresh with a high turnover.
What do you say to a customer who declares that they, “Don’t like goat cheese,” or are put off by an appearance or aroma of a cheese? I want them to know that their opinions are valid however, there are many different styles of cheese, you should always give something a taste before you decide not to like it.

What advice do you have for novice cheese buyers who are building their first cheeseboard? Are there rules?I it’s most important to like the cheese you buy and not just buy cheeses based on someone else’s opinions. I always encourage customers to pick cheeses of different milk types, textures, and different levels of strength. The only rules that matter 1. Buy cheese from a good cheese maker 2. Buy cheese from an educated cheese purveyor.
What's one thing about cheese, cheesemaking or the cheese world that would surprise or excite an average cheese buyer?
It’s a pretty simple fact but one that a lot of customers who are new to cheese are not aware of and that’s that all cheese is essentially the same four ingredients, (milk, salt, rennet, culture) and that from these simple things come so many exciting expressions of individuals and cultures.

Describe your board and the inspiration behind it. Explain why your particular pairings work well.
I think that most of my ideas start with a feeling that I want to express. When I was thinking about this cheese board, I was thinking about how sometimes I just as an adult I feel like packing up and running away to a new adventure. When I talk with other cheese professionals our ideal vacation is always a cheese road trip to all -American cheesemakers whose hard work we get to sell everyday. This is my armchair runaway cheese roadtrip, a taste across America of some of my favorite cheesemakers. Pairing is not a science but I always strive for either contrast or complement. I try to think of the everyday flavors I like best, why do they work and how to they make me feel ore reminisce. For this plate I tried to work regionally, for example, Grayson is meaty funky cheese from Meadow Creek Dairy in Galax VA, I paired it with contrasting southern flavors of sweet sour pickled watermelon rind, and crunchy Effies corncakes.