You know how sometimes, when you’re traveling, you stumble across a restaurant, café, bar, or specialty food shop that just draws you in? Maybe you’re not even hungry or thirsty, and yet, next thing you know you’re inside, and suddenly, all is right with the world. That, friends, is Mission Cheese.
Owner Sarah Dvorak opened her cozy wine and cheese bar nearly two years ago, in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. Her goal was to “celebrate American artisan cheese,” and clearly, she tapped into the San Franciscan mania for celebrating all things domestic, vintagey and hand-hewn. The place has been packed ever since.
A few days ago, while in SF on a working holiday, I met up with a friend at what’s become my out-of-town version of “Cheers.” Everybody may not know my name, but the staff and atmosphere are always convivial, and, perhaps because cheese geeks tend to flock together, it’s ridiculously easy to strike up a conversation. Just ask your neighbor what what they’re eating.
Everything about Mission Cheese is captivating, from the rustic, reclaimed woodwork, concrete walls, and glazed, olive-colored tiles beneath the bar, to the homey striped cotton napkins and milk bottles-turned water vessels. Behind the bar, glass-fronted, reach-in cheese coolers house a carefully selected, rotating curation of some of the finest cheeses in America (not to, ahem, brag, but Haystack Mountain is among the Chosen).
The menu is short and sweet, featuring three regional cheese plates for $12 a pop. Each comes with a generous selection of sliced baguette, dried fruit, and cornichons. There are also delectable hot sandwiches, seasonal salads, and a few cheese-centric classics such as Raclette.
In addition to the Raclette (which comes blanketed over cornichons and garlic-roasted potatoes), we sprang for the California plate and housemade pickled sunchokes (in a word: addictive). I chose the local plate because it featured a couple of cheeses that were new to me: Boont Corners, an aged, natural rind goat’s milk number from Pennyroyal Farm in Boonville (hints of hazelnut and cream, with a lovely, shard-like texture), and Bay Blue, the new release from Pt. Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company.
Bay Blue is one of the most gorgeous of its genre I’ve ever experienced, with notes of vanilla, cake batter, and blueberry, a slight gritty texture, and a sweet cream finish. It will convert even the most blue-averse.
We also sampled a wedge of Foster Lake, a delicate, oozy goat Camembert from Southern Oregon’s Fraga Farm. The Pacific Northwest has become the nation’s goat cheese epicenter, and hard-to-find exports from micro-dairies such Fraga are a rarity, even in nearby San Francisco.
That’s the thing about being in the cheese business. Even though many of us are producing the “same” product, there are endless variations related to terroir, species, breed, cheesemaker, etc. It’s always fun to visit other producers and retail and wholesale outlets to see what’s out there, and find inspiration and revelation. We heart places like Mission Cheese, and the cheesemakers who make it all possible.