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Tasting the Cheese Board’s Collective Works

By SUSAN PARKER Special to the Planet
Friday October 17, 2003

“When the sixties finally ended in Berkeley, sometime around 1994, the only thing left standing from that bygone era was the Cheese Board. Odd that a time and place so thoroughly associated with outrage and rebellion should all melt down into 400 or so tasty blobs of Camembert, Port Salut, and Bleu des Causses. Those of us old enough to remember its first tiny storefront have watched fads in politics, haircuts, nose rings and bread dough come and go, but the Cheese Board stands alone.”  

—Alice Kahn, writer and Cheese Board customer 



Berkeley’s seminal landmark, the Cheese Board Collective, has finally put together a big, beautiful, wonderful book of stories and recipes that will warm the hearts, tongues and tummies of anyone who likes to eat. 

Unlike any other cookbook, The Cheese Board: Collective Works has been created from 35 years of collective baking experience. In other words, a lot of blood, sweat, tears, salt, flour and butter have gone into the making of this tome. 

With a forward by Gourmet Ghetto resident and neighbor Alice Waters, and support from cooking luminaries such as Mollie Katzen (The Moosewood Cookbook), Michael Wild (chef-owner of BayWolf), and Lindsey Shere (former pastry chef of Chez Panisse), the Cheese Board Collective can’t complain about lack of lofty endorsements. And as any Cheese Board customer knows, it’s praise that is well deserved. 

Started in 1967 in a hole-in-the-wall space wedged into a converted alleyway on Vine Street in North Berkeley, Elizabeth and Sahag Avedisian dreamed of running a small cheese store and making use of their “down time” to pursue other interests and studies. They envisioned a slow-paced, neighborhood specialty shop based on a European model. 

Despite having no real retail experience and little knowledge of cheese, Sahag and Elizabeth soon had a steady stream of customers and within months it was necessary to hire helpers for the busy store. 

The first employees were friends and frequent visitors to the nearby Berkeley Consumer Co-operative grocery store and Peet’s, a newly established coffee shop. “Creativity and personal expression were supported by the staff and owners. Most people worked part-time in order to pursue their outside interests,” Kahn writes. 

“The combination of the store’s character, the appreciation of European culture and the changing politics of the times created exactly the right environment to foster experiments in alternative work and lifestyles. People began to drop by out of curiosity as well as for cheese.” 

Inspired by time spent on an Israeli kibbutz, Elizabeth and Sahag offered to sell the shop, at cost, to their employees. In 1971, the two owners and six employees formed a worker-owned collective. In 1975 bread was introduced into the equation and soon thereafter local writer Alice Kahn labeled the neighborhood the “Gourmet Ghetto.” 

By then, the Cheese Board was surrounded by other small specialty shops and restaurants including the Pig-by-the-Tail Delicatessen, Lenny’s meat market, North Berkeley Wine, Cocolate, the Fish Market, the Juice Bar and Chez Panisse. “The neighborhood exchanged ideas over food, and there was a shared belief that good food was essential, honest, and important,” Kahn writes. 

In 1985, when the recession hit, the business suffered and the collective brainstormed on ways to stay viable. What started out as a regular staff lunch—pizza—ended up reinvigorating sales. It was so successful that an entirely separate storefront and new members were added to the collective in order to handle the volume. 

The Cheese Board: Collective Works is divided into seven chapters including The Morning Bakery, Yeasted Breads, Sourdough Breads, Rye Breads, Holidays, The Cheese Counter, and The Pizzeria. Also included are sections on equipment, ingredients and methods, a source list, a bibliography and a directory of cooperative and collective organizations. 

Within the pages are many black and white photos, recent and archival, that lovingly depict the day-to-day operations and challenges of the Cheese Board Collective. Wonderful illustrations by Ann Arnold and Collective members make this much more than just a cookbook. 

Thumb through casually and stop on any page. Readers will be charmed by the photos, the personal anecdotes, the special sections that impart important, quirky information such as: “Cheese Facts (or Fiction),” “Can I Eat the Rind?” “Cheese and the Sourdough Connection,” or my personal favorite, “The Nasal Tour” in which the store’s goat cheese section is described as smelling like a “barnyard” and the Muenster section is labeled “stinky feet,” 

The facts and information are almost endless, and I, for one, look forward to many evenings of simply leafing through this cookbook’s rich pages and imagining the smells, sounds and tastes of the Cheese Board Collective. Naturally, I also plan on trying out the recipes. Which one will I follow first? The Stinky Cheese Plate, of course! 



Currant Scones 


“This is the original Cheese Board breakfast scone, and for years it was the only kind of scone … baked. …The production of this scone has changed from its humble beginnings of about sixty scones a day to over six hundred being made on Saturdays.”  


Makes 10 to 12 Scones 

Preparation time including baking: 45 minutes 



3-1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

1 tablespoon baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 

3/4 cup sugar 

1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes 

1 cup dried currants 

3/4 cup heavy cream 

3/4 cup buttermilk 



1/4 cup sugar 

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 


Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a baking mat. 

Sift the flour, baking soda and baking powder together into a large bowl.* 

Add the salt and sugar to the bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Add the butter and cut it in with a pastry cutter or 2 dinner knives until is the size of small peas. Using the spoon, mix in the currants. Make a well in the center and add the cream and buttermilk.  Mix briefly, just until the ingredients come together; some loose flour should remain at the bottom of the bowl.   

Gently shape the dough into balls about 2-1/4 inches in diameter (they should have a rough, rocky exterior) and place them on the prepared pan about 2 inches apart. 

For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture on the top of the scones. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool. 


The Cheese Board: Collective Works 


Ten Speed Press 

230 pages/$21.95