Wine and cheese isn’t just a pairing around here, it’s a defining part of San Francisco culture. With Wine Country to the north and numerous dairy farms and creameries sprinkled around the greater Bay Area, it’s not hard to find the best of both worlds. In the 1980s, even our football team had a “wine-and-brie” image. Here are just a few of the city’s top purveyors of fine wines and gourmet cheese.
Known for artisan domestic cheeses and local wines, this intimate cheese bar is staffed with knowledgeable cheesemongers who can guide you through all the pairing options. The Mission District spot offers several cheese flights like Monger’s Choice, which includes a selection of three cheeses served with a Marla Bakery baguette, cornichon and dried fruit. If you’re looking for a standby pairing, the staff will likely recommend Nettle Meadow Farm’s triple cream Kunik alongside a glass of Campovida’s cuvée brut.
Ferry Building Marketplace
Chances are the Ferry Building Marketplace is already on your itinerary. When you’re there, be sure to stop by the Cowgirl Creamery shop, home to an array of cheeses from one of the Bay Area’s top artisan cheesemakers, as well as farmstead selections from across America and Europe. If it’s your first visit to Cowgirl Creamery, be sure to try the Mt. Tam cheese, a popular triple cream made with Straus Family Dairy’s organic milk. To complete the pairing, the Ferry Building is also home to the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant & Wine Bar, where you’ll find small-batch wines from around the world.
This cozy North Beach grocer has an impressive collection of wines and cheeses for its size. The cheese case is stocked with about 75 varieties, with a focus on American artisan cheesemakers, including several local ones. A wine collection of 375 labels—many of which are under $25—favors small California wineries. One Sonoma Coast wine in particular—a pinot noir from Peay Vineyards called Cep—pairs perfectly with Piper’s Pyramid, a creamy goat’s milk cheese from Indiana’s Capricole Cheese Company. On sunny days, take your purchase to nearby Washington Square Park for a picnic in the heart of North Beach.
San Francisco’s celebrated gourmet grocery store and ice cream shop is home to one of the largest cheese departments in town. Bi-Rite stocks about 150 cheeses from around the world, including cheeses made with traditional and vegetarian rennet, as well as raw and pasteurized milk from goats, sheep, cows and buffalo. The store also specializes in wines that complement the flavors of food, so a memorable pairing won’t be hard to find. The Divisadero Street location features a somewhat larger cheese selection, but the Mission District store is only a block from picnic-friendly Dolores Park.
This cheese, wine and charcuterie bar on Russian Hill was founded by the same husband-and-wife duo behind Little Vine. Inspired by a cava bar in Barcelona, Union Larder offers 75 cheeses, which can be paired with a selection of 100 wines, with 45 by the glass. Wines are mostly from California, but the list offers varietals from France, Spain, Slovenia and Hungary as well. The 32-seat space features communal tables and a counter overlooking the Powell/Hyde cable car line.
Opened by a native of the French Alps, La Fromagerie stocks more than 50 types of cheese, mostly from France and also from Switzerland, Spain, Italy and the United States, as well as French, Italian and local wines. The shop’s Financial District location recently began hosting wine and cheese happy hours from 4-7 pm, offering more than 40 wines and 40 cheeses to be paired as you see fit. If you want the traditional French experience, opt for triple-cream brie with Champagne; a nutty 18-month-aged Comté with pinot noir; or a goat Crottin with Sauvignon Blanc.