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The Best Cheese in SF (Recommendations from Local Cheese Shops)

Photo via foodmuse on Flickr.com

Mmmmm, cheese. What more is there to say? We talked to passionate cheesemongers around the city to see what cheeses they're most excited about eating now.

Cheese Plus, 2001 Polk Street @ Pacific Ave., 415-921-2001 

What they sell: cheeses, charcuterie, wine, imported Italian condiments, chocolate, seasonings, bread, sandwiches.

Favorite affordable cheese: Point Reyes' Toma ($19/lb). "It's grassy, milky, and dense," says cheesemonger Samantha Chertoff. "It's great to cook with, put on a cheeseboard, or eat in the morning."

Favorite new cheese in stock: Cabra Blanca ($38/lb). It's a pasteurized, natural-rind goat cheese from a very small Colorado farm, making it hard to get outside of the state. "It's a bright cheese with lemon tones, perfect for warm days. Pair it with cornichons (French pickles), champagne, or a nice pilsner."

Most recommended "out there" cheese: Provolone Mandarone ($50/lb), aged by Guffanti Cheese Company in Lombardy, Italy. "It's like parmesan gone crazy," says Chertoff. It's aged at least two years, giving it a super distinct flavor perfect for those who want a powerful cheese. "It tastes like pepper and pineapple–you'd typically dip pieces of it in olive oil to soften the blow of the flavor, or shave it on arugula salads."

Cheese Boutique, 666 Chenery St., 415-333-3390 (alternate location at 1298 12th Avenue)

What they sell: sandwiches, Mediterranean and cheese platters, charcuterie, hard-to-find olive oil (their 12th Street locale sells wine).

Favorite affordable cheese: "We have good French brie ($10.99/lb) and great prices on Manchego ($14.99/lb)," says owner Nada Malouf. "My favorite is the aged Old Amsterdam gouda ($15.99/lb)."

Favorite new cheese in stock: They just started carrying Chaubier from France, a half cow, half goat's milk cheese that's semi-soft and medium-sharp. "It's perfect with red wine before dinner," says Malouf.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: Leyden, a Dutch cow's milk cheese with cumin seeds in it. Malouf suggests eating it before dinner with a full-bodied Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. It's also a hearty cheese for cold weather.

Cowgirl Creamery, 1 Ferry Building, Suite 17, 415-362-9350

What they sell: crackers and crostini, honey, almonds, chutneys, and a limited selection of local charcuterie. Check out Sidekick for sandwiches and salads.

Favorite affordable cheese: Wagon Wheel ($17.45/lb). "It's versatile, good for melting, sandwiches, snacking, or on a cheese plate–the perfect vehicle for other foods," says manager Simon Darling. Cowgirl uses Straus organic milk, so the cheese is extra smooth, creamy, and akin to a young asiago.

Favorite new cheese in stock: Montagne de Jura ($25.95/lb). It's made according to a traditional mountain recipe. "It's fantastic for cooler days. It coats your palette and is great with a syrupy, white riesling," says Darling. Like a gruyere or a comté, it's robust, smooth, pungent, and meaty.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: "Our fresh cheeses are the hidden gems of our shop," says Darling. Their ricottas, mascarpones, cottage cheeses, creme fraiches, and fromage blancs ($9-12/lb) showcase the top-quality milk Cowgirl uses and are cheap enough to buy a lot to play around with. Darling recommends using them in desserts or breakfast dishes.


Photograph by Edward de Leon

Say Cheese, 856 Cole Street, 415-665-5020

What they sell: sandwiches, charcuterie, wine.

Favorite affordable cheese: Taleggio from Northern Italy ($15/lb). It's a soft, washed-rind, stinky cheese. According to cheesemonger Jens Thorsgard, "It's rich, meaty, and yeasty—good on a baguette with a beer."

Favorite new cheese in stock: Cumberland ($34.95/lb) from Tennessee. It's a buttery, tangy raw cow's milk tomme (a cheese made with the milk from only one farm) that tastes French but has more bite.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: Cabricharme ($28.95/lb). It's a soft, very stinky raw goat's milk cheese. "It kind of smells like an armpit, and tastes like a goat farm. People understand it when they taste it," says Thorsgard. "It's a really real cheese."

24th Street Cheese Company, 3893 24th Street, 415-821-6658

What they sell: charcuterie, wine, olive oil, epicurean goods.

Favorite affordable cheese: Midnight Moon from Cypress Grove, California ($18.95/lb). "It's a beautifully aged goat cheese, with a nice balance of acidity and sweetness," says owner Ellen Herlihy. She recommends eating it by itself, with sausages, or a spicy fruit compote.

Favorite new cheese in stock: Challerhocher ($29.95/lb) from Switzerland. Because it's made in the Swiss mountains, it picks up grassy and floral notes from what the cows eat. It's crunchy and nutty like gruyere.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: Stinking Bishop from England ($39.99/lb). It's a soft, ripened cheese that's more sweet than salty because it's cured with pear cider. "Its taste is akin to the taste of sweet young lobster meat," says Herlihy.

Spuntino, 1957 Union St. @ Carlton, 415-931-6410

What they sell: paninis, fresh-made pizzas from sister restaurant Ottimista, fresh and dried pastas, wine, charcuterie.

Favorite affordable cheese: Burrata, a fresh cheese flown in from Italy ($12.99 for a half-pound ball). "It's like mozzarella, but it's had its cream reinfused into it, so it's runny and buttery," says fromaggier Daniel Greenberg. "Put some olive oil, cracked pepper, and a baguette with it, and it's great. It's also quite special with heirloom tomatoes, which are in season now."

Favorite new cheese in stock: Chevrine ($8.99 for a quarter round) from Harley Farms in Pescadero. It is a goat cheese covered in herbs de Provence, which sweetens it and brings out the savoryness of the tart cheese. This is great with champagne or any bubbly wine. "We've also started making Italian cheesesteak paninis made with a California provolone that have been selling like hotcakes," says Greenberg.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: An aged asiago from Stella in Wisconsin ($19.99/lb). "When people hear that, they shy away from it, because it's not made in Italy," says Greenberg. He loves its nutty, spicy bite and versatility. He grates it on pasta, pizza, and even his eggs.

Mission Cheese, 736 Valencia St., 415-484-6553

What they sell: cheese flights, pressed sandwiches, mac n' cheese, wine, beer.

Favorite affordable cheese: Bonne Bouche ($12 per round at about 4 oz. each) from Vermont Butter & Cheese Co. and Dunbarton Blue ($29/lb) from Roelli Cheese Haus. "Bonne Bouche is the perfect addition to a cheese plate," says owner Sarah Dvorak. It's ash ripened rind matches the creamy rich texture of the goat's milk. Dunbarton Blue is just a people pleaser—it's sahrp, salty, meaty, and sweet. Everyone from the advanced connoisseur to the beginner loves this cheese.

Favorite new cheese in stock: Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery ($39/lb). It's a seasonal, just-released cheese (Mission Cheese received their first wheel today). "We could not wait to get our hands on this cheese," says Dvorak. "We did a happy cheese dance when we cracked the wheel this afternoon." It is a cow's milk blue wrapped in Oregon grape leaves macerated in pear brandy and cave-aged for at least 8 months.

Most recommended "out there" cheese: We love Tilston Point ($18/lb), a cow's milk blue from Hook's Cheese Co. in Wisconsin. It's a washed rind blue cheese. "It smells like feet, tastes like meat, and is absolutely creamy and delicious. It is sure to be the talk of any party," says Dvorak.

Where do you like to get your cheeses? Tell us in the comments!