Bacon may be trendy, but before pork took the spotlight cheese was (and still is) the one ingredient that could make anything better. Almost every culture has some form of cheese, and with more than 1,000 varieties in existence it’s one of the world’s most versatile foods. These destinations are great places to experience the diversity and deliciousness of the world’s favorite dairy product.
For the true connoisseur there’s no better vacation than a visit to France, home to more than 200 kinds of cheese. Fromageries, or shops that specialize in selling cheese, are plentiful in Paris and available in other cities. Like produce, cheese is seasonal so ask your friendly fromageur for recommendations. French grocery stores also sell a much wider variety of cheeses than you’ll find at home, although they’re not as high quality as what you’ll find in the specialty shops. Keep an eye out for the A.O.C. label, which is a special government certification given only to cheeses that use authentic ingredients and traditional production processes.
If you want an extremely traditional cheese buying experience, visit one of the Netherlands‘ five outdoor cheese markets. For several centuries farmers have brought their cheeses to market and negotiated their sales using the ritual system of handjeklap, where buyers and sellers clap each other’s hands and shout prices at the same time. You can just politely inquire about the cost of anything you’re interested in, but the historic re-enactments are a fun part of the experience. Samples abound, but these markets are only open from late June to September.
It’s not too early for cheese lovers with a competitive streak to make plans to attend the 2014 World Championship of Cheese in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Every two years the championship draws nearly 2,000 submissions from more than 20 countries. In past years only the judges could taste the cheese, but as of last year ticketholders can try the contenders for themselves. The winners of the Championship often go on to be blockbusters witha long waiting list for purchase, so Green Bay is the place to be next March if you want a sneak preview of what will be big in the world of cheese.