Skip to main content
Life

Why this rare cheese disappeared for years from San Francisco Bay Area stores

Two people hold boxes of cheese as they smile.
Rainbow Grocery staffers Kirsten Marshall and Gordon Edgar show off their favorite cheese, Franklin’s Teleme. | Source: Joshua Ram/The Standard

Franklin’s Teleme cheese has been missing from San Francisco Bay Area stores for four years, but in September, it sneakily returned, prompting at least one customer to cry at the sight of it on Rainbow Grocery’s shelves, according to staff.

The cheese—which was originally made in Los Banos in the San Joaquin Valley—was unavailable for years, but it's now back in production in a new location in Modesto, according to cheesemaker Franklin Peluso, owner of Mid-Coast Cheese Company.

Peluso said during the four-year hiatus, he never stopped getting calls from not just fans of the cheese but also from previous stores and distributors asking when it would return.

"I was always encouraged by that," he said. "I'm very excited to bring it back for those who loved it."

The cheese has been a favorite among the Italian American Bay Area for nearly a century, Rainbow staffers said.

It’s described as a “soft, slumpy, pudgy pillow” dusted with rice flour by cheese writer Janet Fletcher. It is said to work well with basically everything.

“It’s my favorite cheese,” said Kirsten Marshall, a Rainbow staffer of 20 years. “Having it with eggs is life-changing, but it goes with anything.”

It's even cheese-expert approved.

“If you grew up in the Bay Area in an Italian family, you grew up with this,” said cheesemonger Gordon Edgar, who has worked at San Francisco’s Rainbow for 30 years. “It has a long, local Bay Area history. Franklin’s Teleme has been around for 100 years. We probably sell more Teleme than anywhere else in the world.”

Franklin's Teleme cheese at Rainbow Grocery
Franklin's Teleme cheese was displayed at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco on Friday. | Source: Joshua Ram/The Standard

“We’ve had people come in literally in tears, weeping,” Marshall said of the cheese’s return.

Edgar added that Peluso is “a wonderful guy to work with, and there’s hope for the future” since Franklin’s son, 31-year-old Adam Peluso, also works for the family business. Rainbow has carried Teleme for over 25 years.

Why Was Teleme Gone?

According to Peluso, the reason for the yearslong absence of his Teleme cheese was having inadequate space to make it.

"At the time we stopped production, the dairy industry and dairies didn't have the financial wherewithal due to circumstances like the price of milk," Peluso said. "This particular dairy in Hanford went out of business."

The 2019 closure prompted Peluso to look statewide in order to find a space that fit his operation.

"I looked all over the state, from Bakersfield to Sacramento, and even along the coastal areas and further north," he said. "Either the factories were too small or filled to capacity."

Three months before the latest production began, Peluso said he made a phone call to a dairy farmer and cheesemaker friend in Modesto to ask if he knew of a space that could house his cheese-making operation. The friend told Peluso he had stopped making cheese and offered to rent him his space.

Peluso began making cheese again, but this time alongside his son, Adam.

"My son is with me now, and it's been a joy to teach him the production," Peluso said.

‘I’m More of a Gouda Gal’

Despite the strong praise for Franklin’s Teleme cheese, reviews were mixed in The Standard newsroom.

An editor described it as “OK, but I’m more of a gouda gal,” before adding that it was “disappointing and overhyped.”

Other Standard writers and editors were similarly underwhelmed, but a few said it was “good … mild and creamy.”

One editor, a self-described “cheese guy,” said he would buy it and described it as “not too smelly.”

Another staffer likened the Teleme to a “complex string cheese,” while another said it was like a Babybel—you know, those small round things that come in a net bag, individually wrapped in red wax.

A sign reading "teleme is back!" is pinned to a wall and shows two cheesemakers holding a wheel of cheese.
A sign celebrating the return of Franklin's Teleme cheese is posted inside the Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco. | Source: Joshua Ram/The Standard

Still, the cheese clearly has its devoted audience.

“It’s a real Bay Area tradition,” Edgar, the Rainbow Grocery cheesemonger, said. “We’ll carry it forever.”

According to Peluso, his father made the first batch of Teleme cheese in 1927.

Franklin’s Teleme retails for $29.99 a pound and is available across the Bay Area and at the following locations in San Francisco:

  • Rainbow Grocery
  • Calabria Bros Deli
  • Falletti Foods
  • Mollie Stone's
  • Lucca Deli
  • Molinari Delicatessen

The Standard has a tradition of sending our lucky reporting interns, and sometimes staffers, out to try some of the city’s most enticing products, including a $18 dollar ube bread loaf, a $23 dollar pumpkin spice latte, as well as a $3 cabernet cure for rising inflation.

Sadly for the intern writing this article, lactose intolerance and a gluten allergy meant I couldn’t try the cheese or the cheesemonger-recommended cracker it was served on.

Josh Ram can be reached at jram@sfstandard.com
Joel Umanzor can be reached at jumanzor@sfstandard.com