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A Guide to Cheeses of the World

These days, you don’t need to go to a specialty cheese shop to find all sorts of varieties of cheeses. Many supermarkets have quite sophisticated cheese cases and it’s often easy to find just about anything your recipe might call for, including a wide variety of international cheeses, many whose names have become a household word. Cheeses like gruyere, brie, manchego, and asiago are common ingredients these days, and though they may come at a cost significantly higher than domestic cheeses, they are usually well worth the extra dollars spent.

Unless you’ve found a wonderful cheese shop in your community with helpful staff that will assist you in choosing the perfect cheese for whatever you’re creating, you’ve probably viewed that grocery store cheese case with some confusion. It’s not easy to differentiate one cheese from another. However, with a little guidance and some info on international cheeses, you’ll be making good decisions in no time at all. Here’s a list of some less well-known international cheeses you may encounter.

Italian Cheeses

Italy is a very prolific land when it comes to the production of cheese. There are many fine Italian cheeses available in the U.S. and no doubt there some of which you are already familiar, including parmesan and mozzarella. Here are a few common and less- common varieties.

o Fontina – Hailing from the Valle d’Aosta region of Italy, this semi-firm cheese is mild and has a bit of a grassy flavor. (A result of the cow’s diet, experts say.) It can be eaten alone but is generally used for melting atop soups, casseroles, or any other kind of dish.

o Gorgonzola – This is a bleu cheese from the Lombardy Province and it’s quite popular in the U.S. It has a definite zip to it and is generally used to top green salads.

o Piave – This harder-to-find cheese is very similar to Parmagiano-Reggiano but is a little milder in taste and a bit softer as well. It can be used in the same way, grated over pasta, or enjoyed on its own with sweet fruits and a nice glass of wine.

French Cheeses

The French and cheese go hand-in-hand and there are so many tasty French varieties from which to choose. Again, some will be familiar as they’ve been in American supermarkets for ages. Others are less common.

o Roucoulons – From the Franche-Comte region of the country, this is a delicate, mild cheese that should be eaten on its own. It’s a little like the more familiar camembert but softer and with a hint of mushroom flavor. Eat it by itself so that nothing else can overwhelm the subtle flavor.

o Tomme de Savoie – Considered a “rustic” cheese, Tomme (from the Savoie Region) comes packed in its soft, brown rind and has a buttery flavor and semi-soft texture. It’s best when served by itself with a red French wine and perhaps some sausages or salami as accompaniment.

o Gabietou – This is a full-flavored cheese packed with plenty of punch. It has a nutty flavor that is slightly sweet and it hails from the Pyrenees region. The French love it on their sandwiches with various kinds of thickly-sliced meats.

Cheeses of Switzerland

o Emmentaler – This mild, fruity Swiss is simply delicious! It’s great when melted over things like onion soup or can be a tasty part of a grilled cheese and meat sandwich. Pair it with fruity wines or light beers.

o Appenzeller – This less common Swiss cheese gets its unique flavor from the herbs and white wine that are rubbed into the rind while aging. It’s an excellent melting cheese and perfect for fondue.

Other International Cheeses

Some countries don’t produce as many varieties of cheese as France, Italy, and Switzerland, but there are a number of types of note that should be part of your cheese palate.

o Ibores – This unique Spanish cheese is rubbed with paprika and olive oil, making it a bit spicy. It is a goat cheese and is semi-hard and just fine to enjoy by itself or on a sandwich with spicy meats like salami.

o Asadero – A Mexican cheese from the Oaxaca region of the country, this is a cheese that is used primarily for melting and is ideal for any Mexican food dish that calls for melted cheese, including nachos.

o Stilton – This is probably England’s most famous cheese. It is of the bleu variety and is truly one of the best bleus available. It is sweeter than many other bleu cheeses and can be eaten with crackers or bread or crumbled atop a salad. The British eat it with fruit and honey.

o Chimay – A popular Belgian cheese, chimay is produced by the Trappist monks in that country. It is washed with beer, which gives it a slightly hoppy flavor. Eat it alone, in a sandwich, or – of course – with your favorite beer.