While there’s no official tally of cheese varieties in the world, 5,685 cheeses from 27 countries competed at the International Cheese Awards this year alone. That’s enough to try a new cheese each day for over 15 years. Unfortunately, most of them aren’t available at your local grocer, but that only gives you another reason to travel. Here are the top places to melt, slice, and grate your way around the world.
1. Normandy, France
Go for the: Camembert
Pair it with: Light red wine like Beaujolais or Normandy Cider
In 1791, Marie Harel created this beloved cheese in Lower Normandy’s small village of Camembert. It’s hard and crumbly in its youngest stage, but the inside becomes smooth and runny as it matures. Visit the village’s famous Camembert-shaped Cheese Museum to learn all about how it’s produced.
2. Somerset, England
Go for the: Cheddar
Pair it with: Fresh fruit or dry red wine like Cabernet Sauvignon
Somerset has sandy beaches, idyllic landscapes, and historic market towns, but it’s the famous Cheddar cheese that’ll keep you coming back. In the village of Cheddar you can explore cheese caves and watch traditional Cheddar making at Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company.
3. Lisbon, Portugal
Go for the: Azeitão
Pair it with: Ruby port wine like Sandeman
Azeitão is one of a kind, which may have something to do with its DOP status (Denominación de Origen Protegida). By law, only cheesemakers can produce this buttery, herbaceous, and slightly salty cheese in this region. Producers make Azeitão with thistle flower rather than animal rennet, making it a completely vegetarian treat.
4. Gouda, Netherlands
Go for the: Gouda
Pair it with: White wine like Riesling or dark beer
While it’s made in other parts of the world, the best Gouda, or “How-da,” as the locals call it, hails from its birthplace. You can find good Gouda anywhere in the city, but if you visit between April to August, you can see farmers deliver cheese wheels by horse and cart at the Gouda Cheese Market.
5. Gruyère, Switzerland
Go for the: Gruyère
Pair it with: Brown ale beer or Champagne
Produced in Gruyère as early as 1115, village factories still make this cheese according to the original recipe. It’s fruity while it’s young, but once it matures, you’re in for a mouthful of nutty and earthy flavors. Stop by La Masion Du Gruyère to explore their interactive cheese exhibition.
6. Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Go for the: Parmigiano-Reggiano
Pair it with: Nuts or white Italian wine, like Malvasia
Emilia-Romagna boasts a strong tradition of producing cheeses, but Parmigiano-Reggiano tops the list. Pay a visit to a caseificio (cheese factory) or learn about the cheese at the Museum of Parmigiano Reggiano, which has historic objects from all five regions where the cheese is made.
7. Castilla-La Mancha, Spain
Go for the: Manchego
Pair it with: Jamón serrano or a local red wine
You may know La Mancha for “Don Quixote” and its famed windmills, but did you know it’s also the source of the Spain’s most prominent cheese? Manchego is made exclusively from Manchega sheep, then aged in natural caves for at least two months. Learn how it’s produced at Artequeso, where the Alvarez Valera family has been making traditional Manchego for nearly 40 years.
8. Durrus, Ireland
Go for the: Durrus
Pair it with: Pinot Gris and Champagne
In the 1970s Jeffa Gill bought a small farm just above the village of Durrus in West Cork. After experimenting with small-scale farmhouse cheese making, her buttery creation won gold in one of the first Irish Farmhouse cheese competitions. Jeffa is still producing Durrus by hand in her farmhouse.
Every cheese needs a perfect pairing. For your next adventure, head to any of these wine destinations to pull a cork and cheers to cheese.