As someone who could easily eat his body weight in cheese, I share your passion for curd-themed excursions and tapped two discerning dairy-lovers for some sharp tips.
Victoria-based food and travel writer Cinda Chavich (tastereport.com) has a hot list of places she’d return to. “France is arguably the centre of the cheese universe – you can eat a different kind there every day. My favourite combination is a big red wine with a ripe, smelly Époisses de Bourgogne, perhaps in somewhere like Lyon,” she says.
But it’s not all about France. “Italy isn’t far behind. I love the cheeses of Emilia-Romagna [a Northern Italy region]. Go for a creamy squacquerone slathered on warm flatbread; a pungent Fossa, pulled from a pit beneath the streets of Sogliano al Rubicone; or the king of cheese: Parmigiano-Reggiano. With a drizzle of balsamico, a nugget of real, nutty-flavoured Parmesan is my cheese heaven.”
Fondly recalling Quebec’s Eastern Townships and the markets of England’s Cotswolds region, Chavich suggests travellers are rarely far from a cheesy good time. “I loved heading into the mountains of Switzerland on a train to Gruyere. The cows are still trailed up into the lush meadows every summer, their bells clanging, and their milk made into wondrous wheels for winter fondues.”
But France will always be the big cheese for Vancouver food and wine writer Tim Pawsey (hiredbelly.com). Just back from a weave through Burgundy, he enjoyed a bacchanalian buffet of creamy treats.
“Nothing compares with the French tradition of degustation de fromages – that moment when the cheese trolley arrives tableside, not a prelude to dessert but a separate indulgence of its own,” says Pawsey. “One of the best in Burgundy was at Loiseau des Vignes in Beaune: perhaps 30 cheeses, from ash wrapped Aisy Cendre to extra-old Mimolette.”
He also recommends a degustation stop at the region’s Domaine Leflaive’s Maison d’Olivier (maison-olivierleflaive.fr) in Puligny-Montrachet. And if you want to see the magic behind the mould? “Close to Beaune, Brochon’s Fromagerie Gaugry offers excellent tours of their facility, plus a wide selection for purchase.”
Adding Tasmania’s King Island (for Stilton) as well as Portugal’s sheep’s milk Azeitao and serra de estrela to his tasting plate, Pawsey returns to France for his final treat. “Champagne is often overshadowed by its wine but it’s an excellent cheese destination. Everyone should experience an entire meal paired with different champagnes – including cheese, of course: my personal fave here is Chaource.”
But what about closer to home? I’d consider unwrapping the foil on cheese-themed driving trails in California (cacheeseguild.org), Washington (wacheese.com), Vermont (vtcheese.com) or Wisconsin (eatwisconsincheese.com) – follow the website links for route maps plotting artisan producers.
The latter two vie for America’s shiny cheese crown and both are serving events this summer. July’s Vermont Cheesemakers Festival (vtcheesefest.com) is ever-popular but Wisconsin edges it this year with August’s huge American Cheese Society Festival of Cheese (cheesesociety.org), with around 1,700 to nibble on.
Alternatively, catch a curling contest with “cheese stones” at Illinois’ Amish Country Cheese Festival (arthurcheesefestival.com) or take part in the downhill wheel chase at Whistler’s wacky Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival (canadiancheeserolling.ca).
But if you’re heading overseas, one topic remains vital. “Bringing cheese into Canada isn’t usually a problem – if it’s properly wrapped,” says Chavich. “Cryovac is preferred, although it’s not ideal for the cheese. If you declare it and it’s well-sealed and clearly labelled, chances of bringing it in are good.”
Pawsey adds: “According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, you may bring in up to 20 kilograms of cheese for personal consumption. But you must declare it, otherwise it’s likely to be confiscated. And, personally, I don’t trust those beagles.”
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