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Can't-miss Bay Area cheese mongers?

I finally got off my duff and started a cheese blog--now, I'm looking for recommendations on where to go for the best selection of dairy delights to try and buy. Whole Foods and Rainbow Grocery in SF have both been better-than-expected resources, but is there a west-coast version of NYC's Murray's cheese shop that I don't know about?

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  1. Don't know Murray's but Cheese Board in Berkeley is very, very good.
    Cheese Board
    1512 Shattuck Ave
    Berkeley, CA 94709

    1. Raymond & Co. in Glen Ellen seems to be highly regarded. Check this thread:

      1. Also in the East Bay, I like Farmstead. Doesn't have as amazing a selection as the Cheese Board, but it's a little bit more low-key and personal. I've only been to the Montclair location, but there's a shop in Alameda as well.

        Farmstead Cheeses & Wines
        1650 Park St, Alameda, CA 94501

        Farmstead Cheeses and Wines
        6218 La Salle Ave, Oakland, CA

        1 Reply
        1. re: abstractpoet

          The Alameda location is also very good. No one has as broad a selection as the Cheeseboard, but I think Farmstead (and some of the other smaller cheese shops) have more high-end/exotic cheeses.

        2. The Pasta Shop in the Rockridge Market Hall (College Ave., Oakland) is very good, with knowledgeable staff.

          1. Mill Valley Market in downtown Mill Valley has usually has a good, varied selection and can be a little less expensive than the Whole Foods down the road. It's no Murray's (says this former NYC'r) but what is? Mollie Stone's in Sausalito has a better than the average supermarket selection and I like the selection and prices at Trader Joe's. Again, neither of these vendors could compete with a really serious cheese monger like Berkeley's Cheese Board, but they are convenient and way better that the abysmal selections available at Safeway et al.

            1. The Cowgirl Creamery cheese shop in the ferry building is fun too. Usually has some things I've never seen and I think they let you taste.

              Not a cheese shop, but Oliveto often offers obscure Italian cheeses on their menu...

              1. In San Francisco, Cheese Plus and Say Cheese are both excellent, and Bi-Rite has a fine small selection and will let you taste most everything. Prices vary dramatically.

                1. What you will find at the cheeseboard is a broad selection of small west coast producers who deal mostly with restaurants. Hard to tell from Murray's web site what the Comparo might be, but the Cheeseboard might be in that league. The selection at cheeseboard puts Whole Foods to shame. I'd strongly suggest going on a weekday afternoon so you can really rap with them - they'll try on a weekend, but the place is rather mobbed. They're very good about suggesting cheeses and giving tastes.

                  Some cheesemakers are quirky - like, Andante sells to Murray's and BiRite but not Cheeseboard.

                  Bohemian Creamery, who I think is making some great cheese, sells at four shops - one being the Cheeseboard.

                  Here's an interesting page of smaller west coast providers:
                  Although this weekend at Village Pub in Woodside the cheese plate winners were all Oregon.

                  If you've got a cheese blog, you might consider a weekend trip to Harley Farms:

                  3 Replies
                    1. re: bbulkow

                      I agree that covering the smaller artisan cheesemakers would be worthwhile.

                      Many sell to various cheesemongers, but there are often a larger range and sometimes cheeses that are unique to them that don't reach the stores. Also they are more likely to have more care with the cheeses. Often Whole Foods mistreats cheese.

                      The Saturday Ferry Plaza farmers market has a lot of artisan cheesemakers from the above list. Andante is the best of them, but they are all pretty good.

                      If you are up in Wine Country and checking out Raymond, I'd suggest stopping at Vella cheese. It is small. There are no real fireworks here. But this company has been doing its thing reliabley for decade. Don't miss their dry grated Jack. The Wine Shop on the Square in Sonoma also seems to have added a cheese section that might be worh looking into.

                      1. re: rworange

                        That dry jack is great. They also carry it at Farmstead; I haven't been to Vella's actual store. Tom Douglas has an awesome savory bread pudding recipe that calls for that cheese specifically.

                    2. I don't know how it would compare to Murray's (as I've never been there), but the Noe Valley Cheese Shop is very nice. It's a small place but they have a huge selection of cheeses and will give you a taste of as many as you want to sample so that you can make a good choice for whatever your particular occasion requires.

                      3893 24th Street
                      (between Sanchez St & Vicksburg St)
                      San Francisco, CA 94114
                      (415) 821-6658

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: Euonymous

                        Agreed! Totally my favorite, for years now.

                        I have checked out others recently to make I was not just gettnig set in my ways, but I still like this better than:
                        -- cowgirl creamery in the ferry building
                        -- say cheese in the haight
                        -- cheese board in the east bay.
                        -- that cheese ship in the same complex as Olivetto and the Pasta Shop in the east bay

                        That said, I give second runner up to "Say Cheese"

                        Keep in mind, though, that I have a heavy preference for french cheese over all others...

                        1. re: pauliface

                          The cheese shop in the Rockridge Market Hall (Oliveto building) is part of The Pasta Shop, which also has a branch on Fourth Street.

                        2. re: Euonymous

                          I like to look at the cheese up close, not behind glass. I don't like Noe Valley's Cheese Shop's display at all, and the owner is a horrible man. I listened to him berate an employee in an incredibly nasty way in front of customers, and when I told him that was unprofessional, he screamed at me too. Never going back.

                          1. re: Atomica

                            I've always found Charles Kung friendly and polite.

                            Behind glass, well, many cheeses are damaged by taking them in and out of the cooler every day.

                        3. Cheese Board, Farmstead, and Cowgirl are all first-rate. The Pasta Shop is good but not quite in the same league.

                          Raymond & Co. is very interesting but very eccentric.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            I find the selection at Cowgirl to be somewhat idiosyncratic. Their selection of hard cheeses is pretty good; their selection of soft-rind cheeses is pretty poor; their selection of blues is mediocre. But their fresh cheeses (ricotta, mascarpone, etc. and a few pates, which are also very good) are amazing -- that's the only thing I bother with Cowgirl with. As an added bonus, the woman who works the case with the fresh cheeses (at least, when I go during the week), is really enthusiastic and friendly, unlike most of the other staff at Cowgirl who tend to have demeanor that could be perceived as snobby or can't-be-bothered.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              It's an odd place, but they have some cheeses that I haven't seen elsewhere in this area, such as Sally Jackson and Meadow Creek Grayson.

                              They're producers, distributors, and retailers, and my impression is that other retailers tend to avoid some of the cheeses they distribute.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Rainbow and the Cupertino Whole Foods tend to carry a Sally Jackson cheese or two. I've seen the Meadow Creek Grayson at at least one of those two, I think in Cupertino.

                                1. re: maigre

                                  Whole Foods cheese departments tend to be pretty variable due to employee turnover. They get good stuff but don't always take good care of it.

                            2. re: Robert Lauriston

                              I will respectfully disagree that The Pasta Shop is a step down on the Cheese scale from Farmstead and Cheese Board. For hard cheeses what you said is definitely the case, but for soft cheeses The Pasta Shop is at the top of the heap with Farmstead a bit behind (but catching up) and the Cheese Board a distant third. With soft cheeses the Cheese Board may have a better selection but I have found the quality lacking compared to the other two.

                              All that said the pricing at the Cheese Board is the best in the area and Farmstead and The Pasta Shop will be quite a bit higher for the same cheeses (as a general rule). So if you want hard cheese by all means go to the Cheese Board (their selection is great and the cheeses don't spoil as easily). However if you want the best soft cheeses I would head to The Pasta Shop or Farmstead (Farmstead has an incredible selection of blue cheeses).

                              One other thing, especially about the Cheese Board, the person helping you select cheese can definitely affect your experience in relation to that cheese shop. This is particuarly true at the Cheese Board where there seems to be a wider array of palate matching talent than at Farmstead and The Pasta Shop.

                              1. re: skwid

                                The Cheeseboard is a collective, and my understanding is that they rotate jobs, so the person who is helping you might be more interested in the baking side and not that into or experienced with cheese.

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                  This is true, but from a cheese buying perspective it does make a difference. Thus the cavet when going to the Cheese Board

                                  1. re: skwid

                                    There is an advantage for older folk. A round of Sir Francis Drake at Whole Foods was was almost $19 at $29/lb. At Cheese Board it was $23.75/lb with a 10% discount for and early septuagenarian or $13.50, a COLA.

                                2. re: skwid

                                  I find the Pasta Shop less consistent in how well they take care of the cheese, I think it varies as employees come and go. (The same goes for Whole Foods, only much more so.) I do shop there frequently since it's often more convenient.

                              2. Milk Pail Market in Mountain View has excellent cheeses. They carry many of the same ones Whole foods carries (but cheaper) and then some.

                                Milk Pail Market
                                2585 California St, Mountain View, CA

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: arlenemae

                                  Cheeseboard, cheeseboard, cheeseboard.
                                  SUCH variety! The best baguette in the bay area!

                                  1. re: mendogurl

                                    Cheeseboard and Milk Pail are my two favorite choices on this thread, because I'm cheap and they have good cheese.

                                2. We're cheese blogging with some friends too (would love to link to yours, read yours)! We live near The Cheese Board and have had very good assistance, direction, and thoughtful service there. Did have a recent trip where I was seeking producers the person helping me was uncertain of, but he went and found out. Many of the team members there have been incredible and we've traveled the world through cheese with them. They are generous with the tastes and have helped me learn how to structure a good plate, spiced up my fondue, etc. I think Cowgirl at Ferry is a must and Nan is the woman who often works the fresh cheese counter. She is a light and very helpful. The sheep's milk ricotta (from Bellwether Farms) is stunning. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/43521 has some good info too.


                                  1. Please note new address for Raymond in Napa Valley. If you go you might stop at the cheese store at Oxbow Market since they are only about 5 miles apart. Small but interesting selection.

                                    1. Kristenss, What is the link to your blog?

                                      1. Whole Foods and Rainbow? No comparison between the two. Rainbow has one of the very best cheese selections in the Bay Area, and everyone who works in the cheese department is very excited to help and explain and give tastes.

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: Atomica

                                          Some branches of Whole Foods have at times had really good managers who took great care of the cheese, but I think they tend to get hired away.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Yes, the Potrero Whole Foods had a well-run cheese section when they opened. I haven't been lately to compare.

                                            Cheese has always been the shining point at Rainbow (for those of us who can't deal with the rest of the store).

                                        2. Been reflecting on Cheese Board and wondering if the others besides Cowgirl cut-to-order for most customers. Meaning pre-sliced cheese is not the norm?

                                          3 Replies
                                            1. re: dcfb

                                              Any full-service cheese shop should cut to order.

                                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                Agreed. I was surprised Rainbow, which I just visited for the first time had so much pre-cut. Amazing selection with a great staff, but I thought it would be cut-to order.

                                            2. My husband is an NYC transplant and total cheese fiend (he's French) and says Cheese Board is the only Bay Area shop that comes close to Murray's. It depends on what kind of cheese you like. For European cheeses, I don't doubt that Murray's has a better selection than what we can get on the West Coast (fwiw, Murray's does sell cheese through their website: http://www.murrayscheese.com/).

                                              Cowgirl has a strong focus on domestically produced cheeses, and may be a good bet for discovering West Coast treasures, like Gioia burrata. Because some cheeses (like burrata) need to be eaten when they're very fresh, getting them locally actually makes sense compared to opting for their European counterparts.

                                              We once got an outstanding Berkswell at Cheese Plus on Polk. It's nowhere near as comprehensive as Cheese Board or Cowgirl, but one of the workers (a middle-aged gentleman) seems to be fairly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about cheese. More of a leave-no-stone-unturned option than a can't-miss.

                                              1. In the City I really like Rainbow & Bi-Rite. I hope the Cheese Shop on Divisidero that was kicked out by his landlord opens a new shop. I'm also a big fan of Oliver's Markets in Sonoma County.

                                                Oliver's Market
                                                560 Montecito Center, Santa Rosa, CA 95409