In the early 2000’s, I was working in a small office just a few blocks away from the UC Berkeley campus. Berkeley is a unique town in general, offering lots of awesome hippie energy and political drama and friendly faces. Thanks to the institution of Chez Panisse and Alice Waters, Berkeley is also a fascinating place to eat- not only for the local and organic food, but for the variety of ethnic cuisine and price points represented.
Unfortunately for me, the business section my office resided in was in a transitional period at the time. It was just far enough away from campus to exclude student business and not populated enough by locals and workers to sustain too many cafes within the radius of about five blocks. Here’s where the story gets good: the lack of lunch in the area pushed us out just a bit further. Far enough to hit an area of Shattuck Ave dubbed the Gourmet Ghetto.
Just like today, the Cheeseboard of that era was two separate shops: the actual cheese shop and a tiny, closet-sized space which housed a pizza collective. There were two food items served daily: one type of pizza and roasted heads of garlic. Unlike your usual pizza parlor, there was only one vegetarian variety, made the same way and it changed daily. You could count on fresh and delicious, but anything beyond that was a surprise. Their website was sometimes updated (I liked to scour it frequently in hopes of my favorite crust coming up: a tasty corn flour variety), but mostly you showed up, ordered by quantity and fell in love. On occasion, you’d make it in time to see a jazz band entertaining the massive, but quick-moving line. I vaguely remember a few small tables and chairs, but mostly you’d grab your pizza and head out to the grassy median just outside with a handful of napkins.
The more things change, the more they stay the same:
You can still grab your pizza and head outside, but there is an expanded restaurant now with plenty of seating indoors and on the sidewalk.
Of course, no place named “Cheeseboard” is going to be shy with the cheese. A few doors down sits the best cheese shop in the land. Despite its efficient and friendly service, the cheese cases were so packed I couldn’t even get a picture to show you. Perhaps this sign will help you understand the serious business that is cheese at this place:
In addition to all this glorious dairy, you’ll find fresh bread, cheese-making supplies and a coffee bar.Turns out, happy cows really DO come from California.
The Cheeseboard Collective
1512 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94709
Open for lunch and dinner (with live music!) Tuesday through Sunday.
Visit the website for the daily pizza menu, music schedules and a really stinking cute cow.