Now that Americans who are vaccinated against the coronavirus can once again travel to Europe, you may be primed to enact those vacation plans that were put on hold last summer. But what if you can’t decide between the mountains or the beach? Let cheese be your guide. We’ve compiled a selection of some of Europe’s most delightful holiday spots that also offer access to bucket-list cheese. The Old World is your cheeseboard—dig in.
The West Country, England
The English West Country is a verdant patchwork of six counties offering bucolic countryside, mystical stone circles, dramatic coastline, and incredible cheese. And it’s not all rustic idyll—there’s alternative Bristol (Banksy’s hometown), historic Cirencester, and UNESCO-listed Bath with its Georgian streets and the heaving shelves of the Bath Fine Cheese Co. (pick up a wheel of brie-like Bath Soft Cheese for the road). Follow the freeways (until they run out) or strike off into country lanes hemmed in by towering hedgerows until you arrive at hidden villages and knock-out cheese. Somerset is synonymous with cloth-wrapped cheddar, but with Wales across the border has an indomitable Caerphilly tradition. Enjoy a two-for-one win with a visit to Westcombe Dairy’s farm shop for their traditional raw milk cheddar and lemony Duckett’s Caerphilly. Traveling south sees the landscape rumple up around you as you enter Dorset, a coastal county of time-warp villages and Dorset Blue Vinney—a beloved English cheese that became nearly as extinct as the fossils embedded in the Dorset cliffs. Head westward through Devon and visit one of Country Cheeses’ superb cheesemongers before you reach Cornwall with its wild beaches and distinct Celtic identity. Here, at the ends of the English earth, hunt out World Champion Cornish Kern—a melt-in-the-mouth aged Gouda-type—and its Lynher Dairies’ stable-mate—the mellow, nettle-wrapped Yarg.
North Coast, Spain
The ruggedly gorgeous Atlantic coast of Spain is too often overlooked in favor of the oversubscribed southern beaches. Not that it’s without its fans—Galicia is the endpoint for the Camino de Santiago; Cantabria’s beaches are a magnet for Spaniards; and the stars of cities like regal Santander and ancient Orvieto are on the rise. And while the mountainous hinterland is evenly distributed among the Basque Country, Asturias, Cantabria, and Galicia, the cheeses are as distinct as the local lingos. The Basques’ developed the iconic Idiazabal, a sheep’s milk cheese (historically smoked when stored, out of spatial necessity, in the shepherds’ chimneys). From the spectacular hinterland of Asturias comes tri-milk blue Cabrales; within its oak leaf wraps are chocolate, leather, and blackberry notes (also look out for Asturias’s super-rare Queso Genestoso). On the mellow side is the brick-shaped sandwich-favorite, Queso Nata de Cantabria, and Galicia’s breast-shaped Tetilla. The North Coast is a place to lose yourself in nature, uncover hidden beaches, or, if you’d like a little more humanity, book a table for pintxos in one of the world’s great foodie cities, San Sebastian.
A place of crumbling crags, silent pine forests, and the clink and whirr of ski lifts, the Rhône-Alps is an eastern province of France that abuts Switzerland and Italy. Its most easterly area is the Savoy region—think The Sound of Music with a French accent—a place of emerald pastures and crick neck peaks towering over peaceful villages. Despite the tricky terrain, this is cow’s milk territory, the origin point for heavyweight cheeses such as nutty Beaufort, rich Reblochon, and honest Tomme de Savoie. It’s high altitude, so do as the locals do and replace the lost oxygen with cheese: a Beaufort fondue perhaps or find the much rarer goat’s milk “Tomme de Chèvre pour raclettes.” Back to the low (er) country, stop in at Annecy, where the water from spectacular Lake Annecy feeds into the town’s flower box-lined can always.
Lombardy and the Lakes, Italy
Italy’s hip (or knee, depending on how leggy Italy looks to you), the region of Lombardy embraces the fertile plains of the Po-River Valley all the way up to the majestic alpine foothills that frame Lake Como. Welcome to the land of the “polenta eaters”— the Lombards’ hearty cuisine reflecting the harder climate and agricultural legacy of the industrious north. “Cheese eaters” would also fit like a handmade Italian glove, as this is where Gorgonzola, Grana Padano, and Taleggio have their wellspring. Visit Peck’s deli in regional capital and intense style vortex, Milan, to fully comprehend Lombardy’s immense cheese heritage. With a sumptuous Risotto alla Milanese from Ratanà warming your insides, strike out in your vintage Fiat 500 for nearby Bergamo. Smaller and more typically Italian in the medieval good looks of its Città Alta, Bergamo is home to renowned buffalo milk cheesemaker Caseificio Quattro Portoni (try its Blu di Bufala at the Ol Formager cheesemonger on Via San Tomaso). If you also come across nutty Bitto DOP, snap it up—this mixed milk mountain cheese is a regional titan. Wash your formaggi acquisitions down with a glass of Franciacorta, a Champagne-a-like from a boutique wine region that fringes the southern shores of lovely and unassuming Lake Iseo. A case of Franciacorta, cheeses, and a couple of truncheons of bresaola (Lombardian air-dried salted beef), and you’re all set (also there is no more room in your vintage Fiat 500).
Westcombe Cheddar + Wild Beer Mixed Fermentation IPA
Both sited on Westcombe Dairy’s farm, this is as close a relationship between brewer and cheesemaker as they come. This three-yeast IPA was designed for food, and what greater food is there for pairing with a fruity IPA than a nutty raw-milk cheddar?
Gorgonzola Dolce + Franciacorta Extra Brut
The dry biscuit and apricot flavors of a bubbly Franciacorta cuts beautifully through the creamy tang of its regional bedfellow.
Beaufort + Chardonnay
A honeyed, floral mountain cheese enjoyed with an oaky, high-acid Chardonnay from the nearby Jura region? Magnifique.
Queso Nata de Cantabria + Marianito
This straightforward buttery cheese partners as the perfect straight man to the colour and bitter-edge provided by the Marianito (see recipe below).
- 2 ½ ounces sweet vermouth
- ½ ounce dry gin
- ½ ounce Campari
- 3 dashes Angostura bitters
- ►Add all ingredients to an ice filled cocktail shaker and stir until cold. Strain into a martini glass and garnish with orange peel and a green olive.