Creamy or aged, orange or blue, artisan or not, cheese has been our silent companion for as long as history can recall. Whether paired with a classy wine, a French baguette, an exquisite hamon, nuts and honey, or maybe grilled and unpretentiously topped on a sandwich, cheese remains one of the world’s most varied and versatile aliments, and an endless topic for enthusiasts from all over. Here are the world’s top 10 destinations to indulge your passion for cheese.
Widely famous for its superior dairy products, lovely coastline, historical towns and picturesque countryside dotted with apple orchards, Normandy is also an ideal destination for cheese lovers. From the renowned creamy mild Camembert to the pungent Livarot and the slightly crumbly Neufchâtel, the beautiful region along the coast of the English Channel boasts one of the most exquisite cheese boards in France.
The highlight of your trip should be the small village of Camembert, in the Orne department of Lower Normandy, where a rich variety of cheesy attractions await to be discovered. These include the Cheese Museum, built in the shape of a Camembert cheese; the Beamoncel – the manor house of Marie Harel (creator of the famous cheese); the Héronnière Farm – Fromagerie Durand and the President farm where you can indulge in plenty of cheese and learn everything about Camembert, from the history to the making process. Complement your journey with a visit to the Cheese Factory in the pretty old town of Livarot.
La Mancha, Spain
Home of Don Quixote, El Greco and some of Spain’s most beautiful and authentic towns (Cuenca and Toledo), La Mancha region takes pride in delivering the most famous Spanish cheese – Manchego. Highly appreciated for its full buttery texture and slightly piquant flavor, Queso Manchego, or the cheese of Don Quixote, is exclusively produced from the milk of Manchega sheep breed, in designated areas within La Mancha region, including the provinces of Toledo, Cuenca, Ciudad Real and Albacete.
For a true taste of Spain, pair it with Serrano ham and one of the local reds (La Mancha is one of the world’s largest wine-producing areas). An equally delicious alternative is to serve Manchego cheese as a dessert with honey and nuts.
Top off your cheese experience in La Mancha with a visit to Artequeso (Finca La Prudenciana) – an historic cattle and agricultural property in Tembleque, where you can learn everything about the manufacturing process of artisan Manchego Cheese.
Emilia Romagna, Italy
The northern Italian region of Emilia Romana is the birthplace of Parmigiano Reggiano – the “King of all Cheeses”, which alongside Modena’s balsamic vinegar, Parma’s famous ham and Bologna’s patented delicacies, defines one of the finest gastronomic regions in Italy.
A visit here will offer you the opportunity to combine your passion for cheese with some fabulous sightseeing. Reggio Emilia, Modena, Parma and Bologna, are all dotted with charming medieval and Renaissance marvels, and traditional “caseifici” (cheese factories).
The distinguished Parmigiano Reggiano has its roots almost 8 centuries ago, and nowadays it’s still made using the same genuine time-honored methods. A visit to the Museum of Parmigiano Reggiano in Soragna will certainly crown your trip.
Somerset, South West England
The picturesque South West England with its charming villages, serene rural landscapes and old pubs serving delightful local food, is an ideal culinary getaway, whether you’re into traditional farms, alluring food markets, gastronomic festivals or award-winning restaurants.
Somerset is increasingly gaining recognition for a great range of traditional, blue and new cheeses, but what really put it on the world map was, and will always be, the versatile Cheddar. Take some time and explore the village of Cheddar, which gave birth to the most popular type of cheese in the UK and pay a visit to the famous Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company to see the only cheesemakers left in town practicing their skills. If you visit Somerset in the fall, don’t miss The Frome Agricultural & Cheese Show on 14th September 2013.
Often called “El Pais de los Quesos” (Land of Cheese), the wild, beautiful Asturias in northern Spain is a real paradise for the discerning cheese lover. The region offers a wonderful experience in every possible way, combining its spectacular beauty with the sweetness of rural life and the abundance of activities available.
The most famous Asturian cheese is Cabrales, known for its pungent, strong flavor, but the area features a pretty interesting selection of cheeses including Afuega’l pitu – the oldest Spanish cheese with its headquarters in the municipality of Grado; Casin – made in southern Asturias; Gamonéu – a delicious lightly smoked cheese originating in the village with the same name, and many others.
The Netherlands’ Cheese Markets
The charming medieval cheese markets in The Netherlands are a feast for any cheese passionate out there. Whether you choose to visit the iconic Gouda Cheese Market in the western Netherlands (South Holland) or those located in the northern part of the country – including the traditional Edam Cheese Market, the famous Alkmaar or the one held in the appealing city of Hoorn – you’ll certainly have an excellent experience filled with plenty of culture, entertaining, and, of course, cheese.
Undeniably the most famous Dutch cheese, Gouda can be savored in its entire splendor at the Goudse kaasmarkt throughout the summer months, when farmers, Dutch Cheese Girls and Boys, as well as huge wheels of Gouda, take over the fairytale-like city, offering visitors a genuine spectacle.
The 400-year old Alkmaar Cheese Market held each year between April and September on the Waagplein square is an equally delightful affair. Here, you can combine a visit to the market with a pleasant sightseeing tour and even a stopover at the Holland Cheese Museum, in the heart of the city.
If you want to add a bit of history to your cheese escapade, go to explore the wonderful Edam Cheese Market, where the magic product is still brought here by boat or horse-drawn cart. The city lies only a few km away from Amsterdam, which makes it a convenient day trip from the capital.
Idiazábal, Spanish Basque Country
Beautiful, unique and blessed with stunning natural landscapes and an exquisite cultural heritage which sets it apart from the rest of Spain, the Basque Country is a wonderful setting to explore your passion for cheese. The region is widely known for its intense Idiazábal cheese made with sheep milk from Latxa and Carranzana breeds found in the area.
You can visit the Idiazabal Cheese Interpretation Centre, situated in the village with the same name in the Goierri Valley; tour the Quesería Aramburu – a traditional cheese factory in the heart of Idiazabal, and, of course, scour the various authentic family-run farms scattered throughout the enchanting countryside.
In addition to the spectacular scenery and the excellent array of travel opportunities, the mighty French Alps grant the world with a wonderful variety of cheeses. From the delicious washed-rind Reblochon to the sophisticated Beaufort, the renowned factories and artisan cheese producers scattered throughout the Savoie and Haute Savoie regions welcome guests with a multitude of cheese types, from soft to hard and from famed to peculiar – all of them produced according to ancient traditional techniques. France’s finest alpine cheeses are: Reblochon, Beaufort, Abondance, Bleu de Sassenage and Tomme de Savoie.
Do not worry about where to find them, because once you get in the Alps, they’ll find you, whether in their natural form or as an ingredient in various local dishes, so prepare to be spoilt for choice.
The lovely medieval town of Gruyere in the canton of Fribourg is a delight for anyone in search of an authentic Swiss experience, but most of all, is a paradise for cheese lovers.
Although it is often considered a range of cheeses, more than a certain type, and it can also be produced outside Switzerland, the subtle, yet very sophisticated Gruyere cheese originates in the region surrounding the city with the same name, where it has been made for centuries. When in town, quenches your appetite for this versatile cheese in the wonderful local restaurants; visit La Maison du Gruyère in the nearby Pringy and the delightful Thursday market in Bulle; or take a trip to Les Ponts-de-Martel to see the gallery of Les Martel cheese-making dairy and do some excellent cheese shopping.
Most people are skeptical when it comes to cheese made in the US, but the skillful cheesemakers in Vermont are here to prove otherwise. From award-wining gorgonzola to high-quality Greek feta, the small Green Mountain state prides itself with a great collection of artisanal cheese varieties. Vermont is home to cheesemakers since the 1800s, but it was the last 20 years when the craft of American cheesemaking has seen a rampant evolution.
The best way to discover Vermont’s cheese heritage is to explore the genuine markets, farmsteads and factories around.