Several years ago, at the American Cheese Society conference, I met a young woman who told me she planned to open a shop in San Francisco selling only domestic cheeses. Not smart, I thought. How could a cheese business survive without the European classics? Well, six years in, Sarah Dvorak’s Mission Cheese is so successful that it now has a Berkeley sibling—bigger, more ambitious and likely to launch a national trend. Shouldn’t every community have its own cheese bar?
The new Maker’s Common, in the heart of downtown Berkeley, is a high-ceilinged, light-filled, 2400-square-foot venue devoted to cheese and its best friends: crackers and condiments, wine and beer, charcuterie, hot sauce and pickles. (Honestly, I’m not sure why the hot sauce, but if you need some, it’s here.)
“Mission Cheese had reached its plateau in sales,” says Dvorak about the decision to grow. “There’s only so much cheese you can buy for a 650-square-foot space, and I wanted to buy more.” How refreshing to talk to a merchant who gets more excited about buying than selling.
Dvorak and her partners—husband Oliver Dameron and Mission Cheese GM Eric Miller—raised $530,000 for Maker’s Common through a Direct Public Offering. A DPO is like crowd-funding—think Kickstarter—but different.
“It’s not a donation,” says Dvorak. “It’s an investment. You get your money back as long as we don’t go out of business.”
More than 150 people—many known to the three partners, some not—invested at least $1,000 and, in return, received an unsecured seven-year interest-bearing note. “It made the whole process feel more rooted in community, as opposed to going to a bank,” says Dvorak.
Only a mile separates Maker’s Common from Berkeley’s beloved Cheese Board, but surely this food-obsessed community has enough cheese love for both. The retail cheese offering is small here but choice, with rarely seen selections like Roelli Dunbarton Blue (“Every time I have it, I fall in love with it again,” says Dvorak); Weirauch Farm Primo Fresco, a fresh sheep cheese from Sonoma County; and several sheep cheeses from Monterey County farmstead producer Garden Variety.
Cheese flights: of course. Charcuterie boards: ditto. Grilled cheese, mac-and-cheese, raclette….how could they not? But what impresses is the effort the partners have made to source distinctive local ingredients, like the meaty organic Lucques olives from Good Faith Farm; to ferment pickles in house; and to conjure up original dishes like chicken brined in whey.
“Maker’s Common is not a chef-focused kitchen,” says Dvorak. “It’s about finding amazing ingredients and putting them together in a simple California way.” I’ll drink (the delicious Temescal Brewing Pils, on tap here) to that.
Cheese Class: Cheese Meets Beer
Monday, August 14
Silverado Cooking School
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Even wine lovers have to admit that some cheeses don’t play nice with wine. Craft beer to the rescue! For every cheese, even the most challenging types, there’s a brew that pairs to perfection. I’ll prove it to you tonight as we “work” through seven awesome cheese and beer matchups. Joining me to provide color commentary on the beers: Jack Hyland, Certified Cicerone for Fieldwork Brewing.