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Feb 28, 2014 02:31 PM

Quality cheese (for wine pairing) between Mountain View to San Mateo?

We will be doing a pinot noir pairing with some delicious food, and I need to bring some good cheese.

The pinots are Knez, Anthill, Williams-Selyem and there will be a burgundy from A&P de Villain.

Without schlepping to SF (could do that on the weekend instead, as I'm curious about Mount Tam from Cowgirl Creamery and perhaps one of their seasonal ones if available like Fat Bottom Girl), is there another place between Mountain View and San Mateo along the 101 that has a good solid cheese selection with knowledgeable helpful staff?

Ideally the store(s) should have some solid selections for Sheep milk, chevre, and strong cheese (perhaps a 8 year aged cheddar), maybe a brie for the burgundy. I could do a few stops but hopefully not too many. Can I buy Harley Farms goat cheese somewhere along the route without detouring to say, Half Moon Bay?

I know about Milk Pail, but not sure if they will have everything I need. Any better options? Whole Foods?

If SF is clearly the better option due to superior quality, I will head up there this weekend. What are your picks/recommendations (and even down to the cheese)? Cheers.

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  1. I've found that the condition of the cheese at Whole Foods stores varies and can go uphill or downhill due to personnel changes.

    1. Draegers, Whole Foods, Costco, Mollie Stone's, Sigona's, Trader Joe's pretty much in that order.

      1. The Los Altos Whole Foods has an excellent cheese selection for an all purpose supermarket (and certainly have the basics you list - I don't think I've seen Harley farms though).

        2 Replies
        1. re: goldangl95

          I have in the past seen Harley Farms at the Los Altos Whole Foods in the refrigerator section where the fresh mozzarella is.

          1. re: 12172003

            Ah makes sense. I tend not to linger over that section which is probably why I miss it.

        2. Epoisses and Red Hawk are great pairings with Pinot Noir. Epoisses is from Burgundy.

          I do not like fresh chèvre such as Harley nor brie paired with red wine.

          7 Replies
          1. re: Melanie Wong

            Also wanted to mention there's a whole board devoted to Cheese where you can get more advice on specific cheeses and pairings.

            Some discussions of Epoisses:

            Some discussions of Cowgirl Creamery's Red Hawk:

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              Thanks to all!

              I'm going directly to Cowgirl Creamery and pick up a Mt Tam, Red Hawk, then figure out the rest :-).

              1. re: K K

                Cowgirl in the Ferry Building also sells cheese from other producers that it represents/distributes on the wholesale level. So it might be your one-stop shop. Be sure to taste before you buy, and really let the cheese bloom on your tongue. That will give you a better sense of what it will taste like once it warms up to room temperature from chilled. Cowgirl is generous with tasting, so take advantage of the education when you have the opportunity.

                ETA: You'll find the outstanding English cheddars from Neal's Yard there. Those will pair well with red wine. I love Montgomery cheddar.

                Here's the cheese list:

            2. re: Melanie Wong

              Melanie, any hints on how to tell if a Red Hawk is properly ripe before you buy it? I started getting a lot of young, almost chalky Red Hawk after it won some prestigious prize a few years ago. I assumed they were selling them earlier to keep up with demand. I guess you could try poking it to see if there's any give. It's still ok when underripe though.

              I've at least learned to not buy Epoisses that's visibly saggy in the middle. I made that mistake the first time I bought it and assumed the ammonia bite was supposed to be there. A perfectly ripe (or even underripe) Epoisses is great with pinot, but one step in the wrong direction and I think it would kill the wine.

              My washed rind of choice right now is Langres. I haven't lived in the South Bay for years, but my bet on the two places most likely to carry it would be Milk Pail and Los Altos Whole Foods.

              KK, since you're specifically pairing for pinot, I would probably avoid anything too sharp or tangy and focus on funky, mellow, mushroomy cheeses. Along with the washed rinds above, I'd think about brescianella, and I'd look at some creamy mixed-milk cheeses (La Tur, which can sometimes be found at Costco, Robiola due Latte). I think Brebirousse, a brie-style sheep, would be great too.

              Since the knowledge of the person manning the cheese counter can vary, my strategy would be the following:
              1) Zero in on creamy cheeses with rinds, and cheeses in round boxes
              2) In a store where they don't cut the cheese to order, look at the date the cheese was packaged and only select ones that were cut within a day or so. For cheeses in boxes, do not purchase if the middle is sagging (overripe and ammonia-y)
              3) Choose a mix of different milks, whether separate or blended, and a mix of washed rind and non-washed rind

              I think this would get you a mix of cheeses that would pair well pinot, even if you didn't recognize the cheeses themselves.

              1. re: daveena

                Red Hawk's moisture content varies seasonally, so the texture will be different over the year when you squeeze it and not entirely reliable. I'd suggest asking for the date sticker. The cheeses are labeled with a julian date, so you can count backwards. I'd go with six weeks or more if you want any character. And bear in mind that storage at the store and in transport also has a lot to do with condition. You can also ask the cheesemonger to unwrap it for you to examine the condition of the rind. Here's more about Red Hawk maturity in my post on the Cheese board,

              2. re: Melanie Wong

                Brie and similar cheeses such as Camembert and Reblochon are great with inexpensive rustic Bordeaux blends, but I would not pair that kind of cheese with Pinot Noir.

                Damn, I wish I were in France or Canada right now.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Almost picked up a Marin French Cheese brie at Cowgirl today, just for the burgundy, but I think what I got will suffice.

              3. Yes, certainly Whole Foods and Draeger's locations in that stretch have the sort of cheese selections you want.

                I've participated in four longtime, parallel, regular, co-operative Bay Area wine tasting groups whose members (many working in food or wine businesses themselves) take turns hosting, providing nibbles to follow the (blind comparative) tastings; these nibbles always include cheese. Three of the groups are centered on the Peninsula, and focus on Burgundies and other pinot-noir wines. They almost always end up getting the cheeses from either Draegers or a well supplied Whole Foods cheese dept, such as the one in Los Altos.

                There's perhaps even more precious, formulaic BS spread around about pairing cheeses with wines than about pairing food in general with wines. A range of cheeses will suit a range of individual tastes.

                Things like Morbier, aged Cheddar, soft ripened chesses like (of COURSE) Époisses de Bourgogne if available, and some goat and some blue regularly satisfy pinot-noir experts in my experience both here and in Burgundy.

                1 Reply
                1. re: eatzalot

                  Thanks, I ended up picking four varieties from Cowgirl SF Ferry Building today. Love the selection and the helpful service. Mt Tam, Red Hawk, a Cypress Grove goat milk with dill (was a request) and a sheep milk that supposedly has a similar profile to Fat Bottom Girl's. One stop shop that worked, although way too many choices...The pinots will primarily be paired with dinner food, with the cheese course at the end (or starter), so this will all do just fine.

                  Thanks everyone!