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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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."
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.”
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.”