Q&A with Sarah Dvorak of Mission Cheese

Sarah Dvorak, Photography by Peter Prato

Sarah Dvorak, Photography by Peter Prato

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Since cheese has been Sarah Dvorak’s mission for several years, it is appropriate that the name of her new shop is Mission Cheese. Interestingly, she decided on the name first and chose the location afterward. She considered several neighborhoods, but it was a spot in the Mission District that was the perfect fit for Mission Cheese.

Although Dvorak grew up in Wisconsin eating cheese curds and string cheese, it wasn’t until she was in the Bay Area that she fully realized her love for cheese. An important moment in her cheese journey: eating a  piece of  Humboldt Fog from Rainbow Grocery that had warmed to the perfect temperature.

Another turning point: leaving her corporate job to work in the kitchen at Jardinière, where she became well acquainted with the restaurant’s extensive cheese program. Although she realized that being a chef wasn’t her calling and returned to the corporate world, Dvorak began to contemplate her niche in the food world.

Dvorak immersed herself in the cheese community through conferences, classes and “the Great American Cheese Tour,” and eventually the concept for Mission Cheese was born.

Mission Loc@l sat down with Dvorak at Mission Cheese to learn more about the neighborhood’s newest cheese shop. Mission Cheese opens today at 736 Valencia, and will be open Tuesday through Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Mission Loc@l: What was the Great American Cheese Tour?

Sarah Dvorak: In the fall of 2009, I drove cross-country for two and a half months and learned a ton. I had a book called “The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese,” and I visited cheesemakers in 13 states. It’s where I found the soul of Mission Cheese. I loved cheese but didn’t figure out the concept for the shop until I met people in the cheese community.

ML: So what is the concept for the Mission Cheese shop?

SD: The focus is on the American artisanal cheese movement. Cheese will be cut to order, but it will be less of a grocery experience and more of a social interaction, where people can come hang out and taste.  We will have 45 cheeses, pressed sandwiches on Della Fattoria levain, mac ‘n cheese, raclette, mixed greens, and eventually beer and wine pairings.

Mission Cheese

ML: Why do you think there is movement toward American artisanal cheese?

SD: There’s a return to wanting to know where food comes from, and being unsatisfied with a block of orange cheddar from the grocery. Mass-produced dairy is gnarly, with all the hormones. People are traveling more, their palates are more sophisticated, and in the Bay Area people spend more money on the food they eat because they care where it comes from.

Artisan cheese is expensive but we will have classes, cheesemakers coming in and sharing their stories, and trips to the farms. Seeing the process and meeting the people will put it in perspective.

ML: Did you have any cheese mentors?

SD: Lynne Devereaux was my first cheese friend. She was one of the founders of the California Artisan Cheese Guild, and took me under her wing. Ari Weinzweig (of Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan) has been a big mentor on the business side. Daphne Zepos. I took one of her classes at the Cheese School of San Francisco, and last weekend I taught a class with her.

ML: Do you have a favorite cheese?

SD: That’s a hard question, but right now a favorite is Kunik. It’s from New York and is a triple cream made from goat’s and cow’s milk. Another one is the Dunbarton Blue from Wisconsin, a cow’s-milk cheddar with a touch of blue.

ML: Besides Mission Cheese, where are your favorite places in the Mission to eat?

SD: Tartine, Maverick for brunch, and Range.

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