Where to Find the Most Unique Artisan Cheeses Around the World

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Carlos Gaw/Getty; Alexandr Vorontsov/Getty

If you're a curd nerd, your cheese repertoire may extend beyond British Cheddar and Spanish Manchego, but chances are you haven't heard of Nagelkaas, a clove-studded Gouda from the Netherlands, or Anthill, a soft goat cheese from Australia encrusted with dried green weaver ants (they taste like fresh citrus)! When you travel, try seeking out local cheeses, just as you would local wines or beers. Most countries have active artisan scenes, not to mention festivals and even private tours to meet makers. This list offers a sampling to get you started, whether you're excited by indigenous finds or inventive flavors. To become a cheese adventurer, seek out cheese shops wherever you go to ask, "What's local?" You'll be amazed by your dairy discoveries.

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The Chac Mool temple in Ocosingo, Chiapas, Mexico, from where the queso bola hails. DeAgostini/Getty

Turducken of Cheese
Queso Bola de Ocosingo (QBO)
Chiapas, Mexico

This unusual artisan cheese from Chiapas is made by stuffing a soft cheese into a firm cheese that forms a crust to form a sphere. The first branded cheese of Mexico, it must be made from the raw milk of local Zebu-Brown Swiss cows.

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Grey Owl Cheese in a salad. Steve Russell/The Toronto Star/Getty

Royal Pick
Grey Owl
Quebec City

When Grey Owl was ordered for a dinner party surrounding Prince Harry's wedding in 2018, it made international news. Besides being one of Duchess Meghan Markle's favorites, Grey Owl is a stunning soft goat cheese with an ashy rind from a small creamery, Fromagerie le Détour, run by husband-and-wife team Ginette Bégin and Mario Quirion. The silver rind looks feathery, hence the name.

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Queijo do Serro. Luiz Henrique Mendes/Getty

Rare Choice
Queijo do Serro
Serro region, Brazil

Gold explorers started artisan cheese production here during the 18th century. One of the country's oldest cheeses, Queijo do Serro is still made by hand from native starter cultures, known as pingo. Often sold fresh or aged for eight to 60 days, Serro cheese can go from mellow and yogurty, when it's still young, to buttery and slightly piquant when aged. This cheese has been inducted into Slow Food's Ark of Taste, a catalog of "distinct, delicious and endangered" foods.

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A cheese seller in Paris. Richard Bord/Getty

Religious Experience
Languedoc Region, France

Every round of this delicate raw-milk goat cheese from southwestern France is rolled in ash, then imprinted with the Occitan cross—a symbol of the Cathars, a medieval religious group that settled the area around the time of the Crusades. This is one of the most beautiful cheeses to see (and eat—it's fresh and herbaceous tasting) in person. Look for it in cheese shops around Paris and London.

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Spicy Sicilian cheeses seen in a market. Francesco Vignali/Getty

Cheerful Choice
Piacentinu Ennese
Sicily, Italy

Made with sheep's milk, saffron and whole peppercorns, Piacentinu (pee-uh-chen-tin-oo) was designed by a king, Ruggero the Norman (1095–1154), as a cure for his wife's depression. Saffron was thought to be uplifting to the spirit, and peppercorns were treasured. Hunt for this glowing, golden cheese if you travel to Sicily, or you may see its golden light from time to time at cheese counters in the United States.

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Olomoucké Tvar??ky. Martin Fredy/Getty

Golden Ring
Olomoucké Tvarůžky
Czech Republic

What looks like a translucent golden doughnut is actually a pungent ring that tastes like gooey sautéed garlic. Originally made in the area around the city of Olomouc, this centuries-old recipe is now protected by the European Union. A museum devoted to "Olomouc cheese" is in the town of Loštice.

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Mish. Tamer Soliman/Getty

Grave Goods

This spiced cheese made in earthenware pots is thought to be similar to cheeses found in pharaohs' tombs dating back to 3200 BCE. The recipe calls for covering cheese curds with whey, salt and a mix of red pepper, cumin and fenugreek seeds, and letting the mixture ferment in jars sealed with mud paste for months or even years. Today, this salty, pungent mixture is still made mostly by home cheesemakers in Egypt.

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A Mongolian woman warms milk inside her yurt. Getty

Wedding Treat

Otherwise known as Mongolian yak cheese, Byaslag is a ricotta like cheese made in large blocks that are wrapped in cloth and pressed under piles of rocks to squeeze out moisture, resulting in a mild-tasting dry cheese that can be eaten fresh or aged. Served with tea, it's popular at Mongolian weddings or as a travel staple for nomads on the go. Alas, you'll have to go to Mongolia to find it.

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Anthill cheese from Woodside Cheese Wrights. Duy Dash

Surprising Crunch
Adelaide Hills, Australia

Chèvre encrusted with dried green ants and dried lemon myrtle leaves? Yes, that's right. Maker Kris Lloyd of Woodside Cheese Wrights claims that the ants add a citrusy kick (not to mention a delicate crunch) to her award-winning chèvre. Only thing is, you'll have to pop over to South Australia to find this gem.

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Tokyo Sky Tree Tower with blooming cherry blossoms. Stanislav Kogiku/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty

Blooming Round
Hokkaido, Japan

Made only during Japan's cherry blossom season in April and May, Sakura is a tiny Camembert-like cheese topped with a pickled cherry blossom, from Kyodo Gakusha Shintoku Farm. These delicate wheels are aged for 10 days on cherry blossom leaves, making them wonderfully aromatic, plus delicate and creamy. In addition, the cheese was designed to look like the Japanese flag.

Adapted from Madame Fromage's Adventures in Cheeseby Tenaya Darlington. Published by Workman © 2023.

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