The sophisticated, stylin’ San Francisco Bay Area literally reeks with true cheese passion. Produced by a wide network of small, local Bay Area cheesemakers, adoring fans snap up seasonal as well as more traditional style cheeses. We’ve got the wine, the bread – and thou. Now, for the cheese.

Real Cheese for Real Americans

Gordon Edgar is the cheese buyer for Rainbow Grocery, a vegetarian worker-run cooperative. His book, “Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge” establishes him as a pro. His most popular cheese choices may surprise you: “…Jack and Mild Cheddar. It’s a price issue. It’s not processed, it’s real American cheese, and it’s what most people eat. Mozzarella too.” Artisanal, hand-made cheeses are also trending.

From Farm to You

Over at Bi-Rite Market, they take the term “locavore” seriously. The store has produce farms in both Sonoma and San Francisco. Fresh greens are biked to the store. So when I asked Anthea Stolz, cheese buyer, what their bestsellers were, she had specific cheesemakers to suggest. Seems that Anthea and her staff had just returned from a dairy farm field trip, and were overflowing with enthusiasm for the two small family-owned cheesemakers.

Anthea says her picks are farmstead cheeses – the milk comes from the animals on the farm, as opposed to commodity milk blended from other herds or areas.

The Tale of Terroir

One question fermenting in my brain was: Does cheese (like wine) have a terroir? Both buyers sliced the issue the same: The steps taken and ingredients used to make the final product can dramatically impact the taste. They both agreed: There is no terroir of cheese; it’s more of a marketing term.

Both cheese buyers also agreed that Cowgirl Creamery in Marin (seasonal St. Pat wrapped with stinging nettle leaves, Mt. Tam, Red Hawk), and Harley Farms in Pescadero (flower-studded chevre rounds) were tops.

Cowgirl_Creamery_St._Pat_Nettle_Wrapped_Cheese_small

Limited edition St. Pat cheese from Cowgirl Creamery.

Gordon Edgar’s Picks:

Valley Ford Cheese Company

Highway One is basically an altered Fontina recipe.” The cheese is “buttery and fruity – that’s the one that’s going to be a really big hit.” It pairs well with Italian wines and food.

Bleating Heart Dairy

“They make a sheep cheese called Fat Bottom Girl. This one is going to be BIG.” Look for this one soon, as it’s aging now and not available just yet. Pair it with pepper jams, Petit Syrah/Pinot Noir wine, or lager and farmhouse-style ales.

Anthea Stolz’s Picks:

Barinaga Ranch

Made with farmstead sheep’s milk in a “West Marin interpretation of the Basque style”, Baserri is a 4- to 5-pound tomme with a nutty, rich flavor. The curds are pressed into a mold to give it a “wheel” shape. Txiki (pronounced “cheeky”), a 2-pound tommette-sized cheese, has a slightly saltier taste.

Nicasio Valley Cheese Company

“They make a lovely fresh cow’s milk cheese called Foggy Morning.” The cheesemaker says to pair this one with “pasta, salads, pizza, olive oil and cracked pepper, fruit or jams.” Anthea also recommends “…their Nicasio Square, a taleggio style washed-rind, which is mild, fruity and yeasty.” Look for the telltale orange rind on the outside.