.Tracking Santa Cruz County’s Best Grilled Cheeses

Santa Cruz’s Far West Fungi and Capitola’s Cheese Shop 831 rock tasty grilled cheese options

Suddenly I discovered I’m a massive fan of Emma Stone. Not for her Oscar Award-winning turn in La La Land, though that was something, or her intense role in Birdman, which was incredible. 

I’m digging her wisdom. Unbeknownst to me, she drops pearls all the time, and I’m just getting wind of it. 

They include, “I think a lot of people compare their insides to other people’s outsides” and “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.”

Then there’s my favorite mic-dropper full-stopper: “I’m into grilled cheese. Grilled cheese makes me feel beautiful!”

In a word: Word. On her next visit to Santa Cruz, I have her spots preordained. They both do belly-grunt-grade grilled cheese, even though their core competencies are actually something else.  

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At Far West Fungi, the star attraction is Moss Landing-grown mushrooms—maitake, morel, king trumpet, baby shiitake, shimeji, cordyceps and lion’s mane among the many, all CCOF certified organic, and not just fresh but dried and in powders and tinctures.

They also spawn plugs, liquid culture syringes and take-home mini mushroom farms that empower home growing.

Then there’s the merchandise, ranging from reishi earrings and branded hoodies to packaged goods like white truffle butter and spicy tree oyster mushroom jerky to homemade frozen soups and candy cap cheesecake and books like Mycelium Running and The Mushroom Hunters Kitchen.

I go for the truffle grilled cheese ($15). It’s simultaneously simple and complex, crunchy and soft, oozing and indulgent. The flavor symphony comes summoned by an interplay of blue foot mushroom butter, crimini, shiitake, black truffle tapenade, gruyere and Swiss on sourdough.

Far West Fungi, 224 Laurel St., Ste. A101, Santa Cruz; farwestfungi.com

The rare GC on its level appears in Capitola in an unassuming strip mall spot where the main event isn’t sandwiches, but cheese. 

Cheese Shop 831 does a different pair of grilled cheese specials every two weeks (Tuesday-Sunday, 11:30am-2:30pm), starring the superlative inventory drawn from boutique cheesemakers the world over.

A very, very small sample of their treasures includes Beecher’s Flagsheep and Beemster Goat Gouda, Challerhocker and Chablochon, Moosbacher and Moses Sleeper—scores of revelations all told, all ready to be taste tested with guidance by the welcoming and well-schooled staff.

Tons of other crafty gifts appear, too, from locally designed cheese boards to pun-heavy stickers. Here “life is gouda.” 

When I last stopped by, I opted for a “Jarlsberg and Bacon” grilled cheese (there was also a “Drunk in Italy” with wine-soaked Ubriaco cheese and provolone) and experienced tastebud liftoff before the sandwich hit my mouth. That happened because, as they prepped it to order, I tried a half dozen yum cheeses like an herb-crusted “alp blossom” and knock-your-eyebrows-off black Italian truffle gouda and promptly blew my budget by buying three to take home.

As I file this column, the current specials (reliably updated on their Instagram) are a “We Both Say Potato!” with an Alpine-style cheese blend, housemaid basil pesto and thinly sliced roasted potatoes ($13) and a “Beet and Goat Cheese” with fresh chèvre, sliced beets and balsamic reduction ($12).

So yes, Emma, I’m not acting when I say, “I’m into these grilled cheeses, and they make me feel beautiful.”

Cheese Shop 831, 3555 Clares St., Ste. V, Capitola; cheeseshop831.com

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