Rich, creamy and delicious, cheese just may be the perfect food. Luckily for us, the Sacramento region offers a number of generously stocked cheese counters. Here’s a gander at some of the best.
Located in the pretty Quarry Ponds shopping center in Granite Bay, this shop has a nice selection of items perfect for entertaining, including a thoughtful collection of high-quality cheeses. The best-selling variety is Gorgonzola Dolce, a younger, milder and moister version of the traditional Italian Gorgonzola. Another intriguing choice: Spanish manchego, produced from whole sheep’s milk. Semisolid, with a yellowish, creamy color and a mild, nutty flavor, it’s per-fect to serve on a cheese tray or with fruit for a simple dessert.
Quarry Ponds, 5550 Douglas Blvd., Granite Bay; (916) 772-5888
At this venerable East Sac specialty grocery store, you’ll benefit from owner Darrell Corti’s encyclopedic knowledge of everything food related. The cheese section is located cheek by jowl with the store’s famous wine department—Mr. Corti’s stamping grounds—and if you’re curious about a cheese, he’ll happily amble over and tell you everything you want to know about its history, how’s it’s crafted and who makes it. (Chances are he had dinner with them last month—or last week.) If Corti isn’t around, ask any of the white-coated clerks for a recommendation. Failing that, many of the cheeses wear a store-generated label that provides a helpful flavor description and a beverage-pairing suggestion. According to its label, the fabulous, apricot-colored Double Gloucester is “soft, mellow, buttery and crumbly” and should be paired with a Condrieu, Syrah or British ale. Note: If you love Gruyère, don’t miss the lofty-sounding Gran Cru Gruyère Reserve
5810 Folsom Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 736-3800; cortibros.biz
DAVIS FOOD CO-OP
Located in a circular display case near the produce, this store’s well-stocked cheese collection includes a number of organic varieties, along with nondairy cheeses including the new soy-, casein- and gluten-free Daiya cheese that’s all the rage among vegans and those with food allergies. Staffers are around to answer questions and to cut large wedges of cheese into smaller pieces if you don’t want a big hunk. Don’t miss the delicious, smooth Spring Hill organic white farmstead cheddar or the lavender-hued Fiscalini Purple Moon, a cheddar cheese soaked in Cabernet Sauvignon. The cheese counter also offers yummy nibbles to pair with cheese, including quince paste and a delectable Italian fig panforte.
620 G St., Davis; (530) 758-2667; daviscoop.com
NEWCASTLE CHEESE SHOP
This shop, known for its delicious sandwiches, also has a commendable collection of cheeses. Definitely ask for a sample of the sharply pleasing Shaft’s Bleu Vein cheese, made in Wisconsin but aged locally in an abandoned gold mine for at least 12 months. The wake-your-palate Black Diamond “extra old” (aged more than 24 months) cheddar is another winner—the perfect cheese to add some serious zip to a grilled hamburger. While you’re there, order a fat pastrami on rye or a vegetarian sandwich along with your cheese, and enjoy the rustic space with its red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, lazy fans and scuffed wood floors. (Note: The shop is open Tuesday–Saturday 9 a.m.–3 p.m.)
445 Main St., Newcastle; (916) 663-3704
The Davis location of this small grocery-store chain carries more than 200 cheeses and maintains a vigorous cheese tasting program that often inspires customers to try unfamiliar varieties. Most popular are the bries, cheddars and mozzarellas, but store cheese specialist Kyle Smelosky recommends Ewephoria, a lively sheep’s milk cheese, and Fromager d’Affinois, a voluptuous double-cream brie made from cow’s milk. Note: The store creates custom cheese platters for special events.
1414 E. Covell Blvd., Davis; (530) 750-3800; nuggetmarket.com
SACRAMENTO NATURAL FOODS CO-OP
This friendly cheese collection is one of the most accessible in the city. Hand-written—and often amusing—description cards hang below many of the cheeses to help cheese novices navigate the sea of choices. Staffers are informative and chatty, and I always leave with a new cheese, feeling as though I have discovered a special treasure. Noteworthy selections include Beecher’s intriguing No Woman cheese, produced in Jamaica and flavored with jerk seasonings; an apricot-dotted French chèvre; and possibly the most ravishing cheese I have ever tasted: a lush, creamy Italian Robiola crafted from cow’s and sheep’s milk. Check out the olive bar next to the cheese section. In addition to a wide variety of olives, it also contains marinated artichoke hearts, roasted red tomatoes and pickled Peppadew peppers—great for embellishing a cheese platter.
1900 Alhambra Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 455-2667; sacfoodcoop.com
Supplying Land Park foodies with fine cheeses keeps Taylor’s cheesemon-ger Felicia Johnson extremely busy. Her cheese collection covers a broad range of domestic and international selections, including both traditional varieties and what she calls “New Age funky cheeses” such as Beehive Cheese Co.’s Barely Buzzed, a Utah-made cheddar that’s rubbed with coffee and lavender. “It’s really good,” she says. Her other faves include Beemster X-O-, a Dutch Gouda with “caramelly, whiskeyish characteristics,” and Chabichou du Poitou, a traditional natural-rind French goat cheese that, when young, offers up lovely, lemony fresh flavors. But after aging, she says, “it becomes rock hard with nutty, sour flavors I just love.” 2900 Freeport Blvd., Sacramento; (916) 443-6881; taylorsmarket.com
WHOLE FOODS MARKET
This Arden Way store is the alpha dog of the region’s cheese counters, offering a whopping 500 to 600 varieties of cheese. The knowledgeable staffers take online cheese courses through “Whole Foods University” so they can answer questions and offer recommendations. The lavish cheese display includes a shyly fruity cherry cheddar, enormous wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano and an exquisite P’tit Basque, a sheep’s milk cheese produced in the French Pyrenees. Interspersed throughout the cheese collection is an equally mind-boggling collection of cheese accouterments, including piles of chocolate, truffle honey, caviar and Lambrusco wine jelly.
4315 Arden Way, Sacramento; (916) 488-2800; wholefoodsmarket.com
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESE MAKERS—Our region has its fair share of artisanal cheese producers. Here are four.
Fiscalini Farms, Modesto—This well-respected dairy farm, where “cow comfort” is the primary concern, was founded in 1914 and was among the first dairies in California to be certified by the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program for environmental responsibility. The farm’s black-and-white Holsteins produce milk for award-winning cheddars, mozzarellas and a unique semihard cheese called San Joaquin Gold. fiscalinicheese.com
Oakdale Cheese & Specialties, Oakdale—You can sample Oakdale’s version of quark—a tangy, soft-spreading fresh cheese—at the Davis farmers market on Saturday mornings. The company, located near Modesto, also makes excellent Gouda and smoked Gouda. oakdalecheese.com
Sierra Nevada Cheese Company, Willows—Founded in 1997, this cheese-making company uses only milk and cream from Northern California producers who guarantee their products are free of synthetic hormones and antibiotics. Using goat’s and cow’s milk, it produces a wide range of award-winning hard and semisoft cheeses. sierranevadacheese.com
North Valley Farms Chèvre, Cottonwood—Mark and Deneane Ashcraft make award-winning farmstead chèvre by hand in small batches on the family farm, using milk from their LaMancha and Toggenburg goat herd. Buy their cheeses at the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op or the Sunday farmers market under the freeway at Eighth and W. northvalleyfarms.com
Interested in expanding your cheese smarts? Sacramento’s C’est le Cheese offers a wide-ranging lineup of classes taught by highly qualified instructors, many of whom also teach at The Cheese School of San Francisco. Popular subjects include Italian and Mediterranean cheeses and beer-and-cheese pairings. Classes, held at L Street Lofts in midtown, are designed to appeal to cheese neophytes and aficionados alike.
(916) 761-7674; cestlecheese.com