Mission Cheese

Celebrating American Cheese

Tues, Weds, Thurs, Sun: 11am - 9pm

Fri & Sat: 11am - 10pm

Closed Mondays (except for private events)

We do not take reservations

'Farms for City Kids' is Awesome Times Two

by Justin Dolezal

Spring Brook Farm, located in tiny Reading, Vermont, would be worthy of a blog post singing their praises if all they did was make cheese. Spring Brook produces two Mission Cheese favorites: Tarentaise, an Alpine-style cheese with a wonderfully complex, terroir-driven flavor, and Reading, a pungent stinker that lends a flavorful punch to both our raclette and mac and cheese (if you're confused: the term “raclette” refers to a style of cheese, a potato-based dish, and a melting device).

These cheeses are both seriously award-winning , with a reserve version of Tarentaise taking home the title of Best Cheese in America in 2014. Spring Brook has given the world much more than cheese, however, and their involvement with the Farms for City Kids Organization is the reason we're highlighting them today.

Since 1992, the Farms for City Kids program has provided inner-city elementary school children with the opportunity to spend time learning and working on Spring Brook Farm. This experience includes participating in the daily activities of a working farm first hand, as children learn how to care for animals, grow produce, and maintain farm operations. The farming experiences are combined with traditional academics to provide students with an integrated educational experience.

Part after-school program and part summer camp, students are encouraged to develop teamwork and leadership skills, as well as a sense of self-reliance and independence. Additionally, time spent engaging in sustainable, ecologically responsible farming practices provides students with a unique learning environment, challenging attitudes and perceptions that are difficult to shake within city life.

Obviously, a hands-on, non-traditional learning environment provides these students with a scholastic experience beyond what they might experience in the classroom. But equally important is the time these children spend interacting with their food. We at Mission Cheese are firm believers that understanding who provides your food, as well as where it comes from, can lead to a healthier, more fulfilling (and tastier!) lifestyle. Encouraging young children to appreciate all that goes in to food, whether by cooking, gardening, or encouraging them to work on a farm, creates conscious, food-educated adults. That's a mission that we at Mission Cheese are happy to support.

A Day at Valley Ford Cheese Company

by Justin Dolezal

Part of the “mission” of Mission Cheese is not just to serve people delicious products, but to truly connect people with the food they eat. To that end, we try hard to know the producers whose products we sell on a personal level. Our goal is to promote American artisan cheesemakers by passionately serving their products, telling their stories, and helping you, the consumer, connect with what makes each cheese special.

This was the goal a few weeks ago, when the Mission Cheese crew was lucky enough to get a tour of the cheesemaking operation at Valley Ford Cheese Company. Nestled in the idyllic hills of Sonoma County, Valley Ford was founded in 2008 by Karen Bianchi-Moreda, whose family has owned and operated the ranch since immigrating to the region from Italy in 1918. Karen grew up working on the farm, and when the opportunity to pursue her dream of making cheese arose, she jumped in. Today she runs the business side of Valley Ford, along with her son Joe Moreda, the operations head cheesemaker.

Valley Ford draws their milk from a closed herd of 500 Jersey cows, meaning that extreme attention can be given to animal welfare, nutrition, and milk quality. From this milk Valley Ford produces two (soon to be three!) cheeses, both examples of classic Italian farmstead styles. They are best known for Estero Gold, a Montasio style cheese that bursts with flavors of spicy pineapple and toasted nuts. They also produce Highway 1, a rustic cheese based on Fontina that is comparatively mellow but equally refined. A third cheese based on Gorgonzola Dolce should be produced soon, and based on the samples we tried, it looks to continue Valley Ford's proud tradition of excellence.

After we'd arrived and gotten acquainted with some of Valley Ford's beautiful bovine, Karen led us through Valley Ford's cheesemaking and aging facilities, providing our mongers with a intimate glimpse into the cheesemaking process. Valley Ford's production facilities are small, but planned expansions should allow them to increase their output soon. The aging rooms provided a glimpse into cheese evolution, as wheels at different stages of the aging process varied noticeably in terms of appearance, aroma, and rind development. Karen spoke lovingly about each cheese, the way their recipes and practices honor their family's lineage, and the thrills and challenges of cheesemaking in general. The entire tour was a cheesy, educational delight, and we hope to visit again soon!

Of course, you can't survive on cheese alone. Sonoma County has no shortage of delicious drink options to match their fantastic cheeses, and so the MC team took the opportunity to check out two producers who fine products have graced our wine and beer menus. The first was Wind Gap Wines, an unorthodox maker producing complex, drinkable wines from rare varietals such as Trousseau Gris (their impressive lineup of Syrah is also recommended for those looking for something more classic). Next up was Henhouse Brewing, whose Saison has been a fixture on our rotating tap 1. Henhouse focuses on farmhouse ales, but our visit provided an opportunity to check out some of their other offerings, including a single-hopped Galaxy IPA, as well an insane Imperial Stout brewed with a panoply of stoner-approved ingredients: Cheetos, M&Ms, and a whole birthday cake were all thrown directly into the fermentation kettle during the brewing.

A concept like Mission Cheese is only successful because of the hardworking, talented producers who make the cheese, wine, and beer that we happily sell. It's truly a treat to be able to visit these producers and learn more about their operations. Such experiences make sharing their passions with you, our customers, even more enjoyable.

 

 

MC Cheese Mongers Test for Cicerone Certification

By Justin Dolezal

We here at Mission Cheese take our love, enthusiasm, and geekery for all things artisan and delicious seriously, and that passion doesn't stop at American cheese. Case in point: cheesemongers Sam Chapple-Sokol, Eric Miller, and Justin Dolezal spent the last few months reliving experiences most of us would prefer to have left in our collegiate years: months of study, memorization, and theoretical discussion, culminating in a 5 hour, multi-stage test with professional implications. The goal was to pass the Certified Cicerone Exam, a graduate-level test of all things beer.

For the uninitiated, the Cicerone Program is the beer world's answer to the long established Sommelier program, which certifies professionals within the world of fine wine. Founded by former brewer and industry expert Ray Daniels in 2008, the program seeks to identify and certify the knowledge of those working in the beer world. Much like the Sommelier program, the Cicerone program has multiple levels of certification: Certified Beer Server, Certified Cicerone, Advanced Cicerone, and Master Cicerone. Over 50,000 individuals around the world have been certified through the program to date.

Though preparing for a beer exam may seem like a relative lark compared to other fields of study, the test itself is designed to be extremely rigorous, covering a wide range of sudsy knowledge. Applicants are tested on beer history, styles, service, flavor evaluation, and food pairing. In addition to the 3 hour written exam, the test also includes a blind tasting portion which includes both style evaluation and off-flavor identification. A video-recorded demonstration of beer service is also included. Passing the exam requires countless hours of intense preparation, and the passing rates for the exam are lower than that of most state's BAR exams (take that Edwin, my high school nemesis who went into law).

What does this mean for you, and your experience at Mission Cheese? You can rest (and eat) assured, knowing that the beers you're enjoying along with your cheese flights have been selected, cared for, and paired by people with a deep passion for beer, and the knowledge to back it up. If you have questions about the Cicerone Program, or beer itself, don't hesitate to ask!

Why Maker's Common?

When we opened Mission Cheese the idea was pretty simple…celebrate American cheese and its producers. The last four years have been amazing doing just that, while wading through the joys and challenges of building a business we can be proud of. A business that equally values environmental, social, and financial bottom lines. A business true to its mission and a really really good place to work. This process has been humbling (to put it lightly!), but also quite empowering. We’re ready to use what we’ve learned and move forward.

 For those of you who have been to Mission Cheese, you know, it’s small. The “kitchen” is serious one-butt style and consists of an oven and panini press. We have had many chuckles over the years when folks ask us to “tell them” everything was delicious or “can you ask them” to cut this in half as if there was a sprawling kitchen full of cheese elves churning out the goods. While this challenge has forced us to be masterfully efficient…we have run out of space to continue this mission.

We are still just as passionate about the American cheese industry that gave Mission Cheese it’s roots…we just want to do more. We want to bring the cheeses we carry to more people. We want to pour more small production West Coast wines. We want to feature more of America's best craft brewers and have a proper draft and storage system to do so. We want to celebrate the explosion of delicious charcuterie from Virginia to California. We want to make more pate, rillettes, pickles and jams of our own.  We want a tiny market so you can take what you’d like home to share with your community.

Maker’s Common will be a place makers come to share their stories, connect with fans, meet friends, and depend on to move their product in a respectful way to help them grow. It will also be a place where food lovers gather for laughter, scheming, and a really delicious meal. This is the continuation of our mission, and we’re pretty fired up about it.

For more information please go to www.makerscommon.net

Pug’s Leap Creamery and White Whale Farm

by Juliana Clark

One of our goals here at Mission Cheese is to connect our community with their food. Food doesn't come from a grocery store (or a cheese shop!), or a restaurant. Behind every bite we take is both an environmental and a human story. There are people who grow it, tend it, worry over it, process it, and bring it to us here in our little city apartments. The Bay Area is home to an amazing array of these dedicated, passionate farmers and makers, and we at Mission Cheese hope to be able to share their stories. One of our absolute favorite ways to do this is by visiting as many of our local farms, creameries, breweries, and wineries, as we possibly can. It's a difficult job (all that tasting! all that nature!), but somebody's gotta do it.

It was with this lofty goal of local food evangelism, er, education, in mind that we stepped out of our cars at White Whale Farm, home of Pug's Leap Creamery.  And it was with this lofty goal still firmly in mind that we were immediately sidetracked by a small shed full of baby goats. Y'all, I said baby goats! Less than 5 minutes after we arrived, most of us were cooing and giggling and attempting to snuggle a pile of friendly, bouncy, hungry kids. Luckily, owner and cheesemaker Anna, found us easily; she saw our car and knew just where to look.

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After getting in a little kid-time herself, Anna offered to show us around White Whale Farm, and introduce us to the farm dog, Samson, as well as the rest of the goats. Who could say no to a dog and more goats?

Off we went to the goat barn, where we were greeted by Samson, an Anatolian Shepherd I suspect is actually part polar bear. Sam then introduced us to his herd, a mix of mostly Saanens and Alpines, with a few La Manchas and Nubians thrown in for good measure.

After we'd had sufficient time communing with the goats, Anna took us to see where the magic happens. The milking parlor, cheese making, and aging rooms, are really the heart of any farmstead creamery. All the work and love and hope and joy of the farm is essentially distilled there into single, perfect bites. As I said, magic happens.

The milking parlor and cheese making and aging rooms are all housed in the farm's original barn, built in the 1850s, but they only take up a small portion of the expansive space. Past the milking parlor, Anna led us up some ancient stairs, assuring us there were "mostly sound," and onto the barn's beautiful upper floor. The sun streamed in through the old hay door, and a long rope swing hung from the rafters above. Anna's favorite farm cat, Butch, was even there requesting pets and cuddles. Paradise.

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We set up a picnic table, dragged a few hay bales over to serve as benches, and got down to arguably the best part of any producer visit, the Tasting.

Anna makes 3 cheeses: the tiny, delicate Petit Marcel, the dense, flaky, melt-in-your-mouth Pave, and the firm, sweet, grassy Tomme. We tried Tomme's from two different make dates, so we could taste her evolving recipe and flavor profile, a couple beautiful little truncated pyramids (the Paves), and, my personal favorites, a little pile of some unique looking Petit Marcels. Anna tried to apologize for their appearance; they'd grown a mottled covering of powdery, blue, gray, and white molds over their formerly delicate cream colored rind, because they were older than she would normally release them. What a treat. Yes, I'll say it again. What a treat!

In the United States, customers often return young goat cheeses like the Petit Marcel to the store when they see the blue and gray molds, if they buy them at all, thinking that their delicate little cheese has gone bad. Because of this most cheesemakers don't even send out cheeses that show signs of developing those molds. The secret is, though, that these Little Uglies, as Anna affectionately called her older Petit Marcels, are absolutely delicious. The flavor goes from bright, delicate, and tangy, with mild yeasty notes, to deeply buttery and grassy, while those mild yeasty notes intensify into a downright bready undertone. The texture of the cheese gets more toothsome, and as you chew it melts into a mouth coating paste that sticks with you like peanut butter. In other words, these Little Uglies had done the opposite of going bad, they'd gone, well, Even Better! Naturally we brought some back to monger at Mission Cheese.

After gorging ourselves on fantastic cheeses, wine, beer, fresh bread, fruit, and...well, let's just say we did not leave hungry, it was time to say goodbye to Pug's Leap and Anna (and Sam and the kids) and head back to our little shop to spread the good word (which is Cheese, in case you weren't sure).

Thank you, Anna, for sharing your beautiful home with us for the day. We now carry your story with us, and hopefully we can impart some of the dedication and love you put into your cheese to our customers.

Love, and Cheese for All,
Juliana and the Mission Cheese Crew

Regarding 'The Moment'

by Claudio Nunez

I'm a cheesemonger. And during the course of my brief but exciting career as a cheese professional I've really come to love that sentence. It's a great way to be introduced: “Hey guys, this is Claudio, he's a cheesemonger”. It tends to get a room’s attention. Some people laugh (both ‘with’ and ‘at’ varieties), others respond with something like awe, but nearly everyone has a question. What's a cheesemonger? What's your favorite cheese? Where did you learn about cheese? Have you ever made cheese? How are you not 300 pounds? I understand the reaction… spending 40 hours a week with fermented milk foods is weird!  

A monger's job consists of a few basic tasks. We receive cheese (from distributors or direct from farms), keep it healthy, answer questions about our products, and do our best to help people enjoy it. On the surface it's a pretty technical pursuit — we are the point of sale for the specialty dairy industry and it’s our job to know about the cheesemaking process, stylistic characteristics, flavor molecules, etc. But if you talk to any cheesemonger worth his or her salt, I'll bet a month’s pay that the thing they really love is something far more right brain. Something I've come to affectionately know as The Moment.

I'll set the scene. A person walks off the street and into the shop. They may be looking for cheese to take home, someone may have told them to come in, or maybe it was pure chance. The point is…they're in a cheese shop simply looking for a tasty treat and this poor, blessed person ends up with an emotional experience. I've seen it manifest itself as eyes rolling back in the head, or as a furrowed brow and a slight headshake with an “I love this one” grunt under their breath. Sometimes people's bodies seem to get instantly heavier and their shoulders and knees start to soften. Frequently it's a far off look at nothing in particular and just a hint of Mona Lisa's smile. It's like the brain can't make sense of beauty of the flavors, but it’s clear that a small bite of cheese has changed this person’s day.

How amazing is that? Milk, salt, enzymes, and time put together in such a way that a person briefly experiences bliss in public…and I get to show them to that door and watch them walk through. In concise terms I would define The Moment as a realization. It's the instant a person learns the real potential of Flavor. Not every food has that power, but good cheese does. And that is the ultimate perk of my job.