Cheese Board Collective: 40 Years in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto

Civil Eats

Exploring alternative ways to work in the food industry is a hot topic. Recently in San Francisco a sold out Kitchen Table Talks, a monthly panel showcasing local food folk, featured a discussion about successful edible enterprises that haven’t started the conventional route.

Two of the four panelists hailed from Berkeley. Three Stone Hearth‘s Jessica Prentice, whom I’ve previously profiled on Berkeleyside, talked about her cooperative kitchen model. Cathy Goldsmith represented The Cheese Board Collective. (San Francisco business reps in the mix: Caleb Zigas, who runs the kitchen incubator program La Cocina and Anthony Myint, the restauranteur behind Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth, both eateries give big chunks of change to charity.)

Beyond the obvious culinary connection each business is unique. What they have in common? A desire to build community—of workers, artisans, and customers—around their real food ventures.

Case in point The Cheese Board Collective, which has served as an anchor institution in what’s known as Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto for more than 40 years…

Complete article here

One Comment

Adam’s last comment is right on. We should be proud of the local Farmers’ Market, wonderful stuff. But, where are the crowds of customers that throng farmers’ markets further south? Oh, I’m told everything is too expensive. True, the agribusiness stuff, organic or not, cultivated and harvested by illegal Latinos and trucked in from God knows where is cheaper. It seems to me it is time to start sacrificing some of our toys and focus on caring for the Earth, beginning with the choices of our foods.

Memories of the Cheese Board, rising from reading this article, triggered some thoughts. As I’ve documented in detail awhile ago, the cooperative concept was originally based on worker-owners, actually an anarchist idea. The current CostCo-imitation “Natural” grocery stores that bill themselves as coops are all about profits and growth; if someone will buy it, they will sell it and damn concerns about the source.

A proposal: Why not create a true worker-owned cooperative locally that concentrates on local products – with a difference: Include small local growers and food processors among the owners. Growers who sell at farmers’ markets suffer a cost in time that could more usefully spent tending their vegetables, fruit, animals, and ornamentals (important to life!) and manufacturing food items such as baking pies. Such a cooperative could give them a break as well as provide them a daily market. I can envision as CSA aspect here as well, with customers getting a discount if they financially support the co-op’s efforts up front. They might also become, in some sense, owners by volunteering, perhaps being paid with merchandise. It all appears to tie together. Here, for instance, would be a possible interface between Adam and local customers with both winning.