Cheese and writing about jazz, (and less often on cultural phenomena–including cinema, sports and other types of music) pretty much sums up Martin Johnson’s intriguing mix of professional passions. Manager of 67 Gourmet, he is proud of his fromagerie, a domain that is linked to 67 Wine & Spirits.
The family-owned liquor store opened in 1941. Originally, it was located on 67th Street and on moving a block uptown to 179 Columbus Avenue, the liquor store kept the original name. It is among the oldest businesses on Columbus Avenue.
67 Gourmet, the cheese side of the business, opened in January 2022 at 194 Columbus Avenue. Martin, who has a way with words, says, “This is a place where people learn cheese is not just something to put on top of a hamburger, but a path to bliss.” Spending days and months seeking out fine cheeses, Martin makes all purchasing decisions. He says his fellow cheesemonger Johnathan Auerbach, “is an ace at merchandising and introducing the product to the public.”
Asked to select two of his favorites, Martin selects Foxglove, a semi-soft goat’s milk cheese from Tulip Tree Farms in Indiana. “This farm is a fast up-and-coming American artisan cheesemaker.”
Another favorite is Pipe Dream Buche, a goat’s milk log. “It’s Loire Valley style from Pennsylvania.” Mmmm! “I want people to come in every week and find a new favorite,” he says. The shop is just big enough to turn around in, and the carefully curated selection of cheese promises a find. Customers mostly hear about the little shop from the associated wine store across the street or by stopping by a table with irresistible samples set up three to four days a week.
When Martin is not researching what new cheeses to buy and marketing them, he’s writing about jazz. It’s a pursuit he took up in the 80s after graduating from Columbia University with a major in English. He doesn’t write so much about well-known musicians as about emerging, innovative performers. Over the past 20 years, Martin has written 300-400 articles for publications that include The Wall Street Journal, New York Sun, Rolling Stone and Vogue. He notes that several of the musicians he’s introduced to Wall Street Journal readers have gone on to win the prestigious Macarthur Foundation Genius Grant.
For the upcoming holidays, Martin recommends taking in some of the wonderful variety of jazz performances held around the city. And, of course, before leaving home or on returning from a music venue, a well-selected cheese board with samplings of great cheeses. Composing an assiette de fromage? “Four cheeses (five is a lot, three is better),” Martin says providing the following evocative descriptions:
Pleasant Ridge Reserve, an Alpine-style cheese from Wisconsin full of roasted nut overtones in the finish.
Verano, a sheep’s milk cheese from Vermont that features delicate herbal overtones and a buttery texture.
Harbison, a spruce-wrapped brie from Vermont with a flavor narrative that starts with mushroomy notes, continues with roasted root vegetable overtones and finishes with a tendril of campfire smoke.
Bonne Bouche, an earthy, creamy goat’s milk cheese.