At a glance it might look like any other grocery store cheese section, but Murray's Cheese Shop, which opened in City Market Dillon in October, is cause for much celebration among both customers and employees.
A New York City landmark since 1940 and the oldest cheese shop in New York, Murray's has long been a cheese-lovers' destination. In 2009, it entered into an agreement with Kroger, the retail grocery chain of which City Market is a part, to help expand the specialty cheese program, according to merchandising director Paige Yim.
"Our guests from New York walk into the store and their jaws just drop," said "Cheesemaster" Jeff Johnson, who heads up the department in the Dillon store. Johnson, who worked there prior to Murray's involvement, said that just about everything across the board has improved.
"Prices have dropped dramatically due to the buying power of Murray's," he said. At the same time, he indicated that both the quality and selection are better. "Murray's really likes to work with sustainable dairies and farmstead cheeses," he said, "and a lot what we carry is hormone free."
Johnson is not the only one to notice the difference. "All my hardcore customers are just really excited to see the change," he said. "During mud season, sales were up 30 percent over last year. "
Murray's employees have to train for their red jackets. They learn how to taste and identify different cheeses, and how to cut them properly. They learn which cheeses are raw milk (unpasteurized) and safety standards like the fact that raw milk cheese must be aged for 60 days, Johnson said.
Afterward, they earn the title of "Cheese Monger" and work, clad in red jackets, under the direction of their Cheesemaster. The setup encourages a fun workplace environment - so much so that one Cheese Monger, Randy Williams of Leadville, was inspired to write a rap about his job.
The Dillon City Market store is No. 420 in the chain. Go figure. So it wasn't too much of a stretch for Williams, who goes by the name "Chiggy," to capitalize on the double meaning in his "420 cheese 'wrap,'" a rhyme about Murray's he put together and posted on YouTube.
The spelling of "wrap" came from Natasha Ciccolella, division cheese specialist for
King Soopers City Market. "That's Natasha's little touch," said Williams, who had planned to share the "mixtape" - a term that refers to a mash-up of borrowed beats or samples that a DJ or lyricist puts together to showcase his or her work - with Ciccolella alone during a scheduled walk-through.
"Rap is my hobby, something I do on the side," he said. But after he played it for her, "she sent it out and I was like 'Oh God.'"
Set to some "hyphy" beats from an underground DJ friend in the San Francisco Bay Area, Williams' "wrap" is not rap in the traditional sense. It doesn't cuss, or fixate on money, and that's how Williams prefers it. He used to cuss in his earlier raps, but found that people didn't want to hear it.
Instead, the "420 cheese 'wrap'" talks of cheese, of Murray's and yes - 420. It's not officially a marijuana reference, since that's the store's number, but Williams agreed it's a funny coincidence. He sees it as an opportunity to get his name out there while introducing 420 lovers to something he loves - cheese.
Between the fun monikers and shared love for cheese, the Murray's team is a passionate group. "I've got the best staff in the whole Kroger chain, I've been told," Johnson said. "Everybody's really happy and enthusiastic. We try to keep it fun."
To promote the Murray's brand - which Yim indicated includes a selection of more than 175 cheeses from around the world, from exclusive cheeses to Colorado Proud cheeses, jams, honeys and crackers - Johnson attended a three-day training at the flagship store in New York City last summer.
Throughout the year, Murray's cheese associates continue their education through daily tastings, cheesemaker visits, trainings and product workshops, Yim said.
Williams is the "demo guy," sharing cheese samples and interacting with customers. "Right now I'm really happy where I'm at," he said.
"I'm sure a lot of people are not aware of how vast the cheese universe is; it's just amazing," Johnson said. " I've even got a cheese tattoo on my arm."
To hear Chiggy's "420 cheese 'wrap,'" visit www.bit.ly/RXWhCo