Beach vacations are just fine, but if a travel destination’s main selling point is the tiny umbrellas it puts in its coconut drinks, visiting is probably lower on my tourist list than taking a trip to my dentist’s office. But if freshly cooked, just-caught fish and local cheese is thrown in the equation, that’s another story.
If you’re like me and you plan your trips almost entirely around culinary desires, then this post is for you. While I love traveling to beautiful locations, hiking around the countryside, shopping like I have more money than I do, and perusing city sights, there better be good food and drink involved. Seeing the David in Florence is lovely, but thoughts of the cinghiale and Sangiovese waiting for me afterwards is what keeps me going.
Given my career, and the focus of my recently published book, It’s Not You, It’s Brie: Unwrapping America’s Unique Culture of Cheese, it’s probably not surprising that my vacation destinations often involve dairy.
Below are five of my top cheese destinations at the moment. I’ve been to some for “research.” Others, I’m still dreaming about.
In a state that is as sparsely populated as church on a Friday night, Vermont packs in an amazing amount of cheese and beer opportunities. Many of the beers never leave the state, but if my trip there a couple summers ago was telling, they’re worth traveling for. The first celebrated sheep’s milk dairy in the nation started here, and still makes some of the best cheese in the country today, and the cheese pedigree lives on in cow and goat’s milk too.
I was only here long enough to pay a tremendous taxi fare on my way to Jura, France when I got off at the wrong train station. What a wonderful mistake that was. Switzerland has fantastic cheese, and it is gorgeous. It’s been kept behind the dairy scenes by its own government, which has demanded that much of its cheese milk go towards its big seller — Emmentaler — but it’s thriving again since regulations have changed.
California has never had as many cheesemakers as it does today, and lucky for us, many of them are congregated within 50 or so miles of each other. Did I mention that there’s also wine nearby? Make a day or two out of this trip, and stop to smell the wine along the way too.
The UK has much more than just Cheddar and Stilton to its name, but we wouldn’t know it because of the small amount of their exports that make it to the U.S. Many of their goodies are raw milk and aged under 60 days, so sadly, they don’t legally make it here. But if you go to England, you can eat an amazing amount of delicious cheese. Soft cheeses that are creamy like brie, sheep’s milk cheeses that are as vibrant as pecorinos, and washed rinds that are as funky as Époisses are all on the British menu. Plus, if you hit up London, you can take classes at the Neal’s Yard headquarters, a distributing company that is devoted to farmhouse, small-production artisan cheese.
This one’s almost too easy because we all know Wisconsin has a heck of a lot of cheese. But it’s also set up for tourism, which means it is incredibly easy to eat to your heart’s delight. Many cheesemakers are set up for visitors, there are curds sold every ten miles or so, and the restaurants and local government do every delicious thing they can to introduce you to their state’s glory. Plus, B and B’s are a lot less expensive than they are in states like California, and they have awesome craft beers to boot. Check out one of my favorite blogs for the down low on where to go.
Kirstin Jackson is a professionally trained cook, wine bar manager and cheese program director, food and wine writer, consultant, and instructor, whose fridge and head is almost entirely consumed with cheese. Her cheese blog, “It’s Not You, It’s Brie,” was launched in April 2009, and has since received accolades from Blogs.com, Foodista, and Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchen. Her first book, It's Not You, It's Brie: Unwrapping America's Unique Culture of Cheese published in 2012.