Why Our Co-Founder Merrill Loves Cheese More than Most

November 19, 2015

Of the fifteen-some parchment-wrapped cheese nubs in Food52’s team refrigerator that are saved for piece-meal lunches and afternoon snacks, maybe half are labeled “M.S.,” for Merrill Stubbs.

Cheese, please. Photo by James Ransom

And when brainstorming company jargon to define in our new-employee handbook, the term “backup cheese,” coined by Merrill, was suggested more than once. Backup cheese (n): The cheese you have on hand in case other cheese options fall through.

So it should come as no surprise that when I asked Merrill, one of the co-founders of Food52, last week, “Is cheese your favorite food?” she responded, “Yes,” without hesitation.

Have another round! Photo by James Ransom

I have a lot of childhood memories that are deeply associated with cheese," she told me. "It’s something my entire family is united around." As a child, Merrill and her sister played a game that involved rationing American cheese (“I like all cheeses—I really do,” she said in its defense): The two of them would position themselves on the sofa—or in this case, life raft—with sleeves of Ritz crackers and individually-wrapped cheese slices. “We would fold a square of cheese over and over until we had this incredibly tall stack of tiny squares," she remembers, "and then we’d allow ourselves one square every ten minutes. The whole game was probably 30 minutes long but we really needed that sustenance.”

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During the holidays, her family’s “obsession,” as she referred to it only half-joking, becomes amplified. Every year, her mother mail-orders an entire round of Stilton, the pungent English blue cheese.

More: Stilton is delicious on its own—but even better in this traditional English pub soup.

Her mother would start in on it on her own, using a Stilton cheese knife—"She's very respectful of cheese traditions!”—then cut off a wedge to serve if she was having a party.

Some of Merrill's Favorite Cheesy Recipes

Now, when Merrill throws her own holiday parties, she also treats it “as an excuse to buy a bigger cheese that comes in a wheel”—though she's branched out from Stilton. If Merrill had to choose just one cheese, it would be a triple-crème brie with some goat or sheep’s milk for added tanginess. "I feel like brie is making a comeback," she said.

"In creating a cheese plate," she adds, "it’s always important to think about variety—not just in flavor, but in texture, and you also want to think about stinkiness and milk type."

Some of Our Favorite Cheese Tips

She’ll also throw in an aged Gouda for her husband, who is the only member of her family who doesn’t love cheese. “It’s actually one of the biggest challenges of our marriage,” she says, laughing. “For him, a runny brie is something to run away from. For me, it’s something I’m going to run towards—immediately.”

Photo by James Ransom

Not that his dislike of it stops her from serving cheese whenever she can. As with any festive meal or dinner party, Merrill will be kicking off her Thanksgiving this year with a cheese plate. She said, “My husband’s family has a tradition of having crudité before Thanksgiving dinner—so I’ve just added a cheese plate to the mix. There’s always room for a cheese plate.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Megan Herbert
    Megan Herbert
  • ChefJune
  • amysarah
  • Alexis Mascitti
    Alexis Mascitti
  • Andrea Ferrigno
    Andrea Ferrigno
I eat everything.


Megan H. November 19, 2015
And this is why our husbands get along so well. :)
ChefJune November 19, 2015
Merrill: do you know America's Cheese Lady - Paula Lambert of The Mozzarella Company? In her first cheese book she includes the most amazing dessert I know you and your mom would LOVE. It's Port Poached Pears with Stilton SOUFFLÉ! If you don't have that book ...well, you simply must! ["The Cheeselovers' Cookbook and Guide."]
amysarah November 19, 2015
I agree about Stilton for the holidays, especially after dinner, with a glass of port. My college roommate's anglophile parents introduced me to it - enduring part of my education. They had a special antique Stilton spoon - a sort of long handled silver trowel. And hooray for stinky cheeses - Epoisses in particular ranks high on the funky/delicious meter.
Alexis M. November 19, 2015
Merrill, you are speaking my truth. My husband enjoys milder forms, so this means the stinker blu and ammonia-ful French jobs are off limits. If it were up to me, my refrigerator would end up smelling the same as my baby's diaper pail, so perhaps its for the best. And yes, triple-creme is the alpha and omega.
My cheese plate rules are usually to try and vary milk type (sheep, cow, goat) and style (soft/fresh, aged/hard, blue). But always an odd number! 3 or 5. The 4 cheeses pictured is setting off my cheese OCD.
Merrill S. November 19, 2015
You're so right! Odd numbers are always better.
ChefJune November 19, 2015
Yep. Whomever set that plate up isn't a cheesehead.. Always odd numbers. :)
Andrea F. November 19, 2015
"There's always room for a cheese plate"
I agree! Last weekend I was here buying goat cheese at the producer's place!