San Pablo Avenue just north of University is not in the Gourmet Ghetto, either geographically or culturally.
Gourmet Ghetto or not, Country Cheese had a 50-year run on San Pablo, closing in August. Shirley Ng and her ex-husband bought the store in 1991 from its original owners, who opened it in 1969. It closed in August this year. Sad.
No surprise – the main event at Country Cheese was cheese.
Along with the cheeses were artistic depictions of cheese.
Wow – what a great expansion on the cool logo, no?
The Uniekass website tells us: “Directly translated to English, Uniekaas means ‘one cheese’ and that’s exactly what the company stands for. In the early 1900’s, the Dutch cheese market comprised of small independent cheese producers handling all aspects of cheese production. It wasn’t until the mid 1950’s that a small cooperative of cheese makers came together to share their knowledge and resources to create what is known today as Uniekaas. This formation helped to build one of the leaders in the Dutch cheese market which focused on exploring new ways to create Gouda cheeses without ever losing the importance of Dutch cheese making traditions.”
The Basque boy is a Quirky Berkeley Ten. P’tit Basque is a sheep’s milk cheese produced in France’s Basque region in the Pyrenees Mountains Traditionally, it was handmade by shepherds from left-over curds set aside from milking their ewes
Onetik makes cheese in Macaye in the heart of Basque Country, right in the center of the milk collection area for Ossau-Iraty, at the foot of the Pyrenees Mountains near Espelette. They process milk from around 250 farms. Pilota is a mixed cheese, made with sheep and cow milk.
Parrano is aged for five months, “developing its nutty Parmesan flavors while maintaining the firm, smooth texture of a young Gouda.” You can cut, grate, or melt it.
Cypress Grove Cheese is located in Arcata, California. They specialize in goat cheeses including the award-winning Humboldt Fog. They have an 18-acre farm.
One of the barns has a most cool mural – bonus points!
Spices – wonderful non-uniform presentation. We approve.
There was an eating area. It is hopelessly charming, homemade, naive.
Along with the cheese, spices, chocolates, coffee and tea, there were little Asian touches.
I made a pot of Darjeeling (his favorite) and invited my friend to come look over the County Cheese photos. He poured a cup and looked through.
“It was a hell of a block – Country Cheese and Mi Tierra. I sure hope that Mi Tierra hangs in there. It’s the purest local grocery store in Berkeley.”
He pushed a folder across the table to me. It had photos in it. I looked at the first few.
I asked, “Your point?:
“I’m beginning to rethink the Sixties. They were over a lot earlier than we think. How strange it is that a radio station then would play Sonny and Cher and the Rolling Stones and Herman’s Hermits and the Four Tops and Petula Clark. And it all worked.
“Did you know that Sonny was a champion for the Salton Sea? Do you know that he was into Scientology? Do you know that his tombstone says ‘And the beat goes on?'”
I was perfectly willing to explore Sonny and Cher with him, but I needed to get the Country Cheese post up. What did he think of it?
Thanks for this paean to this wonderful pioneer of a cheese shop.
Alas, it is indeed sad news that they have shut their doors, yet another chapter of old West Berkeley closing, along with Brennan’s and Spenger’s.
Country Cheese predated the Cheese Board by three years and along with Ottino’s delicatessen, established the neighbor as a culinary magnet, long before the existence of North Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.
Both were homey and funky establishments nestled among a copious selection of dive bars, and when Ottino’s became upscale and moved to Orinda, Country Cheese became the sole representative of fine foods in the neighborhood for many years.
They were my favorite sandwich shop for the decades that I lived and worked in Berkeley, and had the best selection and prices of outstanding Basque cheeses. They are sorely missed.
When I moved to west Berkeley (to stay) in 1979, the place was run by a hippie couple; for all I know, they opened it. In the early eighties, an old-fashioned, really-out-of-place couple took over. Then the Raxatoul fellows came in. I don’t know how Ng came along ..
Anyway, you bet I’ll miss it. I shudder to think what will replace it. I’m saving some of my cheese wrappers ..
Gone forever the good old days. Makes me hungry those cheese pics. Thanks. M
A documentary called “Plagues and Pleasures of the Salton Sea” (2007, narration by John Waters) goes into the background of the Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge, among much else. DVD still available at the Berkeley Public Library.