Even if you're a self-proclaimed cheese lover, odds are you could still stand expand your cheese horizons. If you’re limiting yourself to the safety net of basic Brie, block Cheddar, and smoked Gouda, your lactose game is lacking. There are over 400 types of cheese just in France alone -- and even America has really upped its artisan cheese game in recent years. Step out of your comfort zone and into the cheese shop! Let’s get you started with these nine cheeses you’ve probably never heard of but definitely need to try.
If you love the smooth, nuttiness of Spanish manchego, then you have got to treat yourself to Campo de Montalbán. While manchego is made of pure sheep’s milk, Campo is a triple threat combination of cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk. It’s buttery and meltable with a fruity body and a clean finish. Treat yourself to some tapas and pair this Spanish wedge with Marcona almonds, dried figs, and a bright red.
Gjetost, pronounced yeh-toast, is a traditional brown cheese from Norway that tastes like butterscotch and sticks to the roof of your mouth like peanut butter. It’s made with whey, the liquid leftover when milk becomes cheese, boiled until the liquid reduces and the sugars caramelize, then formed into rectangular blocks. The result is a sweet, tangy treat that melts into silk in your mouth. Slice thin and layer on to hot toast with strawberry jam for a PB&J that will blow you away.
This rich sheep’s milk cheese from the French Pyrenees mountains will seduce you into addiction. Legend has it this cheese was one of the first ever made. The recipe even predates the English language. It’s pretty obvious how Ossau-Iraty has stood the test of time, too. It’s as smooth as satin and bursting with full flavors of toasted almonds and lush summer grasses. Pour yourself a farmhouse ale or dry cider for this suave fromage.
If Parmigiano and Gouda met in Switzerland for a tryst, their love child would be Sbrinz. This grateable raw cow’s milk cheese is studded with crunchy crystals, which are actually amino acid clusters that form as the cheese ages. The sweet, tangy flavor makes it perfectly snackable, especially when traveling as it doesn’t need refrigeration. It’s toothsome and nutty with a kiss of sweetness and a milky tang on the finish. Chip off a hunk and pair with a Manhattan, or grate over buttered noodles.
These pocket-sized Italian cheeses are the cream dream. There are a lot of different kinds, but most of the ones you’ll find in the States are made with a mix of cow’s, sheep’s, and/or goat’s milk and have a thin, white rind. One of my favorites is the cupcake-shaped La Tur. It’s lemony and fresh with a captivating mix of textures: the center is dense and creamy, cushioned by a layer of ooze and a pillowy-rind. Smear onto warm ciabatta and pair with something bubbly, like a hefeweizen or prosecco.
Cheese porn alert. These wheels are too soft and gooey to hold their shape, so cheesemakers bind them with a strip of spruce bark. They’re soft as frosting and bursting with notes of bacon, mustard, and forest. Look for Harbison from Jasper Hill Farm, or Rush Creek Reserve from Uplands Cheese in Wisconsin, which only comes out during the holiday season. Pair with sourdough toast, or -- if you want to get really crazy -- French fries.
This soft, tangy cheese tastes a little like cream cheese but with way more personality. Made from soured milk, this Eastern European staple can be smooth and dollopy like yogurt or meaty and crumbly like queso fresco. It’s slightly crumbly but still spreadable at room temperature. It’s delectable anywhere you’d use fresh ricotta, but prepare yourself for a punchier tang. I recommend stuffing a spoonful into a baked potato and sprinkling with chopped chives.
When you think Cheddar, you probably think of those clean, orange blocks from Wisconsin. Those are delicious and great for melting, but it’s time you see how the British do Cheddar, too. Formed in wheels, coated in lard, and wrapped in muslin, they’re fruitier, more acidic, and much earthier than your typical block Cheddar. They’re also dryer and won’t melt well, so save these for the cheese plate. Look for Montgomery’s Cheddar or, for an American take on this style, Willi’s Bandaged Cheddar made in Wisconsin. Pair with a juicy IPA and take your tongue to pleasure town.
Maybe you’ve met Taleggio, that stinky Italian with a squeezable paste and a sticky orange rind on the outside. This is basically the water buffalo’s milk version, which has twice the fat of cow’s milk. Unbelievably buttery and milky sweet, this Italian Stallion will melt on your tongue with a puff of mushroom caps on the finish. Indulge in a wedge on a hot summer day with prosciutto, melon, and rosé.
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Erika Kubick is a monger-turned-cheese preacher devoted to turning on cheese lovers through her blog, Cheese Sex Death. Take yourself to #CheeseChurch and follow her at @cheesesexdeath.