Cheese—in all its gooey, crumbly, farm-fresh, or cave-aged incarnations—is having a moment. Thanks to the restaurant trend of gourmet mac and cheese and the opening of at least one grilled cheese truck per town, even kids are learning to distinguish Emmentalers from Edams, Goudas from Gruyères.
It's not just a passing craze. For fromage fans, the good news is that we're living in a post–Cheez Whiz era, with regional creameries across America producing farmstead offerings that rival the best European imports. Think of the local cheese shop, led by its own passionate and knowledgeable cheesemonger, as the spiritual center of this new Better Cheese Movement.
Historic or hip, America's best cheese shops are as widely varied as the dairy products they peddle: old-world-style markets like Philadelphia's Di Bruno Brothers; encyclopedic repositories of regional up-and-comers like Fromagination of Madison, WI; homey neighborhood outfits like Cured in Boulder, CO; and farmstead operations serving their own fresh-made creations, such as San Francisco's Cowgirl Creamery and Zingerman's Creamery of Ann Arbor, MI.
For travelers, such cheese shops offer a delicious entry point into a new city—a place to learn about the regional palate, to taste the local bounty, to interact with area farmers and cheesemakers, and to pick up an edible souvenir that you probably won't find at your shop back home.
And because we know that a full cheese counter can be every bit as intimidating as an expansive wine list, we've done the homework for you. We asked each owner to recommend a cheesemonger's choice to guarantee that your next cheese plate will be a hit.