Cheese Around the World

From France to the United States, explore how different countries celebrate cheese

The story of cheese began some 4,000 years ago, as people began to breed animals and process their milk. Cheesemaking became an art, with references in ancient Greek mythology and on Egyptian tomb murals. By the time of the Roman emperor Julius Caesar (born in 100 B.C.), hundreds of types of cheese were being traded across the Roman Empire.

Today, there are more than 1,800 varieties of cheese produced from the milk of cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, reindeer, camels and yaks—all with distinct tastes and textures.

Around the world, different varieties of cheese reveal secrets about the region’s climate and culture. In the Mediterranean and Middle East, for example, heat and humidity required cheesemakers to heavily salt their curds, resulting in the unmistakable tang of cheeses like feta. 

So, visit your favorite cheesemonger as you prepare for your next event. The versatile ingredient is a culinary dream, making a perfect play as a snack, appetizer or star ingredient in a main course or dessert. 

Here are a few favorite varieties from around the world:

France

Made from unpasteurized cow’s milk and cream, brie is a buttery, runny and soft cheese that has a nutty flavor. It’s best served when ripe—when the inside is slightly bouncy. The French traditionally serve brie as its own course before dessert, but it works well as an appetizer, too. Spread over a crusty baguette with fruit or fig jam. 

India

A fresh, unsalted cheese with a dense, crumbly texture, paneer has a mild and milky flavor. Historically made by curdling hot buffalo milk with lemon or lime juice, paneer is frequently used in many classic Indian main dishes, such as paneer tikka masala, as well as several popular desserts made for the Indian festival Diwali.

Italy

Gorgonzola is a soft, blue-veined cheese made from cow’s milk. An Italian blue cheese, it’s crumbly, salty—and comes with a sharp, acquired taste, depending on its age. The pairing possibilities are endless: Prepare a cheese plate appetizer with fresh fruit, jams or honey, or try gorgonzola in salads and pasta dishes. 

Mexico

A strong and salty white cheese made from cow’s milk, cotija is named for the town of the same name in the Mexican state of Michoacán. When fresh, it’s similar in taste and texture to the Greek cheese feta. But with aging, cotija is more similar to Italy’s Parmigiano Reggiano—hence its nickname, “Parmesan of Mexico.” Popular for grating over salads, soups and tacos, cotija is also often served with fruit.

Poland

Twaróg, a traditional curdled cheese, has a slightly tart flavor and is made by warming sour cow’s milk. It’s a basic ingredient in many Polish appetizers, including pierogies, and is often used in cheesecake.

Turkey

Made from unpasteurized sheep, cow or goat milk, Turkey’s beyaz peynir has a salty, slightly sour taste and grainy appearance. Sold in blocks, the cheese is used in a variety of Turkish fare, including salads, pastries and main dishes.

United States

Created in the 1910s, American cheese is a processed cheese made from cow’s milk. Creamy and smooth, it has a mild flavor and melts particularly well, making it a staple for grilled cheese sandwiches and mac and cheese.