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Mar 13, 2014 08:54 AM

Cheese stores in South Bay (and 680 corridor)

I just read (http://www.grubstreet.com/2014/03/50-...) about types of cheese I had never before heard of: "Adelegger to Zimbro"

Does anyone know of stores in the San Francisco South Bay (between Santa Clara and Menlo Park) or the I-680 corridor (if that qualifies as SF Bay Area in this forum) that carries these niche cheeses?

Thanks for any pointers.

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    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Thanks, Robert. Interesting reading!

      I'll try Draegers the next time I'm driving 680.

    2. The Draegers and Whole Foods locations in that stretch are pretty much the benchmarks (a bit more on this in thread RL linked). W F in Cupertino and Los Altos (Palo Alto too but that one is unusually compact and kind of offbeat), Draegers in Los Altos and Menlo Park.

      Some larger Whole Foods cheese depts. (in the super-store locations, three times the size of a typical Safeway, that started opening last decade -- including Los Altos) can be awe-inspiring.

      3 Replies
      1. re: eatzalot

        Thanks, eatzalot.

        I didn't realize that there are different size WF markets (I've only been in one so far).

        1. re: SimSportPlyr

          The Cupertino Whole Foods is probably bigger than Los Altos.

          I found selections of cheese at Los Altos to be quite decent, and had a few varieties that I did not see in San Mateo the week of that other thread, like French Comte, and Epoisse from France.

          The best thing to do is call the shops before you go.

          1. re: K K

            Whole Foods has a Certified Cheese Professional, Leah McFadden. From looking at her blog, she seems to rotate among the South Bay WFs. Maybe she's been able to improve the program.

      2. If you're up for a detour, you might call Farmstead in Alameda. They'll almost certainly have things you won't find at Whole Foods, and the cheese will be reliably in excellent condition.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Robert Lauriston

          I second this, they have a lovely selection, knowledgeable staff, and the quality is pretty impeccable I think it is a real gem

          1. re: karenfinan

            Thanks, karenfinan.

            You folks are very helpful!

          2. re: Robert Lauriston

            Robert, thanks for the recommendation.

            I would consider a detour to Alameda.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Robert or karenfinan -

              BTW, do you happen to know if Farmstead offers samples or sells in small quantities?

              I'm not familiar with many of these artisan cheeses.

                1. re: SimSportPlyr

                  Yes, all the first-rate cheese stores give samples.

                  1. re: SimSportPlyr

                    My experience is that they love to talk about the cheeses they have and are generous with samples. I am not particularly knowledgable about most of the cheeses they sell, and they have been very good about asking what type I am looking for, making suggestions, and giving as many samples as I want.

                2. The link in the original post is broken, so I'm not sure how many of these replies are addressing the specific cheeses you're seeking. Here's the url:

                  I'll cast a wider geographic net and tell you where I've seen the ones I'm familiar with in the Bay Area. Just in case you feel like taking a road trip to find them:

                  Beecher's Flagship is pretty widely available though not every good cheese shop carries it.

                  Valley Ford Estero Gold Reserve - all over Sonoma County, including the small grocery store in Valley Ford, and sold at a few farmers markets too.

                  Andante Tomme Dolce - Oliver's market on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa has every Andante cheese. I've not seen more selection of Andante anywhere other than its own booth at the Saturday farmers market at SF's Ferry Plaza. This branch of the small local grocery store chain is also my favorite cheese counter in the North Bay. Very knowledgeable staff with a strong educational bent, well-kept cheeses. They not only sample, but on weekends, will set up a small tasting of a half dozen or so featured cheeses to introduce them to customers.

                  Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere - Cowgirl Creamery is the distributor, so you'll find many Jasper Hill cheeses at the store in SF's Ferry Plaza. This cheese has pretty good distribution during the months it is available.

                  Landaff - from the Cellars of Jasper Hill, so found at Cowgirl. I've also purchased this at Rainbow Grocery in SF.

                  Uplands Cheese Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra-Aged - Cowgirl Creamery, and don't miss the oozy Rush Creek Reserve before it disappears from stores this month. I prefer it to Winnimere.

                  Barinaga Txiki - I've bought this at Freestone Artisan Cheese. If you're looking for California cheeses, you owe it to yourself to make the pilgrimage there. This shop sells only domestic cheese, mostly from Marin and Sonoma counties, and has some first production runs that no one else is selling yet. Also Cowgirl.

                  Point Reyes Bay Blue - Freestone Artisan, The Shed in Healdsburg, Big John's market in Hbg

                  Jasper Hill Farm Alpha Tolman - Don't know this cheese, but again, should be distributed by Cowgirl.

                  Försterkäse - Rainbow Grocery

                  Stichelton - widely available, Cowgirl

                  Challerhocker - pretty sure I saw this at Farmstead. And the cheesemonger at Cheese Plus in SF is an Alpine cheese fanatic, so I'm sure he would have it.

                  1605 Manchego - Cowgirl

                  Cheriboga Blue - I've been keeping an eye out for this cheese for more than a year. I saw it last month at Cheese Plus, my only sighting.

                  Anton's Limburger - Cowgirl

                  Kunik - grayelf reports buying this at Mission Cheese in SF

                  Herve Mons Camembert - one of the staffers at the cheese counter at The Pasta Shop in Rockridge, Oakland worked for Mons and stocks quite a bit of his selections

                  Cabot Clothbound Cheddar - widely available, Cowgirl distribution

                  Le Meunier Roquefort - The Pasta Shop in Oakland, Big John's market in Healdsburg

                  Raw Epoisses - have not seen any locally for years, next best thing is Berthaut's coupe (big wheels) that Berkeley's Cheeseboard and Stony Point Oliver's carry.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Whole Foods had an exclusive on the Hervé Mons Camembert, I don't know if they still do.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Wow, Melanie, thank you, thank you, thank you! That's amazing information.

                      I'm going to arrange a foray to SF with a buddy to check out the Cowgirl Shop at the Ferry Plaza and maybe Rainbow Grocery, too.

                      1. re: SimSportPlyr

                        You're very welcome. I promised you on the Cheese board that I would do so. I'm sorry we haven't yet fleshed out more definite targets for you to hit up in the South Bay. I'd hoped we would.

                        The list of recommended cheeses was weighted pretty heavily toward Cowgirl's portfolio. So yeah, you'll be able to hit up a lot of them by going to the Cowgirl shop in SF. Rainbow has good selection, but some of the cut and wrap cheeses are not in good condition. It's not a problem to ask the staff to open a cut piece of cheese for you to taste. I recommend this before buying there. And of course, you can have cheese cut to order too. I'll mention that Rainbow is a zoo on Saturdays (and many other days too), and you'll not be able to park within three blocks of the store.

                        Your other opportunity is next weekend at the Calif Artisan Cheese Festival.

                      2. re: Melanie Wong

                        There's also a small cheese store in Oakland -- right off 24 at 51st and Shattuck -- called Sacred Wheel Cheese. I've seen the Anton's cheeses there, and they have some other hard to find cheeses.


                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                          Thanks, Ruth. I could take a detour from 680 to 880 during one of my Sacramento-to-Sunnyvale trips.

                        2. re: Melanie Wong

                          Milk Pail in MV had Raw Epoisses last time I was there several months back.

                          Also, surprised Sigona (in Stanford Shopping center and on Middlefield in RWC) hasn't been mentioned.

                          Also, re: your comment on plastic wrapped cheese -- I think you are overstating the negative effect of the plastic wrap itself on the cheese. I have never noticed any plastic flavor or odor on any adequately aired cheese (I let cheese "breathe" for several hours before consumption). Perhaps plastic wrap exacerbates other prep and storage problems such as contamination, moisture, or poor temperature control? In any case, you are exponentially increasing the logistical challenges of acquiring first-rate cheese in this area if you avoid plastic wrap.

                          1. re: Lisa S.

                            What is Sigona's current cheese selection like at the Stanford mall, Lisa?

                            I admit I did not know Sigona as a cheese source, and haven't even been there in a few years. The former Stanford Mall cheese specialist I cited earlier today was Oakville Grocery. That Mall had been a solid central source of unusual food ingredients in its part of the Bay Area through the 90s, but after Oakville bankrupted and then the Mall's new corporate owners booted out Teri Hope's independent coffee importing and roasting business in favor of Starbuck's, I kind of wrote the center off as a food source, no longer warranting the special trips I'd been making there for the purpose. (Not to mention, Schaub's stopped selling those exquisite little game birds wrapped in pastry with some sort of intense sherry or Madeira sauce inside... Local family made them but got out of the business.)

                            1. re: eatzalot

                              I would say Sigona has at least a dozen of the cheeses on the Grub Street list (I know I've gotten Dumbarton Blue and Pleasant Ridge there). In addition, they usually have at least three different Rogue blues, had Sharf Maxx (sp.?) last time I was there, etc. In short, about the same size selection as Draegers and WF, but much more interesting imo.

                            2. re: Lisa S.

                              No raw Époisses at Milk Pail tonight, or any Époisses, or any other contraband cheese.

                              They do have perhaps the best selection I've seen at places with only pre-cut, plastic-wrapped cheese, though as I would expect some of it did not look in the best shape.

                              From that list, they did have pimiento cheese.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                On the shelf marked "Epoisses" there is (or were last week) a really fine artesinal cheese from vermont that looks like a little brain, in a wood box. I happen to have this exact cheese in vermont and it's excellent. Sorry that I've forgot the name. They seem to not have added any Epoisses for a while, I keep checking too.

                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                    Sounds like the Vermont Creamery Coupole. It didn't look in as good shape as the ones I recently bought at Mission Cheese.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      They looked to be sitting there a while.

                                      How did you like the ones you had?

                                      1. re: bbulkow

                                        It was one of the best American goat cheeses I've had. Flavor reminded me of Rocamadour.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          I haven't had Rocamadour, but agree it's a might fine goat cheese.

                                        2. re: bbulkow

                                          bbulkow, how can you tell if the cheese has been sitting for awhile?

                              2. So you have a few pointers here, SikSportPlyr; but no answer yet to your specific query. (General cheese counters located in exactly the area you requested, but no knowledge of which of the specific cheeses they carry; and very specific cheese recommendations, mostly very far from the requested location.)

                                I too am interested in your original quest as you defined it, so please be sure to report any discoveries actually in the S. Bay or 680 corridor. (I know the latter, FWIW, mainly as a motor route rather than a populated region -- towns scattered along its length -- Walnut Creek, Danville, Pleasanton -- all incidentally unambiguously within this board's scope, because located in the bay-contiguous Alameda and Co-Co Counties). Or maybe the right person will first see this thread, and report finding some of these modern farmstead cheeses in the requested areas.

                                19 Replies
                                1. re: eatzalot

                                  I believe the first-rate cheese shops in the Bay Area are all in SF, Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, and the North Bay.

                                  Out of the scope of this board, but there's a surprisingly good one in Lodi, Cheese Central.

                                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    "I believe the first-rate cheese shops in the Bay Area are all in SF, Berkeley, Oakland, and Alameda."

                                    That could well be true, though of course those places are outside the regions that the OP requested; also no one, yet, has posted knowledge of how well this thread's specific request is, actually, met by the shops within the OP's requested geography.

                                    But I am curious on what basis you make the statement above, Robert. Given that in other threads related to this one I don't recall you having many comments on things you found or didn't find when cheese-shopping at the two Draegers and two large Whole Foods sites within the OP's south-bay range.

                                    1. re: eatzalot

                                      A first-rate cheese shop could not exist for long in this area without my hearing about it.

                                      1. re: eatzalot

                                        I usually take umbrage at South Bay bashing here, but in this case everyone is correct as far as I know. There's no first-rate cheese shop in the South Bay where they'll cut cheese for your order and provide samples and expertise. Neither Draeger's nor Whole Foods with all their pre-cut cheese meet those criteria.

                                        We had one first-rate store ever so briefly at Miki's in Palo Alto, but the rest of the store didn't live up to the cheese counter and it was in an awful location, so it didn't survive long. If I'm wrong and have missed something please let us all know!


                                        1. re: mdg

                                          My issue was not south-bay bashing, but the broad-brush conclusions without data. (I GREW UP WITH shops like the Cheese Board and Say Cheese, and am accustomed to their standards.)

                                          The Campbell and (to lesser extent) Los Altos Whole Foods cheese departments proved repeatedly up to the challenge of furnishing interesting ranges of cheeses for Burgundy experts doing blind tastings, including on occasions, famous winemakers visiting from France (in those cases we supplemented with rare Epoisses shipped in, and I often wondered if those strong ripe cheeses might be held up as Hazardous Substances at the airport).

                                          In almost all visits to large Whole-Foods cheese depts. in south bay in the past 15 years, I asked to try particular cheeses. The shops ALWAYS opened, sampled, and cut cheeses by request! Expertise on hand depended whether the shop's resident cheese expert or knowledgeable assistants were on duty -- a potential weakness at WF -- but more often than not, they were, and I was steered to unusual or newly arrived cheeses I wouldn't otherwise have known about.

                                          Finally despite continued postings in this thread, no one has answered the original query: whether some of the cheeses sought are available in a specified south-bay region. _Given_ that someone will be in a certain area, it is surely more useful to tell them about options worth knowing IN that area, than to compare it to distant ones! Cupertino and Campbell Whole Foods are not far from 280 (680's extension), so remain potentially helpful for the OP's quest.

                                          1. re: eatzalot

                                            eatzalot, my usual destination in the Bay is very near the Sunnyvale-Cupertino border, so the SF in Cupertino is close enough.

                                            On the other hand, now that I know that WF is (or may be) willing to give samples, I'll try the WF in my home area (Roseville).

                                            Thanks for the reply.

                                            1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                              If you live in Roseville, you should check out Corti Bros. in Sacramento. Not the most exotic selection but some very high-quality stuff and they take good care of it.


                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Robert, I've been to Corti Bros in Sac once, about a year ago.

                                                At the time, I was not particularly interested in 'niche' cheeses; rather, I was checking out their selection of Parmigiano-Reggiano and domestic cheddar.

                                                My buddy and I had excellent deli sandwiches at Corti Bros, but to be honest I thought the cheese prices were very high.

                                                Next time I'm in that area, I'll drop in again and check out their selection of artisan cheeses, now that my interests have changed a bit.

                                                I didn't notice anyone in the cheese area that I could ask for samples, although there was an apparently under-employed fellow nearby in the wine section.

                                                Have you had experience asking for cheese samples there?

                                                Thanks for the reply. I learn a lot from your posts!

                                                1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                  At Corti Bros. I'm always focused on finding things I haven't seen around Berkeley. I noticed the cheese selection was good for the area but didn't give it much thought.

                                                  1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                    I was in Corti brothers three weeks ago. I browsed the cheese counter and its not that interesting. There were a couple unusual things but I'd not recalling what they are.

                                                    While I've not been to Nugget markets to see their cheese counters, I'd give them a try during March while Fiscalini is cheese of the month. This is an esteemed California producer --- you'll find praise for the bandage-wrapped cheddar and San Joaquin Gold on the Cheese board.

                                                    Before you buy at any Whole Foods, be sure to taste. The problem I've had with the stores is the condition of the cheeses . . . underripe, overripe, dried out, etc. Also things that are cut and wrapped a week or more ahead of time and still sitting on the shelf that will taste like chemically plastic wrap. My most recent WF experience was at the Monterey store. All of the particular cheese that I wanted had been cut and wrapped. The staffer had no problem opening up a piece for me to taste. When asked, she also had no problem trimming off all the cut surface areas to get rid of the plasticky aroma/taste for a clean taste. It was good enough, so she re-wrapped and weighed/priced it for me to buy, losing a few ounces from the original. There can be a broad selection, but not always the top producers. So, absolutely do not buy any cheese at WF unless you taste it first and assure yourself that you're getting the real deal in optimum condition.

                                                2. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                  N.B. my cheese experience at the WF sites named is largely from Campbell and Los Altos, but I included Cupertino as a prospect based on the location.

                                                  (The reason for that particular history is that during the years when I visited Cupertino WF with any frequency -- at its original Wolfe Road location until 1994, and even earlier, when that store was a Bread Of Life and had not yet been absorbed in WF's acquisition frenzy -- I got good full-service cheese and other specialty ingredients at another source, in Palo Alto, which later went out of business.)

                                              2. re: mdg

                                                I have been really happy with the cheese selection at the Whole Foods in Los Altos (and am less familiar but also with Cupertino). They have a startling amount of varieties that you can ask them to cut from a round (yes they also do have pre cut wedges). Their selection is as good as many small, independently owned cheese shops.

                                                What you don't get (depending on the hour) are necessarily the most knowledgable people behind the counter. Sometimes the experts are there - sometimes not, but this isn't the biggest deal if you know your cheeses already.

                                          2. re: eatzalot

                                            Yes, you're right, that I don't yet have a perfect match between specific cheeses and a store along my usual travel route.

                                            I'll email a foodie friend who lives in Orinda. Maybe she knows of a good store between Concord and Danville. If I discovered one I'll post here.

                                            1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                              There's a Draeger's in Danville though I've not been to that location.

                                              The last time I was in Moraga, I wound my way over the hill to the Oakland branch of Farmstead. Not that far really and a pleasant, winding, woodsy drive.

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                I didn't know of the Farmstead in Oakland. That would be a reasonable detour from my normal 80-to-680 route.

                                                Thanks yet again, Melanie.

                                                1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                  It is in Montclair Village off of Hwy 13. 6218 La Salle Ave. open daily.

                                                  1. re: SimSportPlyr

                                                    Wondering if anyone who has been to the Oakland and Alameda locations of Farmstead can handicap them for us. It's been a couple years since my last visit to the Alameda original for me to offer an opinion.