Around the World in 80 Cheeses
For me, cheese often evokes vacation memories. For instance, when I take a bite of Mary Falk's LoveTree farms fishbait, a raw sheep's milk cheese, I'm transported back to Falk's farm, feeding her lambs. Or when I taste Marin French brie, I'm taken back to the summer my husband and I biked through California wine country. And sometimes when I snack on a really pungent blue cheese, I wish I was back in Tuscany, sitting on the patio of an agriturismo farm, chatting with the cheesemaker, nibbling on his artisan cheese called Guttus.
If you're a fellow caseophile, you know that vacationing and discovering good cheeses go hand-in-hand. Here's a roundup of some tasty cheese-cations from around the world:
1. Green County, Wisconsin
The largest concentration of cheesemakers in America's dairy land can be found in and around the rolling hills of Little Switzerland. Don't miss the Edelweiss Creamery for the only 200-pound wheels of Swiss cheese made in the country; the Chalet Cheese Cooperative for its stinky Limburger; and Roth Käse for Gruyere and other Euro-centric cheeses. No visit would be complete without stopping in Baumgartner's Tavern for a Limburger and liver sausage sandwich, getting a history lesson at the National Historic Cheesemaking Center and dining on roesti (Swiss hash browns) and fondue at the Chalet Landhaus.
2. Sonoma and Marin County, California
Come for the wine, but stay for the cheese. Not only are there more than 300 wineries, but you'll also find the largest concentration of California's artisan cheesemakers in Sonoma and nearby Marin counties. Be sure to visit the region's oldest artisan creamery, Vella's Cheese Company, for its authentic dry Jack; Marin French for its award-winning triple crème brie; and Bodega Goat Ranch for farm tours and cheesemaking lessons. Many wineries serve cheese with their vintages, but Kendall Jackson's chefs took months to perfectly match six local cheeses with six of their wines. For a cheese-centric lunch, stop by The Epicurean Connection, where the chef/owner makes cheese and offers classes, or visit the Jimtown Store for cheese and local color.
3. Vermont Cheese Trail
The largest concentration of farmstead creameries in the country can be found off of Highways 89 and 91 in Vermont. Forty-two cow, goat and sheep dairies dot the countryside, so it's hard to choose just one. The grand Cabot Creamery and The Inn at Shelburne Farms are musts. If you're a Lincoln buff, check out Hildene, the home of Robert Todd Lincoln and a creamery that makes goat's milk Havarti.
4. Rinconata Dairy, Santa Margarita, Calif.
Christine and Jim MacGuire welcome guests to their small sheep and goat dairy in San Luis Obispo County. You can feed the goats, play boule in the gardens or snack on some amazing raw milk cheese.
5. Hidden Springs Creamery, Westby, Wisc.
In the driftless region of Wisconsin (the area the glaciers missed), Brenda Jensen tends to her flock of sheep at her little creamery, which doubles as a bed-and-breakfast. Depending on the time of year, you can help with the milking or the lambing and learn to make cheese.
6. La Parrina Agriturismo, Tuscany, Italy
This charming Tuscan estate (left) grows its own crops, cultivates its own vines and makes its own cheeses. Tour the vineyards, enjoy delicious dinners and breakfasts on the terrace, and learn how to make pasta from scratch.
7. LoveTree Farmstead, Grantsburg, Wisc.
If you want to feed the lambs at LoveTree, you can volunteer, as I did, through World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farming. Be sure to check out Pizza by the Pond, where every Sunday, Mary and Tom Falk make wood-fired pizzas using their own organic veggies, cheeses and meats.
8. Neal's Yard Dairy, London, England
Seventy cheesemakers in Britain and Ireland send their cheeses to the care of Neal's Yard Dairy, a purveyor of some of the finest cheeses in the world. Try to attend one of the weekly classes covering topics like goat's milk cheeses and beer-with-cheese pairing.
9. Pacific Northwest
Dozens of creameries in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah and British Columbia welcome visitors. Don't miss The Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Ore., for its gorgeous blue cheeses; Tillamook in Tillamook, Ore., for its beloved cheddars; and Beehive Cheese Company in Uintah, Utah, for its unusually tasty Barely Buzzed, a coffee-and-lavender-rubbed cheese. For a more extensive list of Pacific cheese-cations, check out the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project.
10. Fromagerie E. Graindorge, Livarot, France
If you're a big Camembert lover, then Normandy, France, should be your destination of choice. This factory not only makes Camembert, but it also crafts the stinker Pont L'Eveque and Liverot cheeses.
Are you a cheese lover, too? Please share your adventures and suggestions in the comments section below.