If you love nothing more than a cheese platter, it's worth planning a trip to these delectable destinations.
Kraftkar in Norway
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Named the best cheese in the world by the self-proclaimed “curd nerds” of the International Cheese Festival 2016, Kraftkar headlines our list of best cheeses.
The Norwegian blue is made from cow’s milk produced at the family-run Tingvollost dairy. Four generations currently work on the farm, including legendary farmhand Tore Norbø, whose “supernatural strength and size” gives the cheese its name, Kraftkar, or “strongman” in Norwegian.
Judges at the festival, where over 3,000 contestants from 31 countries laid a claim to cheese supremacy, championed Kraftkar for its “evenly distributed mould”, “crumbly texture”, “soft creaminess” and its “soft landing” on the tongue.
The small village of Tingvoll in the west of Norway wasn’t much of a tourist destination prior to its cheese fame, but the Tingvollost farm now features on the Norwegian tourist board website and visitors are starting to flock to the area to enjoy its bucolic delights.
Rocamadour in France
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In many ways France is the spiritual home of cheese. There are around 400 distinct types of French fromage, with 50 classified, protected and regulated under French law. This prestigious half-century lay claim to the appellation d’origine controlée (AOC) certification.
Rocamadour is an AOC French cheese produced with unpasteurised goats milk in the regions of Périgord and Quercy. Sold very young, after just 12–15 days of maturing, in small white hexagonal discs, Rocamadour has an exquisite creaminess that makes it perfect for spreading over hot toast or placing in salads. When left to mature for a few months, the French prefer to appreciate its more intense flavour as part of a cheese board, perfect alongside a glass of red.
The unusually light goat cheese has been produced in the glorious medieval town of Rocamadour since the Middle Ages. It was a great source of income for the local women, who would sell the little white discs to pilgrims visiting the famous wooden Black Madonna shrine.
In addition to tasting one of the world’s tastiest cheeses and visiting the venerated Black Virgin, a fromage pilgrimage to Rocamadour affords stunning views of the vertiginous town and its monastic buildings.
Feta in Greece
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Rich, crumbly, snow-white Feta has been produced in Greece, in much the same way, for over 8,000 years.
Feta is made by adding rennet and calcium chloride to a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk. And it’s believed that the white cheese prepared by the Cyclopes Polyphemus in Homer’s Odyssey is actually an ancestor of Feta. Artefacts from the 6th century BC in the museum of Delphi appear to depict Feta cheese-making techniques alongside images of Ulysses and the Cyclopes’ favourite ram.
Eight thousand years on and the creamy but tangy brined cheese is still being produced throughout the Hellenic nation, from small family farms in the dry and balmy mountainous regions to island homesteads beside the heavenly Ionian Sea.
As the national cheese of Greece, Feta is ubiquitous at meal times. Blocks of the creamy white delight are mixed with spinach and stuffed into pastries, crumbled over bitter boiled winter greens, stewed with summer vegetables and drizzled with honey to be served with watermelon.
Whether sat at a plastic table in a bustling city square, on a wooden pew in a communal village eatery or overlooking the sea and stars at a beachside Taverna, you’d be foolish not to order a Greek Salad to accompany your meal. The rich, salty flavour of Feta cutting through the sweet juices of local sun-ripened tomatoes is the perfect foil to any Greek dish.
Roncal in Spain
Image via The Tapas Lunch Company
While not as old as Feta, Roncal has an impressive history of its own. For three millennia the shepherds of the Roncal Valley in the Navarre region of Spain have grazed their sheep on land that was eventually bestowed to them by King Sancho Garcia in 882 AD. This was a thank you gesture to the herders following their bravery in a battle against the Saracens.
The recipe for this prestigious cheese has been passed down orally through the ages and is, to this day, a closely guarded secret. Roncal was the first Spanish cheese to be granted name protection in 1981 and in many ways it is the bigger, bolshier brother of the more famous Manchego.
Aromas of popcorn meet a nutty flavour that lingers and builds to an olive-like richness in the mouth. Roncal is traditionally enjoyed with a glass of local Navarra red wine, delicious after a hike across the area’s verdant pastures.
Situated in northern Spain, on the eastern edge of the Basque Pyrenees, Roncal Valley’s green, sometimes snow-capped, hills possess an alpine charm more resembling Austria or Switzerland than the rest of Spain. Those who look hard enough will be rewarded with the sight of hidden caves behind a picture-book white waterfall and turquoise plunge pool.
Parmigiano Reggiano in Italy
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Parmigiano Reggiano is a testament to human passion and nature’s bounty. For nine centuries the people of the Italian provinces of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and parts of Mantua and Bologna have performed the same complex, natural process necessary to produce the so-called “king of cheeses.”
Pure milk from the local pastures is manipulated with nothing but the addition of rennet, fire and art. The cheese making process is among the most sophisticated in the world and each mammoth 550-litre wheel is left to mature in a silent room for 12–30 months or more. It’s a serious task, but it’s worth it for the deliciously moreish buttery, nutty hard cheese at the end.
Around 3.5 million wheels of Parmesan are produced in the region each year from the milk of 251,000 cows. The production system provides work for over 50,000 artisans, accounting for around 16 per cent of Italy’s total milk production.
Many of the dairies run guided tours through the production process, allowing visitors to see master cheese-makers turn milk into the joy that is Parmigiano Reggiano. It’s a great way to understand the passion of the craft and learn about the culture of the region. And, of course, there are tasting sessions at the end.