Brandon Hicks knows his cheese—and that’s why he can say with confidence he wheels the largest cheese cart in all the world nightly at San Francisco’s private club, the Battery.
“I travel a lot; I Google my ass off. I follow everyone on Instagram,” the executive chef said. “That’s why I know this is the biggest cheese cart, anywhere.”
The cheeses vary from night to night, but Hicks always aims to compile around 100 on any given night, arranging his fromages “like a conversation.”
You can choose three or five selections from the cart for cheese service, and Hicks provides fromage for the table rather than the individual.
“It’s supposed to be a communal experience,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, Hicks had 102 cheeses on his wooden cart, which is not the traditional marble-topped cheese cart but a repurposed dessert cart that gives him the extra space he requires.
He couldn’t name a singular favorite—that would be impossible—but he did clue us in on some of the best.
There’s the Eidolon, a small-production cheese from Martha’s Vineyard, that’s absolutely perfect this time of year, according to Hicks. Or you could indulge in the Basque-style Vermont Shepherd from Putney, Vermont, that’s one of Hicks’s all-time favorites. But Hicks saved choice words for the Vacherin Mont d’Or, which has a narrow window to be enjoyed, typically from late November to early February.
“Forget Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s Vacherin Mont d’Or season I look forward to,” Hicks said.
Every cheese has a story, according to Hicks, and some of them are quite colorful, like the Ossau-Iraty that’s been made for more than 3,000 years—perhaps the oldest cheese in the world—and legend has it that it was invented by the son of the Greek god Apollo.
“All of them have a huge story,” said Hicks. “And they’re made by one person, one small farm.” Pair the cheeses with wine, and you double down on the storytelling, with every vineyard having its own narrative, too.
There’s a cheese made with thistle rennet, which resembles the artichoke, and a manchego made from the milk of endangered goats in Spain.
“Paired with a glass of tempranillo, it’s a life-changing experience,” Hicks said.
Another must-try is the Sbrinz, the cheese that taught the Italians how to make parmesan, that comes in 100-pound wheels and is absolutely ethereal when eaten with a piece of honeycomb.
Hicks came to Sam Francisco after stints in Manhattan eateries Picholine and Artisanal. He brought his vast cheese expertise to the Battery, where he began the cheese program two years ago.
The program started small, in the library space of the club. But Hicks only had space for 14 cheeses, and that simply would not do.
“It’s like picking your favorite kid,” he said of being limited to just over a baker’s dozen.
The Battery opened in 2012 and is elegantly appointed thanks to the interior design of Ken Fulk as well as an expansive art collection. The exclusive, members-only club is one of several in San Francisco, and it offers experiences you can’t replicate anywhere else—like the cheese service and a giant wine bottle pouring apparatus.
“For me, I go to a restaurant as theater, as entertainment,” Hicks said. “If I was just hungry, I’d go to In-N-Out.”
Julie Zigoris can be reached at [email protected]