The thing about having so many cheesemonger friends is that, all too often, we live in completely different parts of the country. It takes something like Fancy Food Show, CMI, or the American Cheese Society conference to bring us all together. Last year in San Fransisco I competed in CMI. It was a wonderful experience that I wouldn't trade for anything, but I didn't really get to enjoy SF because I was wrapped up in the competition for two days. This year though, I made sure that I had plenty of extra time outside of work. Fortunately, I had already connected with Tom Perry (formerly of Potash Markets in Chicago but now at Shelburne Farms in Vermont) to plan out some fun adventures for the couple days before the crazy weekend started. We were also joined by Lilith Spencer (Cheesemongers of Santa Fe) and Nadjeeb Chouaf (Flora Artisanal Cheese). They joined us on our travels to Sonoma but before that even happened we had a couple of wonderful days cruising SF and hitting up all the best cheese shops. Nick Bayne from Foster Sundry also joined us on part of the adventure.
I will admit to there being some places that we went to that I didn't get pictures of. The first day was a wet, rainy mess and as someone born and raised in the PNW, it was a lot even for me. The idea of pulling out my camera in that mess was not one I was willing to entertain, so sadly, Bi-Rite and Rainbow Grocery did not get many pictures though we appreciated the heck out of them, their mongers, and their commitment to great cheese.
Owned by the famed, Ray Bair, Cheese Plus has sat on the corner of Polk and Pacific in Russian Hill since 2005. After 18 years of working at Whole Foods Market, Ray wanted to take his passion for cheese to the next level. Cheese Plus has all the things you want and need from a neighborhood store. A fantastic cheese selection, (currently being run by my pal and fellow #Mongerhaus member, Waldermar Albrecht) pastas, meats, sandwiches, wine, and beer. They even have a convenient window for coffee and pastry pick up for the neighbors on the go.
Mission Cheese opened it's doors in 2011 after many years of Sarah Dvorak dreaming of opening a shop and celebrating American Artisan cheese. It's a quaint and sweet space that allows for romantic first dates or happy hour with your besties. They are constantly refining their food options with revolving in house pickles and made in house pates. The last couple years has seen the MC crew working hard at expanding in to the Maker's Common which would allow more innovation in the food realm and provide the space to reach the dreams that Sarah harbors. We were well taken care of by our #Mongerhaus little brother, Alex Armstrong, who placed second at the Cheesemonger Invitational just a few days later.
If you have spent any time in SF then you have made your way to the Ferry building at least once. It's prominence is undeniable but it also holds one of the finest cheese shops in town. Cowgirl Creamery is a Bay Area standard and for good reason. They have been making delicious cheese for years and have been on the forefront of the American Artisan cheese movement. While obviously carrying their own cheese in plenty, this shop carries a wide selection of American and European imports. Their mongers are knowledgable, their selection is top notch, and they have a Sidekick Cafe offering a bevy of delights all smothered in glorious cheeese!
The icing on these truly wonderful couple of days was the time we got to spend on Nick's family's rooftop, drinking wine, and commiserating about life and our industry. We had a break in the torrential rain that allowed for some wonderful picture taking and scenery.
Like I said, times like this are few and far between so it's really something special when we get this time to continue building our community. It was trip that won't soon be forgotten.