10 top places to visit nationwide for cheese lovers.
Meet cows. Watch curds separate from whey. Sample cheese and cheese cuisine. Whether you’re ready for a day trip or cross country fromage expedition, there are incredible ways for cheese lovers to immerse themselves in their foodie favorite. Here’s a sampling of 10 top places to say cheese, please!
1. Shelburne Farms
Meet the Brown Swiss cows that produce the milk, see the lush pastures where they graze, watch farmers and cheesemakers at work, and even hand-milk a cow in the Children’s Farmyard, invites Holly Brough, communications director for the educational nonprofit located on a working farm nine miles south of Burlington near the shores of Lake Champlain. “Visitors can experience all that is embodied in a single block of cheddar on the two-hour, behind the scenes, Sun-to-Cheese tour. It’s a deep dive into the sustainable story of cheesemaking at the farm. At the end, there’s a private cheese tasting where you can savor the flavors of the farm in all our varieties of cheddar.” Tour participants receive a half-pound block of cheddar to take home.” Tour cost: $20 per person. The Farm Store sells cheese and cheese-prepared foods. In the summers, a food cart sells freshly-grilled cheese sandwiches.
2. Liberty Hill
Farm & Inn
Sit at the cozy dining table in the 1825-built Greek Revival-style main house and fork into a freshly-baked apple pie with a sharp, extra sharp or seriously sharp cheddar cheese crust. Then, look out the window to the nearly 300 strong herd of Robeth Holsteins. “Staying with us is special because our guests can meet and interact with our cows. We have had guests ‘help’ deliver a calf, name a calf and follow the life of one of the cows they fell in love with here. Then, they go home and brag they ‘know the cows that make award-winning cheese’,” says Beth Kennett, who, with husband Bob, owns the farm, located 65 miles south of Burlington and are member-owners of the Cabot Creamery Co-Op, in Cabot, VT. A farm stay includes breakfast and dinner, lodging and all farm activities for $152 nightly for adults and $73 per child, with a two-night minimum. Beth incorporates Cabot cheeses into all meals, including her signature Liberty Hill Grilled Cheese, plus Vermont Cheddar Gougères with Smoked Salmon Filling appetizers and Quick Shaker Cheese Bread Pudding as a savory side.
3. Formaggio Kitchen
Splunk for cheese! Take the two-hour Brave the Caves class at the 360 Huron Avenue location of this neighborhood grocery and cheese lover’s paradise. The caves, the first retail cheese ripening room in the U.S., are in reality an old basement office space converted by the store’s owner, Ihsan Gurdal, into a walk-in refrigerator with the humidity controlled to imitate that of a mountain cave. The caves aren’t open to the public, only to a select few during these classes, which are offered on average once or twice a month. “The class begins with an overview of the store, and then participants are divided into two groups. One explores the cave and learns about cheese affinage and the others participate in a mini tasting. After both groups finish, the class concludes with a full-fledged tasting of typically six to eight cheeses covering different milk types like goat, sheep and cow as well as other types like blue, soft and hard,” explains Morgan Mannio, media manager. “For someone who really knows and loves cheese, they will experience a unique tour, learn a thing or two and try something they most likely haven’t tasted before.” Cost: $65 per person.
4. Pearl Valley Cheese
Watch cheesemaking up close and personal at this fourth-generation business located on the edge of Amish Country and some 90 miles northeast of Columbus. It started in 1928, when Swiss immigrants, Ernest and Gertrude Stalder, started making one 200-pound wheel of Swiss daily in a small stone building equipped with one copper kettle. Today, the factory produces over 10 million pounds of all-natural cheese products, including 16 different Swiss and Colby varieties, some of which have won prestigious U.S. and World competitions. “Visitors can watch the cheesemaking process from the factory lobby and get an up-close view of the receiving bay and milk silos. The factory history and timeline are a fun stop on our guided tour, and visitors can also peak into the warm rooms and coolers,” says Jenna Burch, whose husband is head cheesemaker and fourth-generation family owner. Factory tours are free, last 45-minutes to one hour and take place on Wednesdays at 9:30 a.m. Visitors can see cheese being made from the retail store Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to noon. Outside, there’s a playground and pavilion set up with a picnic table for those who want to nibble on some cheese before getting back on the road.
5. Union Star
Like a backstage tour by actors in a Broadway play, factory tours here are given by the cheesemakers themselves, says Jon Metzig, a Master Cheesemaker with certifications in cheddar and Colby who hands-on runs the production at his family’s factory, 60 miles southwest of Green Bay. “Everyone who gives the tour does some part of the process. Picking up the milk, making the cheese, packaging the cheese, selling the cheese. Plus, visitors get to see the process. It is not a tour where they watch a video.” The best time for a tour is 8 to 8:30 a.m., recommends Metzig. This is when he and his team are finishing up the cheesemaking process. “This is when the final matting of the cheese happens. The mats are milled into curds, and there’s the salting of the cheese. Visitors will also be taken into the cooler and showed a variety of different cheese and learn how these are produced.” Cheddar cheese and cheese curds are produced Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The fresh curds are ready to eat between 9 and 10 a.m. Mozzarella string cheese is made on Tuesdays.
If in Wisconsin between May and October, consider a visit to the National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe, near the Illinois border. Open Thursday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., a $5 admission includes a guided tour of the museum, a visit to a century-old factory and a chance to watch a 90-pound Swiss cheese wheel made right before your eyes.
6. Redhead Creamery
Located in the heart of Dairy Country, about 110 miles northwest of Minneapolis, the milk sourced for cheesemaking is only 50 feet away—pipelined directly to the cheese pasteurizer as the cows are being milked. A two-hour, $10 per person tour, on Fridays and Saturdays at 12:30 p.m., takes place outdoors. It provides a real-life perspective on cheesemaking from the alfalfa to baby calves, to milking cows, to cheese. Visitors also hear about when the farm was homesteaded in the 1880s and how redheaded Alise Sjostrom took over from her parents in 2014 and continues operation. “We host beer, wine, chocolate and cheese tasting events throughout the year. Each June, on the Saturday before Father’s Day, we celebrate Curd Fest. We throw a big party to celebrate all things Cheese Curds and locally-made foods, including our pan-fried cheese curds, chocolate-covered curd kabobs with crumbled bacon, deep-fried cheese curds and Brie sundaes. We also put together a dairy farm scavenger hunt and other fun activities for children. It’s a blast!” says Sjostrom, CEO and president.
Sign up for one of Paula Lambert’s hands-on cheesemaking classes. The Texas native fell in love with mozzarella when in Italy and decided to bring the know-how to make it back home. Lambert founded her small factory in 1982 at 2944 Elm Street, with mozzarella. Since then, her menu of specialty cheeses has grown to more than 30, some of which uniquely feature a taste of the state with additions of Ancho chili, epazote and Texas-grown basil. “Classes are instructional, fun and completely hands-on. Participants don aprons and hairnets. They learn to make fresh ricotta and scoop it into molds directly from the vat. They also learn to form fresh mozzarella curd into three kinds of cheese: fresh mozzarella, Queso Oaxaca and mozzarella rolls filled with olives. After the class is finished, participants have a guided cheese tasting accompanied by a glass of wine. The best part is they get to take home all the cheese they made, about 4 pounds!” says Lambert, whose accolades include being named into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America. Cheesemaking classes take place two Saturdays a month, from noon to 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and are $50 per person. Cheese pairing classes are 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., and $50 per person.
8. The Cheese School of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA
Calling all novices, professionals or those who just want to enjoy some fantastic fromage. This only institution of its kind in the nation is dedicated to educating everyone about all things cheese. Many classes are offered monthly. “The two most popular are Cheese wines, a great way to understand different types of cheeses and how they pair with various accompaniments and styles of wines, and Building the Perfect Cheese Platter, where people learn how to style cheese and charcuterie platters,” says Anthony Licciardi, spokesperson. There are also Cheese & Beer and Cheese & Whiskey pairing classes, Fondue Fun, Mozzarella or Ricotta Making, and Country or regional specific classes like Italian Cheeses and Italian Wines, French Cheeses & French Wines, California Cheeses and California Wines. “Since we have world-class dairies and cheesemakers close to San Francisco, we often do Farm Tours, where students get to spend a day on a working dairy farm interacting with the animals and see the cheesemaking process in action. For those who have never brushed a 1,000-pound-plus water buffalo, then tasted the mozzarella made with its milk, it’s quite the experience!” says Licciardi. Subscribe to the school’s monthly e-newsletter, Curd Nerds, to see the latest class schedule.
While in California, set out on one of nine routes that make up the California Cheese Trail. Vivien Straus, who grew up on a dairy farm in Monroe, carefully curated the driving itineraries to spotlight artisan cheesemakers. These routes range from three cheesemakers over 264 miles along the state’s north coast, to five cheesemakers within 37 miles in Marin County, including Marin French Cheese and Cowgirl Creamery. “The best time to visit is spring, when the baby goats and sheep are born, through fall,” recommends Straus, the Petaluma, CA-based creator of the trail and manager at her family’s Straus Home Ranch. The Trail’s printable online map is available at: cheesetrail.org/trail-map. Download the California Cheese Trail App on Google Play.
9. River Valley Cheese
Cheesecakes are a signature product for Kristi Slotemaker, the self-proclaimed Big Cheese at this artisan cheesemaker located 12 miles south of Seattle. The cakes, from classic to berry-filled, personal to family size, received such supportive sales through the pandemic from the community that Slotemaker was able to keep her cheesecake and cheesemaking classroom in business. Burrata, Brie & Chevre, Parmesan & Feta, and Gorgonzola & Goat are a few subjects of the two-hour make-it-yourself classes that costs $159 per person. “I really enjoy teaching families. Kids especially love walking through each step, while nibbling on cheese along the way. I’d have to say the most family favorite is the Cheddar & Mac N-Cheese Party class,” says Slotemaker. She uses locally-produced milk with no added hormones from Jersey cows. Made by hand is the real deal. No automated equipment is allowed in class.
www.pikeplacemarket.org Shop for cheese in one of the nation’s oldest and largest continuously-operated public markets, located over 9 acres in the city’s downtown. “For cheese lovers coming to the Market, I recommend visiting Quality Cheese in the Corner Market and DeLaurenti in the Economy Market. At both locations, you will get lost in the massive selection they have of artisanal cheeses from around the world. Ask for recommendations. The cheese experts behind the counter are knowledgeable and can help you choose,” says Madison Bristol, the market’s marketing and public relations manager. Cheeses are cut and wrapped to order at both vendors. The Café at DeLaurenti serves cheese in its four $10 signature sandwiches such as its Parma (shaved Parmigiano Reggiano with Prosciutto di Parma, arugula and white truffle oil on a Panini roll) and its Arrosto (Reserve Gruyére, with roast beef, shaved red onion, arugula, truffle aioli on a baguette). Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is another must see at the market (see this issue’s cover story for details).