The World’s 50 Most Meaningful Cheeses, Ranked
Just try and ask a cheesemonger to list the top 50 most meaningful cheeses. It's like asking someone to pick their favorite child. Some people will fight to the death like Mel Gibson in Braveheart for Velveeta, while others will scoff, hold their nose, and mispronounce Roquefort Papillon like they know better. To bring the world's cheese freaks together, we’re naming the 50 most meaningful cheeses out there, from the wares of specific creameries to more general blocks. And just so we start off on the right foot: we definitely hate cheese puns as much as you do.
50. Cheez Whiz
You're an idiot. There, I said it before you did.
49. Abbaye de Belloc
Made in the Pays Basque region of France, it seems to be everything: sharp, buttery, creamy, rich, and floral.
48. Drunken goat
It's a fact: curing cheese in red wine makes cheese fun.
Made famous by tiramisu, it should be outlawed. I've heard this glorified whipping cream referred to as The Bomb, but not because it's awesome: because it is deadly. Eat with care, friends, because it is waaaay too tasty.
46. Farmhouse Gouda (Goudse Boerenkaas)
Aged Gouda sometimes tastes a little like butterscotch. Smoked Gouda sometimes tastes a little like your chain-smoking aunt's house.
This cheese's reputation has been pretty much destroyed by knockoffs, but great, runny, pungent Munster has been made since the Middle Ages.
44. Cabot Creamery's extra sharp cheddar
It's what I've always used to make nachos, from when I was hungry after playing tag on the playground, to when I had serious munchies. For all of the New Englanders, Cabot deserves to be here.
Sheep herders used to travel through Southern Italy to feed their herds fresh grasses. Along the way, they made cheese and hid it in caves. When they returned in the fall, it was hard. Voila! Pecorino was born.
From the Netherlands, this cheese was specifically made sweeter to satisfy our candied American palates. Whatever it takes to make more people fall in love with awesome cheese.
Creamy and tangy, this cow's milk cheese from Italy is like a Brie with a side of funk.
Meaning "made in March," this unaged Italian cheese is designed to display the fresh flavors of springtime herbs and flowers. That said, the term is used rather generically, so it's more of a concept than a specific cheese. A beautiful, beautiful concept.
Nothing makes a cold-cut sandwich sing like spicy provolone from Italy.
38. Norwegian brown cheese
It is brown thanks to sugars that are caramelized when cooking whey, and the result is a sweet cheese that should be eaten on whole-grain bread after decapitating the Kraken.
37. Monterey dry Jack
Because it's American, dammit.
Traditionally served with fresh fruit on the island of Cyprus, it stands out from all others for one reason: it doesn't melt.
True feta only comes from specific hilly regions of Greece, where ewes and goats eke out nutrients from terrain as brutal as the terrain in Fury Road.
It's India's most famous cheese and pairs great with mushy spinach.
This semi-soft farmstand cheese from Southern Italy often has a sharpness that will bend your teeth.
Some call it boring, I call it cannoli, cheesecake, lasagna...
This is what people wish they were talking about when they say "Swiss cheese." It's a cow's milk cheese that tastes like flowers and mountain herbs. And yeah, it has holes in it.
From Denmark, it may be basic, but it's also exceptionally sweet and buttery.
29. Black Sheep Creamery's fromage blanc
Picking the best fromage blanc is like picking the best NOFX song: they're all really special, dude. That said, Black Sheep Creamery's is the best (and so is “Together on the Sand”).
28. River's Edge Chévre's Up In Smoke chévre
This Oregon creamery had the brilliant idea to wrap fresh chévre in smoked maple leaves spritzed with bourbon.
27. Truffle cheese
Someone realized that you can preserve fresh truffle aroma in cheese. That person is awesome.
If Asiago could speak, it would say one thing: "No, I am not the same thing as Parmesan."
25. Unpasteurized Brie
Traditional French brie shows off pure milk flavors, but because it is made using unpasteurized milk, it is hard to find in the States. Guess you'll just have to head to France…
24. Queso fresco
It goes on tacos, which makes it eternal.
A form of blue cheese for those who don't think they like blue cheese, Italian Gorgonzola is creamy and holds back on the spice.
22. Cato Corner Farm's Hooligan
This washed-rind cheese from Connecticut is so beefy, nutty, and in-demand that it might as well be Ron Jeremy. It's rarely sold in less than half-wheel portions.
Designed to expression the terroir around Stilton, England, this blue cheese is more closely monitored than Lindsay Lohan in rehab: only six dairies in the world are licensed to produce it.
From Ireland, it's a raw cow's milk cheese that brings more bacon-y funk than brunch with George Clinton.
Is it cream or is it cheese? Basically, crafty Italians make a balloon out of cheese and then fill it with creamy cheese. Awesome? Yes.
18. Manchego viejo
Spain's most famous cheese has been made at least since the Romans ruled the Earth.
17. Oaxaca cheese
Mexico's string cheese is almost like mozzarella with fresh milk flavor.
16. Fontina d'Aosta
It takes cows eating grasses in the Italian Alps to make this fine cheese. Later, I believe they make fine steaks, too.
Did you know that the world's most iconic stinky cheese actually has a mild flavor? Hold your nose and find out (but serve with dark rye and sliced onion).
14. Cream cheese
An American invention, cream cheese is both vegetarian and incredibly fattening. What else would you put on your bagel?
13. Rogue Creamery's Rogue River Blue
One of the first blue cheeses made in America, it's won more awards than Tom Brady. Well, maybe not. And it definitely doesn't have any issues with balls.
12. Roquefort Papillon
It feels good to eat mold. Especially when it somehow tastes like salty, damp leaves.
Often imitated, but never duplicated, true "Parmesan" is to grated Parmesan what the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre is to that one starring Matthew McConaughey.
It's what happens when Camembert and Gorgonzola make babies.
If you see a farmer milking a cow in France's Jura region and ask him what he's doing, he'll say, "I'm making Comté." That’s how much this cheese owns cheese.
Like Ol' Dirty Bastard, this cheese likes it raw. The soft, creamy, unpasteurized versions found in France are best November-April.
7. American cheese
No, it's not Velveeta or Kraft Singles, exactly. At the root of the FDA standards, American cheese must be made using at least two cheeses. That's why it's labeled "processed." From there, it's pretty much up to the cheesemakers what happens. So long as “what happens” is that it goes on a cheeseburger, we’re cool.
I'm still convinced that this magnificent stuff was dropped off by some compassionate aliens. There's literally nothing else like it on the planet.
5. Beecher's Flagship cheddar
But American cheddar holds its own. Out of Seattle, Flagship offers a simultaneously sharp and sweet bite that is worth tracking down.
4. Montgomery's aged cheddar
Choosing the most meaningful cheddar would be difficult, if not for all of the cheesemongers with tattoos of England's Montgomery's cheddar.
3. Paški Sir
Made in Croatia from midget sheep living on the island of Pag (no, I'm not joking), it's regularly ranked one of the best cheeses in the world. When aged, its crunchy cheese crystals supposedly make you horny, too.
2. Buffalo mozzarella
In a distant land called Italy, people milk water buffalos. The resulting ball of near-liquid mozzarella is best the day of milking, and some Italians even consider it a sin to refrigerate this cheese.
Why #1? Because its affordability has turned more people on to gourmet cheese than Rickrolling. And it's one of the easiest gourmet cheeses to find in the United States.
Mattie John Bamman is a food and booze writer focused on the Pacific Northwest, Italy, and the Balkans. Based in Portland, Oregon, he regularly contributes to Thrillist, Northwest Travel Magazine, and Big Weekend Calendars Portland. Follow him at @ravenoustravelr.