Despite some speculation, the definitive origin of cheese remains a mystery. What’s certain is that countries from all over the world have their own recipes, unique ingredients, and techniques used to create just one out of thousands of cheese types.
While foreign cheeses aren’t accessible to everyone in the U.S., a variety of shops and restaurants serve and sell cheeses from across the globe, making geography a non-issue for homegrown cheese lovers. Here are some of the best places to try exotic cheeses in the U.S.
At Kitchen Istanbul in San Francisco, the grilled halloumi cheese is a favorite appetizer among patrons. This cheese comes from the Greek island Cyprus, traditionally served as a pairing with other dishes. Kitchen Istanbul’s take on this Mediterranean cheese consists of three thick slices of salty halloumi paired with a vibrant bed of green frisee, almonds, and plump olives.
This Los Angeles shop dedicated itself to serving a wide variety of cheeses, both seasonal and exotic. Although Milkfarm’s menu boasts fine fresh cheeses from all over the world, the burrata cheese is one of Milkfarm’s best. Burrata hails from Italy—silky mozzarella curds made from buffalo milk are kneaded into balls after being dipped in hot water, and are stuffed into the centers of other mozzarella curds. The finished stuffed curds stir into a cream, yielding a tangy taste. Milkfarm’s in-house cheesemongers, well trained in the science and production of both exotic and domestic kinds of dairy goods, create made-to-order cheeses every day for the people of Eagle Rock, L.A.
The Ideal Cheese Shop was named Best Cheese Shop in the World by Forbes.com. With over 250 selections of cheese from 17 different countries, it isn’t difficult to understand how this low-key “mom and pop” shop gained its loyal following. The eight-month aged idiazabal cheese from Spain is a frequent purchase of Ideal Cheese Shop patrons. This pressed sheep cheese more specifically comes from the Basque Country, which straddles both Spain and France. It’s a hard cheese—both in texture and difficulty to acquire. But Ideal Cheese Shop offers exclusive cheeses so that people all over the world can taste a flavor from another land.
Incorporated as a meal with the exotic cheeses on the La Femme du Fromage menu are the best-suited pairings for that specific cheese. Gjetost, a Norwegian culinary staple, for example, comes as a delicate fondue in this Orlando, Florida shop. The naturally brown cheese contains cow and goat’s milk, for a creamy and almost caramel-like texture and sweet taste. La Femme du Fromage pulls out all the stops for their Sweet Gjetost Fondue, with a mix of cognac and brown sugar to highlight the exquisitely complex Norwegian flavor.
Also known as Dairy Land, U.S.A, Wisconsin is the cheese capital of the country. Fromagination in Madison sells some of the highest quality international cheeses, handpicked by the in-house cheesemongers. This cheesemonger’s Italian fontina cheese is one the top sellers. Often paired with their sandwich of the month, fontina is pure Italian cow’s milk that is carefully crafted in the summertime, after the dairy cows are moved to a different altitude and fed on a diet of nutrient-rich grass. Fromagination honors exotic cheeses that come from all around the globe to fulfill a balanced menu of dairy goods.
Will Frischkorn, UCI ProTour cycling champion, founded and owns Cured—a Boulder, Colorado cheese merchant serving artisanal dairy goods from around the world. Cured imports handpicked cheeses and, through local partnerships, hosts pairings and forums with other cheese aficionados. The Swiss Nufenen is one of many international imports Cured offers their dairy-loving patrons. One single dairy collaborative in eastern Switzerland crafts Nufenen by aging it over six months, continuously washing the cheese in a special brine. Cured’s enthusiasm for cheese creates a tremendous buzz among Boulder locals and to those outside of town via their online shop.
This bustling little Great Barrington, Massachusetts shop specializes in ripened cheeses that come straight from small farmers and producers. The award-winning cheesemongers present cheese-making and selling as an art form—striving to deliver the best international cheese to the consumer. Their Welsh Perl Las blue cheese proves to be a show-stopping high seller; with heavy blue veins and creamy texture, the Perl Las blue is a winner both before maturing and after. Rubiner’s Cheesemongers and Grocers offer exotic cheese boxes, complete with cured meat, sweets, wines, and other perfect pairings for their handpicked international cheeses.