Weekend Trips for the Cheese Lover
These festivals, trails and classes are a must for the cheese-obsessed.
Green County, WisconsinUnsurprisingly, 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. 960 1280
California Cheese TrailIt 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. 960 1280
Vermont Cheesemakers FestivalVermont 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. 960 1280
Hudson Valley, New YorkPastoral 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. 960 1280
Berkshire Farm & Table Cheese TrailNeighboring 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. 960 1280
Finger Lakes, New YorkThe 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. 960 1280
OregonAdd 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. 960 1280
WashingtonBeecher’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). 960 1280
Festival of Cheese, Des Moines, IowaEvery 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. 960 1280
Philadelphia, PennsylvaniaSure, 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. 960 1280
Frankie's Tiki Bar, Las Vegas
Let's be honest, Vegas is known for its excess and Frankie's Tiki Bar embodies that with a Polynesian twist. Pull up a stool, order the Kapu I'A and don't forget to purchase a commemorative glass to take home. Their selection is incredible.
Honi Honi, Hong Kong
Lucky enough to find yourself in Hong Kong? Head over to Honi Honi for the authentic tiki experience. Try the Dragon Fire cocktail which is prepared "blazer-style." This means the spirits are warmed and set a flame as the bartender "rolls" (pours) them between two cocktail shakers.
If Anthony Bourdain likes this place, so should you. He visited on No Reservations and rightfully so. It's the first tiki bar in Finland and best. Stick with the classics or venture out to one of their original works.
Beach Bum Barry's Latitude 29, New Orleans
It's hard to select only one place to visit when you go to New Orleans. But the arguable cocktail capital of the U.S. has this brilliant bar. "Choosing a favorite at Latitude 29 is not an easy task," says Ann Tuennerman, co-founder of Tales of the Cocktail. "You really can’t go wrong up and down the menu. But if you pushed me to pick just one I’d say the Pontchartrain Pearl Diver."
"Mahiki is a tropical escape from reality in Mayfair London. The closest you can get to holiday in Hawaii without a plane ticket," says Georgi Radev of the Spirit of Tiki Team in the United Kingdom. Check out their signature drink: the Honolulu Honey featuring Honey Cream.
Otto's Shrunken Head, New York City
NYC has hundreds of bars but Otto's Shrunken Head is the…head…of the class. Kelly and Paul from the Velveteen Lounge Kitsch-en Show know their tiki and recommend the name sake cocktail, Otto's Shrunken Head. "Great downtown vibe, friendly folks, fabulous decor and delicious (strong) drinks."
Cleveland has extraordinary bars that are under the radar on the national scene. "One of my favorite drinks ever is the Jungle Bird," says Shane McGrath, president of the Greater Detroit U.S. Bartender's Guild. You'll adore the beautifully decorated bar and patio at this midwest tiki treasure.
Smuggler's Cove, San Francisco
One of the modern kings of tiki is Smuggler's Cove in San Francisco. Camper English, founder of Alcademics.com, recommends the Jet Pilot. With a gorgeous bar like this, you can't go wrong with your selection. Grab their new book on the way out and bring some tiki home with you.
Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago
Every night this bar is organized chaos with lines wrapped around the building and energy-pumping music. It's not your typical tiki bar. Yet, the drinks speak for themselves. Order a Chief Lapu Lapu, for you and your friends, off their delightfully retro menu.
Trader Sam's Grog Grotto, Disneyland and Walt Disney WorldDisney knows how to bring fun and entertainment to any situation and tiki is no exception. With locations in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World, check out the later for an even more exciting experience. Certain drinks on the menu trigger events to happen in the bar. This could be rain, eruptions or singing by the staff. Order the Nautilus, if you don't believe me. 960 1280
Trader Vic's, Emeryville, CaliforniaJust outside of San Francisco lies the other champion of the classic cocktail era: Trader Vic's. The worldwide empire that invented many famous drinks and launched 19 locations started here. The one drink you must order is the iconic Mai Tai. 960 1280
Jungle Boy, Melbourne
A speakeasy-style tiki bar is the clever combo you find in Melbourne with Jungle Boy. You have to enter through the secret enterance in a sub shop and the bar only seats 40 so be patience if you can't get in this popular spot. Try the Zombie with an "American" style sub.