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The Cheeseboard (Berkeley)

Author: Ken | 1 Comment
Categories: Berkeley & Albany | Tags: Tags: , , , , , ,

1504 Shattuck Avenue
(Between Vine and Cedar)
Berkeley, CA 94709

The Cheeseboard rating

I have to admit that it’s not easy to write about something you love so much, and hold in such high reverence as I do The Cheeseboard, a bakery and cheese co-operative in North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto. But here goes.

If you want to get to know one of the best parts of Berkeley, visit The Cheeseboard on a summer Saturday morning, grab anything that looks good, and sit yourself down on the covered outdoor benches facing the street. The whole city eventually walks by. Morning dog walkers tie their antsy pets to the parking meters. Fleece-clad couples stop by, pushing strollers bearing well-fed, wide-eyed babies. Tweed-wearing UC professors, and gray-haired activists mix with young couples still in last-nights clothes. Therapists in neutral colors and smart wool shoulder wraps amble with the ladies of Vine Street. Teenaged skateboarders text by, narrowly missing the exercise set, who clutch the silver and black coffee travel mugs they carry around. All while few familiar panhandlers languidly angle for spare change.

I love the bread, the luscious smell of Fresh Baked Bread. I love the piquant, wafting aromas of sharp cheeses, baked into the cheese rolls, and detectable from a block away. I love the thin outer crust of the zampano roll, perforated with slits or holes on top, with red pepper flakes and a slightly melted cap of shredded real Parmesan (Asiago?) cheese. I love the simple olive foccacia baked into a hand-sized four-part disk, with a cornmeal undercarriage. I love Wednesday’s beer batter rye, which holds its hearty taste and freshness for days. I love the sourdough English Muffins, which make this native San Franciscan’s heart sing— completely plain with absolutely no adornment. They make Thomas’ English Muffins seem like a bad cardboard impostor, forever after. I love the morning scones with bits of fruit (like currant). I love the blueberry millet muffins, with lightly-crunchy toasted balls of millet, I had only ever seen before in birdseed.

I love the baguette pieces which condense all of the sourdough goodness of a baguette into a three or four-sided pillow of crust and seeds. I love the City Batard when I need a perfect, wide loaf of Sourdough. And who wouldn’t love the fluffy Chocolate Things, which are a decadent excuse for more chocolate for whomever needs such an excuse.

I cannot not mention the greatest Bialy this side of old Białystok—a chewy sourdough disk, like a hole-less bagel, but baked, not boiled. Translucent onions flecked with poppy seeds melt their way into the Bialy’s center depression. Oh my.

I love the Mr. Espresso coffee (my very favorite local, boutique, organic, fair trade coffee roaster), served daily until 10 am. And I fully appreciate the worker-owned Berkeley co-op vibe, where everyone you see making bread and selling the cheese has a stake in the success of the business and earns the same wage. Their pride shows in every roll, and Berkeley loves them for it.

Everything there is oven fresh, with the bread traveling just a few feet from the prep table to the oven to the self-serve racks. The Cheeseboard rotates their menu throughout the week, so if you go there enough, you start to learn the days when your favorite specialties appear. (Otherwise, here’s a Cheat Sheet.) This isn’t a place for dull, wide baguettes, bland white-bread, or flaky butter croissants. This is where real bread is born and comes of age.

Oh and did I mention that they sell cheese? There’s a long, wrap-around cheese counter, staffed by highly knowledgeable and friendly folks who take the time to make suggestions, explain the cheeses, and dole out samples, cut right there for you to taste. The chalkboard on the wall lists maybe a hundred different cheeses, if I ever bothered to count. There’s no obvious line, so draw a playing card from the rack in the center, and that’s your “number.”

If you’re wondering whether the artisinal cheese and gourmet bread ever tied the culinary knot, look no further than the huge lines snaking outside of The Cheeseboard Pizza next door.

So, if you want to please me, just sit with me there for a while. I’ll savor my bread, pretend to read the newspaper I brought, and try my best not make a small mess of crumbs below. And, if you would, please let me know if there’s anything clinging to my beard, since I’ll be in too much bliss to care.

About the Authors

Ken and Kathryn are the authors of VegJapan, a vegetarian TravelBlog in Japan.


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