Courtesy of LE FROMAGER de PEKIN
From China’s best bleu to an alpine Swiss, these cheeses are worth traveling for.
Thanks to strict food laws, it’s tough to find raw milk cheeses in the United States. But cheeses made safely from unpasteurized milk have richer and more nuanced flavors, and are typically made by smaller producers in some of the world’s most charming places—say, on an Aussie island or in the fields of Portugal. Here are six worth ponying up a little cheddar to find.
Liu Yang, a Beijing native, fell in love with cheese as a student in France—so deeply, in fact, that he abandoned his plans to earn a business degree and became a cheese maker instead. He apprenticed for a year then moved back to Beijing, bringing his fromage skills with him. Locals were confused at first—cheese isn’t a regular part of the Chinese diet—but his Beijing Blue, a mild blue-veined cheese, and dozens of others are slowly seducing palates. Taste them all at his shop, Le Fromager de Pékin (one of three) in Beijing’s Sanyuanli Market. lefromagerdepekin.com
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In the fields of Portugal, the cardoon plant (a cousin of the artichoke) grows wild and sheep are plentiful. Thousands of years ago, creative cheese makers began using part of the cardoon thistle to thicken sheep’s milk. The result: cheese with the texture of a pudding and a grassy, herbaceous flavor. Today, such producers as Estrela Artesanal Queijaria continue the tradition. Find their zimbro at restaurants throughout Portugal, where chefs warm the pudgy rounds, then slice off the top to reveal a fondue-like center perfect for dipping sausages and crusty bread. estrelaartesanal.pt
While most Gruyère is aged for a miniimum of 5 months and is available year-round, there’s an alpinevariety that’s released only during the winter months and at twice the age. The process starts in the spring, when cows are freed to graze on grass and wildflowers in the Alpages, a mountain range on the western side of the country. Until October, cheese makers live near the pastures to collect the milk—sometimes moving two or three times to follow the grass growth. The milk is then transformed into a salty, golden cheese that’s sweeter than a regular Gruyère. Production is so small that they only release 2-3 wheels per day. Find Gruyère d’alpage at any Swiss market, or to see the entire process, book a tour with Switzerland’s Gruyère Association. gruyere.com
Bruny Island Cheese and Beer Co., located on the 140-square-mile Bruny Island just off the southern coast of Tasmania, was a first for Australia, producing both raw milk cheeses and, as of last year, beer. Now the island, known for its picturesque hiking trails, is also a cheese lover’s paradise. At the Cellar Door, Bruny’s café, you can taste eight varieties—including the signature c2, a sweet, peppery cheese that’s similar to a Gruyère—while watching a batch being made in the adjacent creamery. brunyislandcheese.com.au
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Bardwell Farm is one of the most well-known U.S. creameries dedicated to raw milk cheese. (Making cheeses with unpasteurized milk requires a fierce commitment to safety, which is why there are so few.) The farm was the state’s first cheese-making co-op back in 1864—today the co-op consists of three to four farms—and made the switch to 100 percent raw-milk cheeses 13 years ago. Don’t miss the Manchester, a firm goat’s milk cheese with hints of toasted caramel and vanilla. It’s one of the creamery’s six cheeses—all aged in caves. Grab a map, some bread, and a few hunks of cheese from the on-site store, then follow the hiking trails through the 300-acre farmstead. considerbardwellfarm.com
The Norwegian village of Undredal has a population of 60 people—and 300 goats. For centuries, Undredalians have taken advantage of the abundance by turning the goats’ milk into some of Norway’s finest cheeses. Brown Undredal, a grainy brown cheese with a distinctly butterscotch-y flavor, is one of the most traditional and the town dairy, Undredal Støl Ysteri, is one of only 20 in Norway to make it. You can also find it at farmers’ markets in nearby Bergen. undredalsost.no
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