Oh boy, how I love cheese. There is no cheese I don’t like. I could eat it all the time. With jam, grilled, melded, pure, with some dried fruits…. You name it. Thus it’s obvious that I also love cheese shops and that I always get excited when I discover a new one. This happened a couple weeks ago while I was strolling San Francisco’s new upcoming neighbourhood Dog Patch. The neighbourhood with the industrial charm and small-town feeling. Lots of good food spots are already mushrooming and of course, what’s that, that every neighbourhood should have? Right! A cheese store. Luckily for Dog Patch, there is one, a pretty good one: La Fromagerie. This cheese gem is owed by Ruben Donze, a french guy, who grow up making cheese in France with his grandpa. His knowledge about cheese is just incredible and I had the pleasure to talk to him about all things cheese. Ruben loves cheese and he loves talking to his customers and inspiring them what to choose and giving them a tip how to enjoy la fromage in the best possible way. Since its opening in 2011, La Fromagerie has build a big circle of steady customers, coming from all San Francisco neighbourhoods. La Fromagerie also offers cheese and charcuterie plates directly to your door and you can also find other local and french products in this charmingly space. Another cool thing is that they work with Six Doors – SF based start up for delivering products from your favorite local stores. Within 2 hours! So if you are planning a party and there is no time to go buy good cheese, this is your way to go. And now, dive in and read the interview with a real cheese maven.
I could live in a cheese shop. What led you to open a cheese shop?
The passion for cheese and food. It was kind of a process that build up in me. I’m from a french house in France, I grew up with cheese, my parents had a diary farm. And each time I was back in France I was thinking I would like to open a cheese store in San Francisco. And two years ago I told myself I should do it, because we already had this house and this front space. So I did it. We created this French style cheese shop.
Describe us the idea of your cheese store? What is so unique about it?
We have many traditional french cheese in our store but we are always looking for new cheese that has a good quality. It’s always about searching and sampling so you get closer to the traditional ones. We discovered some very good ones from the US like from Vermont or Wisconsin. Or Point Reyes in North California. We bring more American cheese to our store and we also have very good classic Italian cheese. Our goal is to have a good variety for every taste.
Why the Dog Patch area? Why not Marina or Mission?
I live on Potrero Hill and have been working here for 10 years. Dog Patch has a kind of a feeling of a village and that’s what I like. There is no reason for opening it somewhere else.
The assortment at La Fromagerie is very well selected. How do you find all the products.
We have different vendors and basically we look trough all the products, sample them and choose the products that fit our requirements.
What do you keep in mind when choosing items for La Fromagerie?
We are always tasting the products. It’s like wine. We test the texture, the taste, the smell and choose the best possible.
Cheese is not always cheese. What makes the difference between good quality cheese and bad quality?
It really depends on the type of cheese. I think the aging process is very important. The creaminess of the cheese as well as the sharpness. There are so many different aspects of good quality and bad quality cheese. Even the grass that the cows eat is important.
Can you give us any tips when buying cheese?
The key aspect is really to communicate what you are doing with the cheese. Is it as an appetizer or at the end of the dinner. Are you more into something sharp or into something more creamy. So communicate to narrow down. Than you sample what you are buying so you don’t feel disappointed when you are at home. Don’t be afraid to ask for samples.
Most of us have Gouda and brie in their fridge. Maybe some blue Stilson. What is your must-keep-in-
stock cheese to impress your guest?
When you serve something and you have guests at home make sure to serve the right cheese with the right wine. Also here it’s important to know what you are going to do with the cheese, are you going to cook or are you going to serve it fresh. But always choose the best products. As with the cheese plater, you have to know what you are going to eat it with or to drink it with. You should always play with the taste, don’t stay in the same tone. You should offer some kind of a journey on your cheese plater. You gonna start with like triple cream, young cow milk and then you gonna jump to cave aged gruyere and then jump to good strong blue cheese. So people remember what they had.
Let’s talk about pairings? Can you tell us a little bit more about cheese + wine + jam?
Oh there is a lot to say about. Each cheese is so versatile. For example if you take sheep milk cheese that pairs very well with dark cherry. Perfect combination. Or fig jam. For some cow blue cheese you have to take something that will support the strong taste of blue cheese like red wine and good bread.
What do you love about your job?
The product and the human relationships through this product are great. For me that’s the best part. You are always discovering new things and meeting new people who have the same passion as you.
Have you any advice for somebody who would like to open a store?
Passion. You have to have passion. It’s not the money that drives a small store. It’s your passion for it.
Favorite cheese right now?
Oh that’s too difficult.
Tell us some of your favorite SF spots?
Mr. & Mrs. Miscellaneous, they make their own ice cream with great flavors.
An Sushi place on Arguello, very old restaurant, 4 tables, but best Sushi ever. You have to find the name yourself.
Etcetera Winebar – great bar in the Mission.
Thanks Ruben for this delicious interview.