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6 Places for every cheese lover's bucket list

6 Places for every cheese lover's bucket list
Love travelling? Also love cheese? Visiting one of these fascinating sites, from Swiss caves to French abbeys, is the perfect way to combine your two passions
There’s something about cheese that elicits a kind of passion and loyalty unrivalled in the culinary world.
That might be why people are willing to traverse mountains, wander through caves, and milk even the most mighty beasts, all in the pursuit of a delicious dairy product.
Beyond the storied, classic purveyors of Brie and burrata, however, there’s a vast network of adventurous cheesemakers and aficionados. Here are six places where fans can fulfil their love for fromage.

1. Kaltbach Cave, Kaltbach, Switzerland

The naturally cool temperature in Kaltback Cave and the stream that runs through it make the perfect incubator for thousands of cheese wheels
In the undulating green sprawl of an Alpine valley not far from Lucerne, where clouds swim against snow-capped mountains and placid cows graze on verdant meadows, a cave formed from a prehistoric seabed carries a glorious culinary secret.
Many shoppers browsing cheese aisles in grocery stores around the world will recognise the little wedges of Emmi Kaltbach Le Gruyère, with their distinctive black labels featuring a blue company logo and Swiss cross.
But few know that the cheese is meticulously aged in the Kaltbach Cave, a tunnel-like sandstone formation inside Santenberg mountain with climatic conditions that are just right for ripening cheese.
The cool subterranean labyrinth, said to be 22 million years old, is the natural incubator for up to 120,000 wheels of cheese, mostly Gruyère and Emmental.
Stacked shelves stretching more than a mile hold the cheese at a temperature of 12.5 degrees Celsius year round, and the cool waters of the river (Kaltbach means “cold river”) that runs through the cave keep humidity levels at around 96 per cent.
"The cool subterranean labyrinth, said to be 22 million years old, is the natural incubator for up to 120,000 wheels of cheese"
The cave’s unique climate and the interaction between the sandstone’s mineral deposits and the cheese create a distinctive flavour and aroma, and give the rinds their signature dark brown colour.
Like artists working on their masterpiece, cavemasters turn, wash, and brush the wheels with a brine solution every seven to ten days.
The cheeses stay in the cave for up to nine months, diligently monitored until they reach just the right aromatic and textural maturity.
The art of caring for and gauging the maturity of cheese is a skill transferred down through generations of cave masters at Kaltbach, with no written record of the training.
The cave was discovered in 1953; in need of storage space, local cheesemakers began keeping their cheese there. In 1993, Emmi acquired the cave and has been crafting, storing, and ageing their finest cheeses in it since then.

2. The Elk House (Älgens Hus), Bjurholm, Sweden

Moose milk is sold commercially in both Russia and Sweden, but one small farm with a herd of 11 moose, The Elk House (moose are also known as elk in some communities) is the only place in the world that produces moose cheese.
The proprietors of the farm are famous enough for their moose-based dairy products that they now have an upscale restaurant, gift shop, and museum for visitors, who can meet the domesticated moose.

3. Tillamook County Creamery Association, Tillamook, United States

In the Northwest state of Oregon, cheese cubes hang from the ceiling in this creamery’s recently renovated visitors centre, which also features such memorabilia as a 1927 butter churner and a stamp used to authenticate packaged blocks as genuine Tillamook cheese.
Most impressive is the view of the factory floor, where blocks of cheese as big as milk crates roll down a conveyor belt and are boxed, then transported to a warehouse where they are aged from 60 days to ten years.
You can also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the production and packaging process.
Each day, the creamery processes 800,000 kilograms of milk and churns out at least 85,000 kilograms of cheese. It is both a marvel of cheese engineering and a slice of the past.
Cheddar cheese has a long history in Tillamook County. A local cheddar won the grand prize at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair. In 1909, several creameries in the area formed the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) to act as a quality control organisation for the cheddar made throughout the county.
A cheddar recipe first developed in the 19th century is still used, and the spirit of excellence has not waned. Last year the TCCA took home two golds, two silvers, and two bronzes at the International Cheese and Dairy Awards.

4. Tamié Abbey, Plancherine, France

France’s Tamié Abbey specialises in soft cheese made from raw cow’s milk
Tamié Abbey sits in serene surroundings in the Bauges mountain range in France’s Savoie department.
Founded in the 12th century, it is today home to around 25 Trappist monks who run a small dairy and cheesemaking operation that produces Abbaye de Tamié, a soft cheese made from raw cow’s milk.
As of 2021, the monastery processed around 3,500 litres of milk per day, making about 420 kilograms of Abbaye de Tamié cheese, which is pressed and moulded into wheels.
It’s then immersed in a brine bath for two to three hours before being moved to the abbey’s cellars, where it is turned every other day and aged for four weeks.
"They built an anaerobic digestion plant, and are able to use excess whey and wash-water to produce bio-gas"
Not wanting to waste anything during the cheesemaking process, the monks at Tamié Abbey came up with an innovative use for their by-products.
In 2003, they built an anaerobic digestion plant, and are able to use excess whey and wash-water to produce bio-gas. This is used to power the abbey’s hot-water system.
The success of this initiative has inspired similar systems in France, most notably the “cheese-based” power plant in nearby Albertville, which supplies enough electricity to meet the annual needs of more than 300 local homes.
Abbaye de Tamié cheese is often compared to reblochon, but is slightly thicker.
Both cheeses are made using raw milk, enhancing its terroir—or the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to the cheese by the environment in which it is made. This helps give Abbaye de Tamié its nutty, fruity, and distinctively earthy flavour.

5. Abbey of Regina Laudis, Bethlehem, United States

The nuns at The Abbey of Regina Laudis are experts in using fungus to produce different cheese flavours
The Abbey of Regina Laudis, appropriately located in the town of Bethlehem in the northeastern state of Connecticut, is home to Benedictine nuns with a taste for life’s finer cheeses.
Mother Noella, who earned the nickname the “Cheese Nun” after appearing in a 2002 documentary of the same name, spearheaded the abbey’s foray into the artisanal market.
A local farmer gave the abbey its first cow in the 1970s and the nuns began creating their specialty: the raw milk, uncooked, fungal-ripened Bethlehem Cheese, which is similar to France’s Saint-Nectaire cheese. They learned their technique from a third generation French cheesemaker.
Mother Noella was even able to use Bethlehem Cheese as the basis for her graduate research, earning her a PhD in microbiology from the University of Connecticut.
A Fulbright scholarship later brought her to France, where she ventured into the country’s cheese caves to study fungus. She used her research to determine how fungus affects the odour and taste of different cheeses as they mature.
When she first began creating cheese at the abbey, there was only one other artisanal cheesemaker in Connecticut. Though the industry has since boomed in the United States, the Abbey of Regina Laudis remains one of a small number of dairies that are licensed to produce and sell raw milk products.
The nuns still make Bethlehem Cheese at the abbey, as well as other varieties like ricotta, mozzarella, and cheddar.
Most of the cheese is consumed by residents of the abbey and guests, but it is also sometimes sold in the abbey’s gift shop alongside other homemade treats like bread, honey and jams.

6. Cheese Mite Memorial, Zeitz, Germany

Cheesemakers Helmet Pöschel (left) and Christian Schmelzer with their monument to the cheese mite
In the tiny eastern German village of Würchwitz stands a memorial in honour of a microscopic local hero: the cheese mite. For without this mite, locals couldn’t produce their famous specialty cheese, Milbenkäse.
Milbenkäse has been produced in the Saxony-Anhalt region since the Middle Ages, but the traditional method was almost lost in the mid-1900s when the East German government outlawed the production and sale of mite-infested products.
After the fall of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, local science teacher Helmut Pöschel, using techniques passed down by his mother and grandmother, managed to preserve the tradition.
Today, Milbenkäse is produced only in the small village of Würchwitz.
Milbenkäse is made by flavouring a soft, white, and unaged cheese called quark with caraway, dried elderflowers, and salt. The cheese is shaped into balls, wheels, or cylinders, which are then dried and left in a wooden box containing rye flour and cheese mites (Tyrophagus casei).
"Some cheesemakers let the process continue for up to one year, by which time the cheese has turned black"
This is when the magic happens. For at least three months, the cheese mites secrete enzymes over the cheese, causing it to turn yellow and then a darker reddish-brown as it ripens.
Some cheesemakers let the process continue for up to one year, by which time the cheese has turned black. Well done, cheese mites.
When the cheese is ready to eat, the mites are not removed; instead they’re eaten along with the cheese. There are other cheeses, such as Mimolette from France, that use mites to create a pitted rind, but Milbenkäse is unique in using them throughout the cheesemaking process.
It’s no wonder that local cheesemakers in Würchwitz decided to honour the hard-working cheese mites with a memorial. It’s not the prettiest of things, but it is a fitting tribute to both the mites and the cheese they help produce.
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