Shot for Murray’s Cheese by Ellen Mary Cronin
Is there any food more photogenic than cheese? From wedges of brie oozing out of their rinds to the textured landscape of an overflowing cheese platter, I for one can spend hours scrolling through “#cheeseporn” on Instagram. But I always seem to get stuck on one feed in particular: Murray’s Cheese.
I’ve been obsessing over their pictures for years, and it’s all thanks to New York-based freelance photographer Ellen Mary Cronin. Her own Instagram feed feels more like an art gallery: a perfectly curated mix of stunning cheese still lifes and portraits of the city.
In addition to her work with Murray’s Cheese and Formaticum, the cheese storage company, Cronin has also documented the biannual Cheesemonger Invitational (aka the olympics for cheesemongers) and the annual SF Cheese Fest.
I sat down with Ellen to get to know the cheese lover behind the camera.
How did you get into photography?
I took my first photo class one summer during middle school, at the Harvey Milk Photo Center in San Francisco. For those who don’t know, San Francisco is the greatest place on Earth, and the Harvey Milk Center is one of the reasons why.
The first photo I developed there was a shot I had taken of a parked hearse—unsurprising then that I spent all of high school listening to Nine Inch Nails and Metallica, but I digress. So after that, I always had a camera laying around. It gathered some dust while I was studying Painting/Drawing/red wine in college, but I picked it back up again for good about five years ago.
By the way, San Francisco is a good town to wander with a camera in tow. It’s also a great cheese town. Gosh, San Francisco is great, don’t you think?!
So when did you start directing your lens towards cheese?
After college, I developed a sturdy obsession with food and basically read anything and everything food-related that I could get my mitts on. Gastronomica and old school copies of Better Homes and Gardens were my holy grails. At the same time, I was working a terrible receptionist gig at a fancy salon in downtown San Francisco, which made no sense because I am not fancy or salon-y. It was a job; I was out of my element and didn’t know how to get into food.
One day a very stuffy patron called me “dirt” because her cell phone lost reception as she drove through the Rainbow Tunnel (RIP Robin Williams) and I quit on the spot. A bartender friend suggested I apply for a job in the Specialty Department at Whole Foods, which I promptly did. The rest was a very fortunate history, influenced by some amazing cheese biz mentors and friends. I worked as a monger and buyer, as a wholesale rep, and did some e-commerce stuff, all the while bringing my camera along for the ride.
Almost a decade into my cheese biz life, I was super lucky to have the chance to shoot some photos for a book my friend Charlotte Kamin wrote during her long and storied tenure as the Magstra of Bedford Cheese Shop. Afterward, Murray’s asked me if I wanted to do the same for them. I still can’t believe how fortunate I have been to combine art + cheese—it blows my mind on a regular basis. I have many lucky stars to thank there, truly.
How long did you photograph for Murray’s?
I worked there for three years, and am now freelance.
What’s your approach to cheese photography?
I want to do right by the cheese and cheesemaker. I also try to make sure to convey the textural qualities present in the cheese, so viewers can get that tactile experience that is so important in one’s understanding of each wheel. Also, fun! Fun is an important element.
Do you have a favorite cheese? You can definitely list a few.
Taleggio was my a-ha cheese, and for that, it will always be my short answer to this question. In reality, of course, I don’t have a favorite, but I can say that Tomme de la Chataigneraie is my golden child, Tavoliere is the one I’m always hunting down—seriously, where is the Tavoliere?—and Charolais is the one I’m eating right before the lights go out.
Also, RIP Ardrahan. Also, perfect Camembert. Also, Greensward continues to amaze me on a regular basis. Also, just slices of fresh mozz, whenever and wherever, clothed or not, pulled from the fridge with the express intention of nibbling it solo, or—even better—stolen right from the cutting board while someone makes pizza or a Caprese salad. Mozz is just the best-ever cheese snack.
What’s your favorite pairing?
I like it all, really. But I will never understand the hot sauce and cheese thing. Yeah, I know it’s terribly close-minded and unhip of me, but I just don’t get it, unless it’s hot gooey cheese and hot sauce and other stuff, like eggs or tortillas or on a grilled cheese or something.
Really, if I have to pick a favorite, it’s a slice of fresh mozz paired with the secret knowledge that said slice was meant for pizza or salad. Really! My coworkers call me Mozzarellen: This mozz theft thing is real, man.