Though the price of dairy is on the rise, we implore you to grab your lactobacillus acidophilus and the closest bottle of wine to enjoy the fine selections of soft, semi-soft, hard, and semi-hard cheeses life has to offer. But before you do, check out this guide to S.F.'s 7 best cheese shops.
24th Street Cheese Company
Forget the Whole Foods across the street. The 24th Street Cheese Company, a Noe Valley institution, is the real deal. It's been around for long time and, intentional or not, they pump out the deliciously stinky and pungent cheese fumes onto the sidewalk to the enjoyment of passersby. Sure, some mal baisée yuppies bemoan the customer service and take to Yelp because of course they do, but we've personally had nothing but incisive and friendly service here in our 10+ years of coming to 24th Street Cheese. In addition to cheese, they also boast an interesting beer selection and salumi options.
3893 - 24th Street (an Sanchez), 415-821-6658
Now with two locations, Bi-Rite is the undisputed king of local gourmet groceries, and their cheese department is hard to match. The well informed, helpful staff will guide you through the offerings at either location, but it's even easier to see what's available and request a sliver to taste at the Divisadero branch, with its more expansive cheese counter that isn't wedged between produce and wine like it is in the Mission. Tell them what you like, be it sheep, goat, cow, or a blend, and they'll be happy to give you a taste-tour for the benefit of your next picnic or diner party, but be warned that nothing comes cheap all the more reason to ask them to cut one of those $15 wedges in half for you, which they'll gladly do.
3639 18th Street (at Guerrero), 415-626-5600
550 Divisadero (at Hayes), 415-551-7900
Cowgirl Creamery at San Francisco's Ferry Building (photo: Renée S. Suen)
Although born in Point Reyes, Cowgirl Creamery's flagship cheese shop has aged nicely in the Ferry Building Marketplace. There cheese seekers will find blocks of their award-winning triple cream Mt. Tam and aged Red Hawk alongside a carefully curated selection of similarly crafted cheeses from around the world. If it's warmer cheesiness you're looking for, try Cowgirl's Sidekick Cafe — also in the Ferry Building — where the crew melts their offerings into mac & cheese, grilled cheeses and Indian naan flatbread melts.
The Ferry Building [415-362-9350], Farmers Markets, and multiple Bay Area locations
Little Vine (photo: Little Vine)
Tucked away on Grant Avenue in North Beach at the foot of Telegraph Hill, Little Vine is a diminutive European-style provisions store focused on cheese and everything that pairs well with it. Despite their small size, their offerings are tremendous at over 75 varieties of cheese and 300 different wines — a third of those at picnic-friendly prices under 20 bucks. Complimenting the cheese and wine are a range of cured meats, spreads, ice cream, pastries and daily sandwich offerings.
1541 Grant Avenue (between Filbert and Union Street), 415-738-2221
(Photo: Mission Cheese)
Can you imagine living above MIssion Cheese on Valencia? That'd be the life, wouldn't it? This new dairy staple to the area features a cut-to-order variety of hand-selected, small produced offerings ranging from Northern California standards like Cypress Grove’s Humboldt Fog and Cowgirl Creamery’s Red Hawk, to East Coast favorites from Jasper Hill Farms, and Wisconsin’s lesser-known cheesemakers, such as Roelli Cheese Haus and Hidden Springs Creamery. Cheesemonger Sarah Dvorak's aim here is to keep the roster in constant flux in an effort to showcase cheesemakers from all over. The selections are new and thoughtful. Give it a try. Soon. (Bonus: Stay and eat, why don't you?)
736 Valencia (at 18th Street), 415-553-8667
Rainbow Grocery will have you swimming in cheese. (photo: Heather S. / Yelp)
The cheese selection here is comparable to any cheese hawker you might find at any fromagerie in France. The staff is nothing short of remarkable and gracious with their cheese prowess, reigning over a selection that includes on average 350 varieties.
1745 Folsom (at Division), 415-863-0620
Fine selection at Say Cheese (photo: Say Cheese)
What Bi-Rite is to 18th Street—when it comes to being the wine and cheese anchor of the little gourmet district—Say Cheese has been to Cole Valley for 37 years. Opened in 1976, this cozy little shop is one of those neighborhood gems that make you feel warm inside and glad that you live here, with a great selection of cheese and charcuterie, as well as reasonably priced wines, all within walking distance of Golden Gate Park.
856 Cole (at Carl), 415-665-5020
La Fromagerie: 2425 3rd Street (between 22nd St & 20th St) )
Cheese Plus: 2001 Polk (at Pacific)
Cheese Boutique: 660 Chenery (at Diamond); 1298 12th Avenue (at Irving)
Buying the right kind of cheese at Bi Rite (photo: Jay Barmann)
Jay Barmann, Andrew Dalton, and Brock Keeling contributed to this article.