The Golden Gateway to Cheese | culture: the word on cheese
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The Golden Gateway to Cheese

Hundreds of bottles of wine inside glass cabinets.

San Franciscans have always loved their cheese. Long before the invention of the automobile, Marin French Cheese Company, California’s oldest continuously operating cheese producer, was shipping cheese downstream from its location about thirty miles northwest of San Francisco to saloons on Yerba Buena Island, just east of the city. There, dockworkers would load up on breakfast cheese instead of eggs, which were unavailable, and they no doubt plied themselves with the house beverage for extra fortification. While it is still possible to visit Marin French Cheese Company amid the rolling hills of Marin County, San Francisco offers a banquet of other cheese-eating options. at restaurants, bars, and shops in the City by the Bay, cheese is on the rise.


Absinthe Brasserie and Bar

Located where funky meets fancy, Absinthe caters to the Civic Center’s opera crowd as comfortably as it does to the eclectic Hayes Valley set. $99 gets you all thirteen cheeses (give or take), but those not in the mood for such a buffet can choose one, three, or five cheeses from the extensive and impressive list.

Absinthe Brasserie and Bar 398 Hayes Street San Francisco, CA 415.551.1590


One of the most authentic and excellent Italian restaurants on this side of the Atlantic, this quiet star boasts nearly as impressive a cheese selection as it does wine, for which it is known.

Acquerello 1722 Sacramento Street San Francisco, CA 415.567.5432


Bordering the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the far more genteel Cole Valley is an eater’s oasis. The all-American cheese course here or at the restaurant’s more casual wine bar next door reinforces its foodie appeal.

Eos 901 Cole Street San Francisco, CA 415.566.3063

Fifth Floor

A dozen different cheeses lined on a cart

A sampling from the cheese cart at Fifth Floor.

Newly revamped and remodeled, this exquisite space is unquestionably one of the loveliest places to enjoy a few cheeses from an excellent cheese cart. The wine is equally impressive, thanks to the expert picks by Master Sommelier Emily Wines (yes, that’s really her name).

Fifth Floor 12 Fourth Street San Francisco, CA (in the hotel Palomar); 415.348.1555

Foreign Cinema

The mostly American cheese course on this list combines impeccably chosen cheeses with the chef’s extraordinary understanding of how to complement rather than obscure cheese with the proper accompaniments.

Foreign Cinema 2534 Mission Street San Francisco, CA 415.648.7600

Gary Danko

The namesake chef’s food may be the main draw, but the cheese cart is the icing on the cake, as it were. For a casual meal in the elegant setting, nab a seat at the cozy bar and order from the cheese cart.

Gary Danko 800 North Point San Francisco, CA 415.749.2060


Cheeses stacked on shelves.

Some of the options in Jardinière’s cheese room.

Chef Traci des Jardins was a local pioneer in the restaurant cheese-course arena, having created one of the city’s first cheese caves. The caves are still home to fine cheeses, and the cheese course here remains a popular draw, particularly for the after-opera set who crowd around the bar to enjoy a midnight snack with champagne.

Jardinière 300 Grove Street San Francisco, CA 415.861.5555

Perbacco Ristorante + Bar

Lucky for us, we don’t need the Euro to indulge in the hard-to-get northern Italian cheeses offered at this Financial District hot spot.

Perbacco Ristorante + Bar 230 California Street San Francisco, CA 415.955.0663


Hundreds of bottles of wine inside glass cabinets.

The wall of wine at Spruce

The tony Laurel Heights crowd finally has a place to go in the ’hood. So, too, do cheese lovers. The extensive list boasts about ten cheeses from the United States and Europe.

Spruce 3640 Sacramento Street San Francisco, CA 415.931.5100

Casual Spots and Bars

Bar Bambino

One Sunday each month, this place rolls up its sleeves and educates cheese fans about wine pairings by way of a signup seminar. But seminar or not, great selections of each are always on the menu.

Bar Bambino 2931 16th Street San Francisco, CA 415.701.8466

Blue Barn Gourmet

Seductive aromas of melting cheese will draw you into this popular Marina District eatery, and its grilled cheese sandwiches will keep you coming back.

Blue Barn Gourmet 2105 Chestnut Street San Francisco, CA 415.441.3232

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen

Seats are hard to come by at this hugely popular mid-Market Street haunt during popular times unless you’ve made a reservation, but the cheese, the wine, and the chef’s other offerings justify the wait.

CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen 1666 Market Street San Francisco, CA 415.437.1770

Tartine Bakery

The cheeses and other ingredients that the city’s best bakery chooses to melt onto its namesake sandwiches justify the long line that is invariably part of the Tartine experience. (It doesn’t involve cheese, but the off-the-charts lemon meringue cake is a must for dessert.)

Tartine Bakery 600 Guerrero Street San Francisco, CA 415.487.2600

Cheese Stores

Bi-Rite Market

The lack of square footage in this market belies its big impact in the land of foodies. The extensive cheese offerings along with a well- selected assortment of produce, meats, fish, artisan breads, and other essentials ensure a very well stocked fridge.

Bi-Rite Market 3639 18th Street San Francisco, CA 415.241.9760

Cheese Plus

Aromas beckon shoppers inside to discover a great selection of dairy—plus other premium products—at this popular yet homey Russian Hill shop.

Cheese Plus 2001 Polk Street San Francisco, CA 415.921.2001

Cheese School of San Francisco

Two women in aprons place cheeses on plates

Two students assemble a cheese plate at the Cheese School

In 2006, Sara Vivenzio decided to spread her passion for cheese by way of education, and luckily for us, she lays it on thick. The brains behind the Cheese School of San Francisco, Vivenzio invites guest instructors to cover everything from the basics to the esoteric (think “Sheep and Syrah”) in a variety of classes that fill up pretty much as soon as the quarterly schedule is published. After each two-hour class, the 25 students walk away with newfound knowledge, a sated appetite, and, after a social evening with fellow aficionados, the satisfaction of knowing that their love for cheese does not stand alone.

Cheese School of San Francisco 2155 Powell Street (2nd floor) San Francisco, CA 415.346.7530

Cowgirl Creamery

No visit to San Francisco is complete without a stop at this iconic store. Located in the heart of the gorgeously refurbished Ferry Building (site of the spectacular Saturday farmers’ market), the creamery offers the largest selection of American cheeses in the area as well as its own namesake cheeses. The imported cheese selection is equally impressive.

Cowgirl Creamery 1 Ferry Building #17 San Francisco, CA (at the foot of Market Street on the Embarcadero); 415.362.9354

Rainbow Grocery Co-op

Don your Birkenstocks or your Doc Martens and walk into a true San Francisco experience, which just so happens to include one of the best—and best-priced—cheese selections around.

Rainbow Grocery Co-op 1745 Folsom Street San Francisco, CA 415.863.0620

Say Cheese

Great staff, terrific cheeses, and favorite sandwiches makes this cheese shop one of the more neighborhood-y, and therefore fun-to-visit places around.

Say Cheese 856 Cole Street San Francisco, CA 415.665.5020

Spuntino di Ottimista

This spanking-new cheese, panini, and takeaway shop in the City’s Cow Hollow neighborhood comes by way of Melissa Gisler, mastermind behind the hugely successful nearby wine bar, Ottimista Enoteca-Café. A cut-to- order artisan cheese shop is a first in this upscale neighborhood.

Spuntino di Ottimista 1957 Union Street San Francisco, CA 415.931.6410

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Laura Werlin

Laura Werlin is a James Beard Award-winning author of six books on cheese. Learn more about her at