The Truly Massive Insider’s Guide to the Cheeseboard

The Cheeseboard Collective is the glorious center of Berkeley cheese culture. It’s easy to get overwhelmed in the place—there are tons of cheeses, tons of other stuff, and massive lines. So to help you out, we’ve compiled all the best Cheeseboard tips. Be aware, though: The cheese selection is ever changing, so some of these items may not be there on every visit.

rworange recommends the fabulous Portuguese thistle rennet cheeses. The best of them all is Serra da Estrela. “When the wheel was cut, both the cheese monger and I went ‘oooh’ at the same time. The oozy interior promised greatness and it was a cheese of greatness.” The Collective’s also got great Gouda and a fabulous selection of Roqueforts.

It carries a bunch of Rolf Beeler’s terrific cheese, including the Gruyère, the Hoch-Ybrig, and the Sbrinz. Beeler hails from Switzerland, so anything from the extended Gruyère family should be fabulous. “He is [blush, toe in dirt] my favorite artisan cheesemaker in the world and visits the Bay Area about once a year,” says maria lorraine.

The Collective sells the best olives that Robert Lauriston has found in the Bay Area. If you’re hitting the green, try the Lucques and the raw picholines; it varies from one visit to another which one is best. Some of the black, oil-cured olives are occasionally too salty, bitter, or rancid, so always taste before buying. He also recommends the Brebiou—a soft, ripe sheep’s milk cheese—and the cave-aged Gruyère. The Collective’s members “take excellent care of their triple-cremes: Brillat-Savarin, Explorateur, Gratte-Paille.” rworange agrees: Other places may carry Brillat-Savarin, but no one takes care of it like the Cheeseboard.

chocolatetartguy has some favorites: The piquant Piave is his choice for a hard, dry, nutty cheese. Neal’s Yard’s Appleby’s Cheshire is beautiful: curdy, crumbly, and tasting of pure, raw milk. Old Quebec is a nice sharp white cheddar.

Other recommended cheeses: Windsor Blue, Memoir Truffled Gouda, Berger Roquefort, Istara, Prima Donna Gouda, fresh cream cheese, and anything from Neal’s Yard. And many, many hounds recommend Red Cow Parmesan.

And more noncheese recommendations: hazelnut shortbread, sticky buns on Fridays (much better than the pecan rolls), and Greek shepherd’s bread on Wednesday, with lots of green olives and kasseri cheese oozing out the side.

The baguettes are the best in the area, says rworange. Great cornmeal cherry scones, too, says dreamsicle.

Fridays, the Collective does unique experimental rolls. There was, for example, an amazing roll with sweet blue cheese and nuts inside yeasty bread.

According to Morton the Mousse, “[T]he best possible strategy is to walk in without knowing precisely what you want, ask lots of questions, and sample, sample, sample. You can sample as much as you want. No matter how big the line is, don’t feel rushed. Even when you know a particular cheese is great, they might have something rare and incredible that you don’t know about. Before you buy anything, ask the counter person if there is a similar, worthwhile cheese that you haven’t yet sampled. For example, I’ve tasted all of their cheddars many times, and I know I like the Black Diamond the best. But a few months ago when I asked for cheddar, the counter person recommended a limited batch, 10 year aged Wisconsin, that they had aged in house for five years. It is the best cheddar I’ve ever tasted in my life, and I would have missed it if I had just asked for the Black Diamond.” Other times, a great cheese will have been sitting around for too long. So: sample, sample, sample.

The only research you really need to do before you go in, he says, is checking the delivery schedule for superfresh cheese. The Bellwether Farms fresh ricotta, for example, arrives Friday afternoon and is usually sold out by Saturday. He recommends calling ahead if you want a fresh cheese.

Chuckles the Clone says you have to watch the help. There are some sensational people who work there: They know everything, they love chatting, and they love handing out samples and finding out what you want. “If you wander in when they’re not busy, you’ll meet one of these people.” But if it’s really busy—like, say, on a Saturday—there will be a much larger staff, many of whom are cheese incompetents. So he says wait a little bit. Watch the staff for 20 minutes before you order anything; the good ones will become obvious. He even recommends grabbing a few different numbers, a little spread apart, so if your number gets called by an incompetent, you can just toss that number and wait for the next number to be called.

The Cheeseboard Collective [East Bay]
1504 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
510-549-3183

Board Link: Berkeley–The Cheese Board – favorites & tips

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