The Ultimate Cheese-Lover’s Bucket List
Some people view cheese as an accessory to a meal, something to nibble on between sips of wine or with thin slices of pear. True cheese aficionados know otherwise, recognizing cheese as the main attraction of any meal — if not the entire meal.
This list is for those people who crave cheddar the way others crave chocolate, who have no qualms about Époisses in the morning, who would never sniff at a Limburger, and know their Tomme Da Savoie from their Tom, Dick, and Harry. This is a culinary bucket list for cheese lovers who are willing to travel to sate their cheesy desires.
While Sweden has a moose cheese and Serbia offers donkey cheese (a rumored favorite of tennis star Novak Djokovic), this article focuses primarily on cow, goat, and sheep’s milk cheeses—and the heaven-sent people who make and love them.
The variety and quality of French fromage turns any trip into an all-consuming (and consuming-all) scavenger hunt. Each region in France has a specialty, but many makers ship samples to Paris shops. While most French grocery stores offer a variety of cheese that would make an American cheese lover weep, the best cheeses can be found in the smaller fromageries. At these specialty shops—like Androuët in the Rue Mouffetard or Laurent Dubois in the Marais—find chèvres made on just one farm, a Saint-Nectaire made from the milk of just one breed of cow, or a Fourme d’Ambert whose recipe has been passed down since Roman times.
The state that brought cheese-block headwear into public consciousness naturally has some of the best dairy in the U.S. While Wisconsin cheeses are sold nationwide in big-box grocery stores, more artisanal producers, like Milwaukee’s Clock Shadow Creamery, and purveyors, like Madison’s Fromagination, have been popping up to provide enthusiasts subtler and more experimental options. In 2016, a Wisconsin Grand Cru from Roth Cheese won the World Championship Cheese Contest, cementing the state's reputation. Plus, Wisconsin is home to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center.
According to the British Cheese Board, a Roman-era Cheshire recipe ignited England's love for cheese. Nowadays, a cheese menu at a good British restaurant reads like a map: Red Leicester, Double Gloucester, Stilton, Caerphilly, and Lancaster. True cheese fanatics will want to visit Wales during the Caerphilly Big Cheese Festival or stop in the village of Stilton to watch farmers roll giant wheels of cheese. To stock up on Wensleydale, Cheshire, or the evocatively named Stinking Bishop, head to The Fine Cheese Company in Bath, or stop by Sainsbury’s or Marks and Spencer’s, which sells an award-winning Blacksticks Blue.
Like Beyoncé or Cher, Italy's cheeses need no clarification or introduction: parmesan, mozzarella, ricotta, burrata, provolone, pecorino, asiago, mascarpone, fontina, grana padano, and so many others. Take a cheese tour of Parma, eating in turns Calabrian Caprino d’Aspromonte, Neapolitan mozzarella, and Emilia-Romagna. Others may want to check out the country's bi-annual cheese festival in the Piedmont region. Or, if you prefer, grab a chunk of Caciocavallo Podolico to eat for lunch, snack on a Sardinian Calcagno, or stop in the Tuscan town of Pienza just to try some of the best pecorinos in the world.
According to SF Gate, San Francisco’s cheese-making tradition dates back to the late 1850s when a woman, armed with a recipe from her English grandmother, started making her own cheddar. Cheese-making is now a hallmark of Northern California’s food renaissance, thanks to producers like Cowgirl Creamery, Bellwether Farms, Andante Dairy, and Point Reyes Farmstead. The California Cheese Trail winds through Napa, Sonoma, and Marin, and for a proper road trip, continue up the Pacific Coast Highway to stop in Oregon, home to Rogue Creamery and Tillamook Dairy, and up to Seattle to visit Beecher’s Cheese.
Head straight to the medieval town of Gruyères, which has been producing Gruyère cheese for hundreds of years, or order up Raclette in any alpine village. Try each regional specialty of the various cantons, like Chällerhocker, Bulle’s Vacherin Fribourgeois, Sbrinz, and Emmenthaler. For an extra adventure—or if you’re looking for a good way to burn off those cheese calories—head over the Alps to hike a portion of Austria’s KäseStrasse (Cheese Street), which winds through the Alpine countryside of Bregenzerwald for over 60 miles, and stop in at the cheese producers and dairy farmers along the way.
Cheese lovers will want to spend a few days following the Cheese Trail that winds through Vermont. Not only will they get to see the beauty of the Green Mountain state, but they will be able to enjoy award-winning cheeses straight from the farms and craftsmen making them. While national favorite Cabot Creamery and regional legend Grafton Village Cheese put out some of the best cheddars around, for other cheesy delights, try Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche, Von Trapp Farmstead’s Mad River Blue, and Cellars at Jasper Hill for their Bayley Hazen Blue, which took home the 2014 award for best unpasteurized cheese in the world.
Manchego may be Spain’s best-known cheese, but there are many regional varieties that make an amateur cheesemonger’s heart go pitter-pat. There’s the Monte Enebro from Avila; Cabrales, a renowned blue cheese; Navarre’s Roncal; sharp Zamorano from Castillo y León; the mild Galician delicacy Tetilla; the tangy Ibores goat cheese; Menorca’s Mahon; and so many more quesos that are perfect for pairing with a Tempranillo or enjoying on their own. Many cities celebrate their love of cheese with festivals, like "La Feria del Queso" in Trujillo. Quel, a small village in Rioja, has been celebrating their Bread and Cheese Festival since 1479.
Each year Dutch companies ship tons of Gouda, Edam, and Boerenkaas to appreciative fans around the world, making the Netherlands one of the largest exporters of cheese on Earth. What's more, the small country is home to several cheese museums, including the Amsterdam Cheese Museum and the Hollands Kaas Museum in Alkmaar, which started selling cheese back in 1365. The country also boasts an incredible number of cheese markets, where farmers and producers come to sell their “yellow gold” to fellow cheese lovers. Look for them in cities like Hoorn, Woerden, and, of course Gouda and Edam, which were built around their cheese markets.