Ten Great Cheeses to Try
While you probably already have your favorite go-to cheeses, here are ten more you might enjoy too! The list below includes a variety to please most palates.
Banon (surface-ripened, goat milk)
Banon is a PDO raw goat or sheep milk cheese produced in southern France. Its appearance is distinct because the little rounds, after being aged for 5 to 10 days, are wrapped in chestnut leaves held in place with raffia. The cheese is then aged at least another 14 days. The leaves keep the cheese soft and pliable and impart a slightly earthy flavor. When ready to eat, the leaves are unwrapped. Banon is a rindless, goaty, yeasty, white cheese that becomes softer and more intensely flavored as it ages.
Some producers of Banon garnish their cheeses with pepper, savory, thyme, or bay leaves. If you’re lucky enough to try Banon in its place of origin, you’ll find it sold at outdoor markets in the cities and throughout the countryside.
Barely Buzzed (coated-rind, cow milk)
Utah’s Beehive Cheese Co. is one of the newer domestic cheesemakers (established in 2005), but it produces spectacular — and highly original — cow milk cheeses. Barely Buzzed starts with the company’s flagship cheese, Promontory, a zesty, aged Irish-style cheddar. Coffee beans and lavender buds are finely ground together and mixed with oil before being hand-rubbed on the rind. The resulting cheese is distinct but delicious, with obvious flavors of coffee and floral qualities as well as prolonged sweet notes and a full-bodied, rich, savory finish.
The same cheesemakers also produce TeaHive (rubbed with black tea and bergamot oil), SeaHive (with local wildflower honey and salt), and Promontory (smoked over walnut shells and slices of red apple).
Stracchino di Crescenza (fresh, cow milk)
Known as stracchino or just crescenza, this incredibly creamy, gooey cheese is a direct reflection of the milk it’s made from. Produced from the fall and winter milk of cows coming down from the summer mountain pastures of Lombardy, Piedmont, and Veneto, stracchino di crescenza is so rich because the physical exertion creates milk that is extra-high in butterfat. Aged for just 1 week, the result is a lactic, faintly tangy, rindless cheese that’s smooth and spreadable.
Domestically produced stracchino di crescenza is made year-round from pasteurized milk. The versions made by California’s Bellwether Farms and Wisconsin’s BelGioioso Cheese are both highly recommended.
Epoisses (washed-rind, cow milk)
One of the most-loved stinky cheeses, Epoisses has been produced since the late 1700s near the town of the same name in Burgundy, France. The cheese was granted PDO status in 1991. Handmade slowly and gently, the curd remains uncooked and is allowed to drain naturally so that as much moisture as possible remains in the finished cheeses.
Aging lasts for a minimum of four weeks. During this period, the cheeses are washed repeatedly in brine and then with wine or marc (brandy), which encourages the growth of the B. linens, giving the cheese its signature deep, rust-colored rind, sticky exterior, and seriously stinky aroma (which, admittedly, is much stronger than the interior flavor).
When ripe, the texture of Epoisses is satiny and unctuous, with complex, meaty flavors that include waves of sweet, salt, butter, and clean milk. You eat Epoisses by cutting a lid from the top of the cheese and spooning up the oozy interior.
Epoisses was very popular through the beginning of the 20th century, but production declined and then ceased entirely during World War II. M. Berthaut, of the village of Epoisses, revived production in 1956, and although other excellent versions are available, Berthaut’s Epoisses is still one of the best, sold in a round wooden box, as is traditional.
Clisson (washed-rind, goat milk)
Washed-rind goat milk cheeses aren’t common, but this lovely and unusual version (also known as Tome d’Aquitaine) is produced in 12-pound wheels at the Union Laiterie de la Venise Verte, in the Loire region of France (famed for its goat cheese). The young wheels are then transported to Bordeaux, where they’re aged in the caves of affineur Jean d’Alos. As they age, the cheeses are washed regularly with a brine solution that contains Muscadet (a French white wine), in addition to receiving applications of Sauternes, the regal dessert wine of Bordeaux.
The result — aided by the growth of B. linens bacteria — is a cheese with complex flavors and a pungent aroma. Clisson’s texture is silky, slightly moist, and supple, with the pure white color that is the hallmark of goat (and sheep) milk. The flavor is sweet and aromatic, with delicate notes of fruit and Sauternes; this is a cheese born to be served with fresh fruit and a glass of Sauternes, of course!
Pleasant Ridge Reserve (firm, cow milk)
Talk about a winner! Produced by Wisconsin’s Uplands Cheese Company, this cheese is the only three-time Best in Show winner from the American Cheese Society. It has also won the 2003 Best in Show at the World Cheese Championships. (It’s the only cheese to hold both awards.)
What’s the appeal? Summer milk from cows fed only on lush pasture. The result is a nutty, grassy, slightly crunchy raw milk cheese based upon Beaufort, a classic alpine cheese. Pleasant Ridge is produced only from May to October, and the longer it ages, the more crystallization it presents and caramelly it becomes. Younger wheels tend to be more overtly grassy and fragrant.
Pondhopper (firm, goat milk)
If you think you don’t like goat cheese, this delicious, farmstead Gouda-style number will likely change your mind. Produced by Tumalo Farms in Bend, Oregon, Pondhopper is washed with a local microbrew, Mirror Pond Ale, before being coated in yellow wax. The resulting cheese is firm, dense, and supple, and the interior is a creamy ivory. The flavor reflects a hint of yeasty hops, which balances its sharpness. There’s no marked goaty flavor, although hints may creep through on older wheels (cheeses are aged 2 to 3 months). The younger wheels have a more creamy texture that’s irresistible with sliced apples and perhaps a cold glass of Pacific Northwest IPA.
Comté (firm, cow milk)
Made in the Jura Mountain region of France from raw cow milk, Comté has been produced for over eight centuries and is consumed by at least 40 percent of the French population on a regular basis. To keep up with this demand, approximately 350 cooperatives, known as fruitières, produce this PDO cheese in substantial quantities from the milk of small, local herds. (It takes 140 gallons of milk — the daily output of 30 cows — to make one 80–90 pound wheel of Comté!)
Smooth and dense, with occasional holes in the paste, the cheese itself is a straw-colored yellow that varies from pale to darker, depending on the animals’ diet and thus the color of the milk at the time of production. Comté’s flavors are rich and famously complex (including hints of butter, chocolate, toast, hazelnuts, and even leather) and vary according to the fruitière.
Rogue River Blue (blue, cow milk)
Aged between 8 and 12 months, Rogue River Blue is produced by Southern Oregon’s Rogue Creamery and has won, in addition to numerous other awards, the ACS’s Best in Show award in both 2009 and 2011. This luscious blue is cloaked in grape leaves (from nearby Carpenter Hills Vineyard) that are themselves soaked in Clear Creek Distillery’s pear brandy — a combination that lends a distinct alcohol note to the cheese and makes it an aesthetic stunner on a cheese plate. Rogue River Blue is earthy and winey, with a syrupy, fruity aroma. Crystallized amino acids lend a slight crunch to the otherwise creamy texture; the flavor is a complex blend of port, spice, caramel, and savory, earthy notes.
Abbaye de Belloc (semi-firm, sheep milk)
Made by the Benedictine monks at the Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Belloc in France’s western Pyrenees, Abbaye de Belloc is made from raw sheep milk sourced from the Manech breed.
The recipe is based on another classic cheese of the area, Ossau Iraty, which is also produced from sheep milk. However, the origination of Abbaye de Belloc is relatively recent, having been developed by the monks in the 1960s, and production is strictly seasonal, with cheesemaking taking place mainly between December and the end of July. The cheeses are then aged from 4 to 10 months.