Weekend Trips for the Cheese Lover

These festivals, trails and classes are a must for the cheese-obsessed.

Photo By: National Historic Cheesemaking Center

Photo By: Sacramento Bee / Contributor

Photo By: Boston Globe / Contributor

Photo By: John Greim / Contributor

Photo By: DenisTangneyJr

Photo By: Engelbert Farms

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Photo By: Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

Photo By: Uriah Carpenter / Festival of Cheese

Photo By: Di Bruno Bros.

Green County, Wisconsin

Unsurprisingly, Wisconsin wins as the top cheese producer in the U.S., churning out more than 600 varieties of cheese. Although it’s famed for cheddar, Wisconsin produces everything from mozzarella to limburger. Green County is one of the most famous cheese regions, where a dozen creameries create about 50 different kinds of cheese, including gigantic wheels of iconic Swiss cheese.

At the heart of Green County lies Monroe, dubbed the “Swiss Cheese Capital of the U.S.A.,” owing to the town’s Swiss heritage. Emmi Roth USA, a subsidiary of the Swiss company, is the largest importer of cheese from Switzerland, and visitors are allowed into the viewing hall to witness cheesemaking action. While in Monroe, don’t miss the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, which details the nation’s dairy history.

Of course, no trip to Wisconsin is complete without a cheese festival. Detour two hours north for the annual Great Wisconsin Cheese Festival, complete with a Big Cheese Parade, a cheese-curd eating competition and cheese carving demos. Try not to leave the state before stopping in Madison at Fromagination, a cheese shop that’s loaded with Wisconsin-made cheeses.

California Cheese Trail

It makes sense that a state so intertwined with wine would also happen to be one of the top cheese-producing regions in the states. In fact, it ranks just behind Wisconsin, and yields about 250 different kinds of cheese. Experience as many as possible by downloading an app and hitting the cheese trail, a 100-mile journey that wends through redwoods and farmland in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The cheese collective consists of more than 30 farms, creameries and cheesemakers producing small-batch cheese: brie, blue cheese, cheddar and chevre are among the standouts. Many are open to the public, but some require advance booking if you want to tour the facilities. Try your hand at making cheese by booking a class at Achadinha Cheese Company in Petaluma.

Vermont Cheesemakers Festival

Vermont weighs in with about 50 cheesemakers per capita, the most of any state, and produces more than 150 kinds. The Vermont Cheese Trail blankets the Green Mountain area, but you can also experience the state’s tastiest artisanal offerings at the annual Vermont Cheesemakers Festival held at Shelburne Farms. Expect more than 40 cheesemakers in attendance, including Vermont Creamery, one of the leaders of the country’s artisanal cheese movement. Highlights include cheesemaking demos in a historic barn, cooking demos from The Cabot Creamery Cookbook and workshops on Vermont blue cheese. Vermont Farm Tours is also located in Shelburne, Vermont, and can arrange mozzarella-making workshops and artisan cheese tours.

Hudson Valley, New York

Pastoral Hudson Valley is ripe with cheese options. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is considered one of the premier restaurant schools in the country, and its Hyde Park location recently added a cheesemaking course. The two-day boot camp teaches the basics of making cheese from scratch, and covers goat cheese, mozzarella and ricotta. Also at the CIA, the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici will be holding a six-course dinner that spotlights Italian cheeses, such as gorgonzola and pecorino.

There are also a number of artisanal cheese makers in the Hudson Valley: Sprout Creek Farm is a working farm known for its award-winning cheeses; stop by the farm to visit its goats. Coach Farm, which specializes in goat cheese, supplies its stock to top NYC chefs like Jean-George Vongerichten. At Old Chatham Sheepherding Company, stop by its store to pick up its award-winning camembert—just note that as a self-serve shop, you’re on the honor system.

Berkshire Farm & Table Cheese Trail

Neighboring the Hudson Valley, the bucolic Berkshires cover a wide swath of New York and Massachusetts. Narrow the field by following the Berkshire Farm & Table Cheese Trail, which numbers eight farms and three restaurants. Cricket Creek Farm is one of the more established dairy farms in the region, and has won awards for its raw milk and extra-aged cheeses. There are no official tours, but guests are welcome to visit the farm animals, and even watch cows being milked. Hawthorne Valley Farm makes organic cheese, both hard and soft, on its biodynamic farm, and guided tours are available by appointment. Refuel at John Adams, A Farmhouse Restaurant, and choose the farm prix fix menu to get a taste of local cheeses.

Finger Lakes, New York

The Finger Lakes have earned a reputation for its wines, and its cheeses shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Finger Lakes Cheese Trail includes six members, but be sure to plan ahead since two are closed in winter. Otherwise, mozzarella, blue cheese and even fresh curds are among the varieties that can be found along the trail.

The annual Finger Lakes Cheese Festival is a great opportunity to sample cheese from five members of the cheese trail that aren’t open to the public. You can also watch goats being milked, take a self-guided farm tour and participate in seminars. For even more local cheese sampling, sign up for a wine and cheese pairing class at the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

Oregon

Add cheese to the list of items experiencing a resurgence in the state. Where to start? Luckily, the Oregon Cheese Trail simplifies the matter by sorting the trail into regions. For example, the Willamette Valley alone has five cheesemakers on the trail. (Added benefit: It’s also one of the top wine-producing regions in the U.S.) In Southern Oregon, award-winning Rogue Creamery has been making cheese since the ‘30s, and blues and cheddars are popular sellers.

In March, Rogue Creamery will be hosting the 12th annual Oregon Cheese Festival. Tastings and classes are part of the fun; attendees can also buy tickets to the Cheesemakers Dinner, a golden opportunity to pick the brains of top cheesemakers during a multi-course dinner.  

Washington

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is arguably the state’s most famous, and was the first artisanal cheese shop in Seattle when it opened in Pike’s Place Market in 2003. Although it’s branched out, you can still visit the original location and watch its award-winning cheeses being made while you shop. Elsewhere in Washington, Cherry Valley Dairy has won awards for its rubbed rind cheese, and Willapa Hills Creamery is known for its sheep and cow milk cheeses and spreads.

Monteillet Fromagerie in Walla Walla distinguishes itself by making cheese from the Alpine goats and East Freisan-Lacaune sheep that populate its farm. Seasonal varieties include Wasabi Pickled Ginger chèvre along with its signature goat and sheep milk blends. The farm also offers two-day cheesemaking workshops for industry professionals and cheese enthusiasts alike, and you can even stay onsite in its farmhouse. The highlight is a fridge stocked with farm-fresh items (and yes, cheese).  

Festival of Cheese, Des Moines, Iowa

Every year the American Cheese Society hosts the Festival of Cheese, one of the largest cheese conferences and competitions in the nation. Following the judging portion, the conference opens to the public with more than 1,800 artisanal cheeses to be tasted. This year the conference will be held in Des Moines, which has garnered buzz in recent years for its emerging food scene.

The Cheese Shop will hold events in conjunction with the conference. It’s also worth a visit to the store to peruse more than 100 artisanal cheeses and cheese tasting bar. For a full meal, pop into the Cheese Shop’s café to enjoy cheese-centric menu items, not least of which is the macaroni and cheese made with locally sourced gouda and cheddar.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sure, Philadelphia has long been associated with the humble cheesesteak (and the cheese-like whiz that smothers it). But cheese-related food aside, Philly’s cheese roots run deep. In fact, cheese purveyor Di Bruno Bros., a mainstay since 1939, has focused on cheese since the ‘60s. It now operates five stores around the city; swing by its flagship Rittenhouse Square location to salivate over more than 600 international cheeses.

Nearby, Reading Terminal Market is a 39,000-square-foot food hall that’s home to almost 80 vendors, and is one of the best places to sample farm fresh cheese from Amish Country in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Before leaving, stop by Valley Shepherd Creamery to sample handmade, cave-aged cheeses from its North Jersey farm, and Downtown Cheese for its specialty domestic and international selections. 

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