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World Cheese Culture: An Introduction

In this blog series, Molly will be (virtually) traveling around the globe to explore the way cheeses are enjoyed and incorporated into different cuisines. Some of these cheeses and methods might seem familiar, while others might be completely new to you. Get more stamps on your cheese passport and join us for a historical and cultural adventure!

Cheese can be a snack, a garnish, an ingredient, or even a meal in itself. We all have particular ways we enjoy cheese, but the typical way cheese is enjoyed looks very different from Italy to Japan. Have you ever wondered why some countries have a rich cheese culture, while others don’t even seem to have a word for it? Me too! That’s why I decided to look at the traditions and customs surrounding how cheese is eaten and served, and what place it holds in each culture’s cuisine. Which cultures will I be looking at? Let’s see…

I have to cover France, the country that immediately comes to mind when someone mentions cheese. France is responsible for iconic styles such as Brie and Roquefort, as well as the concept of the cheese course. And then there’s Italy, where food and cheese seem almost inseparable. But why did Italians first start putting cheese on their pasta? Moving north, in the Netherlands, cooking with cheese is a fairly recent phenomena. Gouda was meant to be enjoyed alone, in its semi-firm state. And in Iceland, a country known for its fermented shark meat, locals eat Skyr – a soft yogurt-style cheese – with a spoon . 

But I want to get outside of Europe. Paneer, a non-melting curd cheese, is common in South Asian cuisine, especially in Indian dishes such as paneer tikka masala, as a vegetarian alternative. Though you cannot find very much Chinese takeout with cheese in it, some farmers in the country are producing European style cheeses, while others in the southern provinces are making their own Chinese-style cheese. Dairy farmers in Japan are competing in a place that imports most of its cheese. 

And of course, I want to explore how we enjoy cheese here in the United States, the cultural melting pot. There is a growing movement to establish our own cheese culture and terroir in the US. I’ll take a look at the growing artisanal cheese market and the demand for domestically produced cheeses. 

What cheese culture interests you the most? Share your cheese culture questions or stories with us in the comments below and get the chance to win a free copy of our summer issue. At the end of this series, one lucky commenter will receive a cheesy grand prize. Comments must be posted by July 1, 2014 at 11:55 p.m. EDT to be eligible to win. So comment today and stay tuned for next week’s post, when we travel to France!

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of iPad Wallpaper Portal


Molly Farrar

Molly is a web editorial intern who hails from Virginia, also known as the place with some of best ham in the world, in her humble opinion. She has yet to meet a cheese she does not like. Other interests include drinking craft beer and running, sometimes at the same time.

7 thoughts on “World Cheese Culture: An Introduction”

  1. Avatar Claudine says:

    Actually, here is what I contributed about the origin of Labneh Phonetically and geographically:
    “In Lebanese language (Yes Lebanese language and not Arabic), we say LABan for yogurt and jibNEH for cheese.
    Since LABNEH is not a yogurt any more and not a cheese yet, we combined the 2 syllabus in CAPITAL from above. That simple.
    NOTE: Lebanon is one if not the oldest country in the world known as Phoenicia. Almost all foods originated from there since 5000 B.C.
    Thank you

  2. Avatar Claudine says:

    To whomever “edited” my comment,
    No I did not say: “Would like to know more about the Lebanese cheese. Especially the not-cheese-yet yogurt called LABNEH! And many other.” But rather I explained to the audience why do Lebanese call it LABNEH. Not sure why my comment was chopped like that?
    Please post the full posting.
    Thank you

  3. Would like to know more about the Lebanese cheese. Especially the not-cheese-yet yogurt called LABNEH! And many other.

  4. Great idea! I’m interested by the cheeses of the Middle East. Everyone has heard of feta but it seems there is much more to explore there. I discovered a delightful breakfast cheese in Egypt but sadly no one could tell me much about it. I look forward to hearing about your virtual adventures!

  5. Avatar Noel. Bruening says:

    Three super-cheese come to mind: Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Caucasus region. Interesting peoples and geography with ancient histories. Happy travels!

  6. Avatar Jessica says:

    Norwegian! I would love to know more!

  7. Avatar Ed says:

    Super idea–a “cultured” tour of the world! Looking forward to future wedges–uh, installments.

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