Cheese is a beautiful thing. Best eaten in the company of good drinks and good people, you could argue that its invention is one of our greatest achievements. For your cheese needs, we’ve put together a list of some of the world’s top cheese-loving cities, where the locals have so mastered their craft you’ll be even more impatient to book that next culinary journey.
Serra da Estrela from Seia, Portugal
Serra da Estrela is matured for at least 30 days before consumption
The stunning Serra da Estrela, or ‘Star Mountains’, are the birthplace of the buttery, rich cheese of the same name. This sheep’s milk cheese is cured with cardoon flowers (an indigenous mountain thistle), then made into large rounds and bound in cloth. Once opened, the soft core oozes out, its powerful flavour especially delicious when slapped on rustic bread. Just a short stroll from Seia’s best cheese shops and restaurants are the apartments of Casa do Vidoeiro. With its fitted-out facilities, you can even bring the cheese home for a romantic night in – just you and the cheese.
Old Amsterdam in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam's many markets sell cheese by the kilo
In the Dutch capital you’ll find everything from nutty Maasdammer to mild Delft’s Blauw – but the creamy, intense Old Amsterdam is rightfully one of the most popular. Made right in the city, this aged Gouda is known for a rich taste best described as bouillon or caramel. Pair it with a heavy Dutch ale or a buttery white wine, and you’re in cheese heaven. The Hotel V Nesplein puts you in a central spot near plenty of cheese shops, and its classy bar and restaurant are ideal for post-sightseeing drinks.
Oscypek in Zakopane, Poland
Oscypek cheese is flipped over a wood-fired grill
This smoked sheep’s cheese has been produced in the Tatras Mountains for hundreds of years. Known for its toasted aroma and taste of chestnut and minerals, it’s handmade by shepherds in patterned wooden moulds. After a salt-water soak, the conical cheese is smoked over burning pine or spruce wood. Authentic Oscypek is best sampled at the many shepherd’s huts around Zakopane, where each family produces unique flavours. The best base for your cheese tour is Zakopane, the traditional rooms of Hotel Sabała only adding to the quaint village experience.
Gruyère from Gruyères, Switzerland
The fairytale village of Gruyères even has its own château
Like most cheeses, the taste of Gruyère varies with age. Young Gruyère is creamy and nutty, getting more earthy and complex as it matures. It’s ideal for baking into melty, gooey goodness – think fondue, quiche, French onion soup, or a croque-monsieur. And the medieval village of Gruyères is undoubtedly the best spot to sample it – preferably with a glass of Riesling in hand. For an authentic Swiss stay, the traditional Gruyère Rooms have an on-site fondue restaurant and cheese-making shop.
Gouda from Gouda, the Netherlands
Gouda is sold by the wheel at the historic cheese market
Gouda dates back to at least 1184, making it one of the world’s oldest cheeses. It was historically traded in Gouda (hence the name), and this South-Holland city remains a thriving cheese destination, brown bars and cheese shops serve up the creamy, buttery goodness in thick chunks. There’s even a traditional cheese market every Thursday in the main square during summer. Be sure to try all the different ages, from the mild-tasting jong to the intense overjarig, which has been aged for over a year. You can scout out the market early from the cosy quarters of Logement de Keizerskroon, an old Dutch house just 5 minutes from the main square.
Camembert in Paris, France
A French cheese platter is best when shared with friends
France produces some of the best cheese on Earth, from the intense and meaty flavours of Époisses de Bourgogne to the silky Comté of the Juras Mountains. But as you eat your way through cheese boards across Paris, don’t miss sampling an authentic Camembert. This velvety, rich cheese originates in Normandy, and one bite of the real stuff will have you questioning every grocery-store version you’ve ever eaten. Paris’s 20 arrondissements all have their charms, but the 5th, with its inexpensive student bistros and cafés, is one of the best. Hotel Excelsior Latin is in the bustle of it all, just a short walk to the Panthéon.
Wensleydale from Hawes, UK
The English countryside is a picturesque setting for Wensleydale Creamery
Hawes sits between the rolling mountains of Buttertubs and Fleet Moss, and the local creamery has been producing Wensleydale for over a hundred years. This moist, crumbly cheese tastes slightly sour with hints of wild honey. It’s especially tasty with cranberries or apple pie – the latter pairing leading to the Yorkshire saying ‘an apple pie without the cheese is like a kiss without the squeeze’. Just a short drive from tiny Hawes is one of the most charming hotels in the area, Wensleydale Farmhouse B&B, where you can hike, bike and nature watch in between Full English breakfasts and cheese tastings.
Parmigiano Reggiano from Parma, Italy
The 'King of cheese' is slowly matured for maximum flavour
No cheese-loving guide would be complete without the world-famous parmigiano reggiano. Nicknamed the ‘King of cheese’, this powerful fare comes in big glorious wheels and is often grated over pastas and risottos, or served in shavings with a glass of Italian red. There’s no better place to experience its power than in Parma, a city devoted to the three holy P’s of parmigiano, prosciutto, and pasta. For a truly transporting stay, Park Hotel Pacchiosi is one of the finest in the city. Its 19th-century architecture and sumptuous design take your gourmand experience to the next level.
Pokolbin from Pokolbin, Australia
Sunset in the vineyards of Hunter Valley
Pokolbin is a sharp and spicy cheese produced in the stunning Hunter Valley. Many cheese connoisseurs say the wrinkly, square-shaped cheese tastes similar to French Pont l’Évêque, but no matter how experienced your palette is, you’ll appreciate its sharp and spicy flavour. Conveniently, Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s oldest wine regions, so you can sample a glass of iconic Semillon alongside your cheese platter. Chateau Elan at The Vintage is as luxurious as its name sounds, and makes for a very romantic weekend escape.