The best cheeses reflect the character of their origins. So it’s not surprising that cheese country, like wine country, is gaining destination appeal. Vintners have long welcomed visitors with tasting rooms and cellar tours, and cheesemakers are now following suit, with creamery visitors centers and sampling shops set against pastoral landscapes where cows, goats and sheep graze on green hillsides. The charm is authentic and bucolic, less focused on polished, programmed showcases and more on direct interaction with the people, the process and even the animals.
Cheese is made in every state, but a few regions have established themselves as quality leaders. We chose three destinations with the highest concentration of great cheeses and enough visitor-friendly venues to make a trip worthwhile. California’s North Bay, central Wisconsin and Vermont all offer distinct pleasures, not the least being excellent cheese.
Marin and Sonoma are just a short drive from San Francisco but offer the open land and sparse population required for agriculture. You could cover one region and be back in town for dinner, but why skip a chance to dine overlooking Tomales Bay?
Madison is the gateway to Wisconsin cheese travel. The state capital and a major university town, it has both quirky regional character and sophistication. Drive about 30 minutes west, though, and you’ll find picture-postcard rolling hills and farm after farm.
In Vermont, small towns are anchored by an old general store and an older church steeple. Around every turn, a golden leaf, dry-built stone wall or fork in the road evokes Robert Frost. And as well as Vermonters preserve their past, they’re also at the cutting edge of cheese production, marketing and sales.
If you have enjoyed traveling to wine country, we suggest you give cheese exploration a try. After all, it’s just the other side of a great match.
VINTNERS HAVE LONG WELCOMED VISITORS, AND CHEESEMAKERS ARE NOW FOLLOWING SUIT.
LEFT: OLIVER PARINI; TOP RIGHT: COURTESY OF EMMI ROTH; BOTTOM RIGHT: PAIGE GREEN ■