Have you ever wondered about the backstory of a specific East Bay food, restaurant or tradition? The origins of a fad, the ingredients of a dish, why certain places gain cult status? Ask Nosh and we’ll do the research and reporting to find your answer! Email us your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
The answer starts with The Cheese Board on Shattuck Avenue. The worker-owned cooperative and specialty cheese shop celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. But its story with pizza only goes back about 30 years to when a few Cheese Boarders decided to do an after-hours pizzeria one night in 1985.
“I think of it as our garage story,” said Cathy Goldsmith, who has been a worker-owner at the Cheese Board for 22 years. The evening was a hit, and the Cheese Board made pizza as a once-a-week event until opening a full-fledged pizzeria in 1991.
A lot of what customers can still expect from a Cheese Board pizza happened in those early evening popups. Then, as now, the shop made one variety of pizza a day, made with fresh, locally sourced toppings and the same sourdough starter they began with in 1985. In their earliest days, they made 20 pies a night. Now they routinely make around 900 pizzas each day.
Some of the Cheese Board’s innovations have become touchstones of Bay Area style pizza.
“I think we were the first to do corn pizza, in any iteration of it. We also make it with zucchini, with poblanos,” said Goldsmith “It seems really California, doesn’t it?”
And about that extra sliver? The answer is pretty straightforward. Those early Cheese Boarders were novice pizza makers and didn’t always slice equally. To make up for smaller slices they’d throw in a little extra sliver to make up the difference. And soon enough what began as an effort to balance out portions became an established signature touch.
From there the extra sliver spread through the network of Cheese Board alums who went on to open their own Bay Area pizzerias, such as Arizmendi, Nabolom, the appropriately named Sliver (which, as we reported earlier this week, is in the process of relocating from its Center Street location in downtown Berkeley) and, most recently, Dimond Slice Pizza in Oakland.
Arizmendi in particular has had a very close relationship with the Cheese Board.
“We gave them our recipes, starters, helped them with seed money, and that has trickled down into training and supporting each other,” said Goldsmith.
And, at Arizmendi’s five locations throughout the Bay Area, it also means carrying forward a legacy of a little something on the side.
“People really love that extra sliver,” said Goldsmith.