The 10 Best Cheeses in Northern California
Consider this the most delicious bucket list ever
Food fans, you’re going to want to block off your weekend: The San Francisco Cheese Festival is coming to town this Saturday and Sunday, with dozens of cheesemakers, plus “bites and beverages” from some of our favorite S.F. brands (think: Fort Point beer, Dandelion Chocolate, and probably more vintage ciders than one person can drink on Saturday afternoon).
To get ready for the fest, we reached out to Anthea Stolz, the executive director of the California Artisan Cheese Guild, for her festival picks. To be clear: these are not her “favorites” (“It would be like choosing a favorite child”) — just five cheeses she says are notable for various reasons.
Below her selections, you’ll also find our cheese-centric tasting list.
Cowgirl Creamery Hop Along
I’ll get some flack from my fellow cheesemongers for using the word “snackable” here, but Hop Along is just that. The cider wash plays beautifully with the milky paste, giving it a fruity yeasty flavor. Oh, and the texture is just so beautiful — firm yet supple, with a luscious mouthfeel. Add prosciutto, olives, and a baguette and you have a perfect picnic.
Daily Driver Cream Cheese
Fresh cheese is totally underrated by the general public, but it’s a true favorite of mine — good fresh cheese is the purest expression of beautiful milk transformed. Rich, fluffy, and slightly tangy, there’s nowhere to hide flaws or imperfections. We’ll have it at SF Cheese Fest on top of Daily Driver’s equally delightful wood-fired bagels.
Nicasio Valley Cheese Co. San Geronimo
Alpine-style cheeses are always a favorite of mine — they’re so flavorful and versatile. And of course, they are great melting cheeses. We’ll have the raclette machines fired up at SF Cheese Fest so you can enjoy San Geronimo in all of its melted glory, cascading over potatoes.
Rumiano Cheese Co. Dry Jack
Dry Jack gives turophiles a true taste of California history. The Rumiano family started making cheese 100 years ago and are thought of as the original developers of Dry Jack. This is buttery, tangy, and a great cheese to have on hand in the fridge because it’s good for pretty much all occasions.
Central Coast Creamery Dream Weaver
Unlike European cheesemakers, American cheesemakers are rarely bound by tradition and have an incredible amount of flexibility when deciding on what style of cheese to craft. Dream Weaver is a California original, and the newest cheese from Central Coast Creamery. Washed-rind goat cheeses are really rare and this one is a gem — I love its pudgy nature and gentle funk!
Cowgirl Creamery Chimney Rock
Truth: I’d rather have Cowgirl’s mushroom-y triple-cream Mt. Tam in the fridge, but nothing fills out a cheese board like the Chimney Rock, with its dusting of ground shiitakes and black pepper. It’s a full-on autumnal cheese experience.
Central Coast Creamery Big Rock Blue
Could a Cobb salad hope for better than this mellow, not sharpish, blue? It could not. Consider it a counterpoint to the classic Point Reyes Original Blue. Don’t pick; try both.
Cypress Grove Humboldt Fog
The NorCal goat cheese most likely to appear in a D’Agostino’s across the country, Humboldt Fog is an icon with its own WIkipedia page — but also a delicious icon, so we’re not going to let its ubiquity interfere with our affection for it. Delight your friends from out of town by explaining that the line of ash in the cheese’s center is a visual reference to that titular fog.
Moonside Creamery Midnight Eclipse
The product of a family-run operation in Sonoma, Midnight Eclipse is a dramatic, black-ash-dusted disk. It gets creamier as it ages, which maximum spreadability after about four weeks. Cheesemaker Jennifer Kirkham suggests pairing it with pinot noir …. which is just fine with us.
Orland Farmstead Creamery Fromage Blanc
When you need something like a cream cheese but want something slightly more elevated: fromage blanc, made here by a third-generation dairyman. Try it instead of cream cheese on your bagels and there’s no going back.