If I had only known in 1981 that Steven Jenkins was already legally importing the cheese that I got caught smuggling home from France. It would have saved me from having to throw my hand-picked, small-production, drippy Brillat-Savarin into the JFK airport garbage. (The customs inspector wouldn't touch it.)
I didn't realize then that a few passionate Europhiles were revolutionizing the cheese scene in the United States. Almost two decades later, the changes are unmistakable. I can go to cheese shops, flip through specialty-food mail-order catalogs or order off a cheese-laden trolley in a restaurant and feel like I'm in France. Every category of cheese is now available here: young (most chèvres), blue-veined (English Stilton), cooked and pressed (Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano), bloomy-rind (unpressed and uncooked, with a soft white rind--for example, French Brie), washed-rind (mild and smelly, as in French Époisses), uncooked and pressed (English Cheddar) and more. What's different here is that while the French sell mainly their own cheeses, in the States French cheeses are only part of a vast array of high-caliber offerings. Many of them are American-made, by talented cheesemakers who are turning out world-class artisanal goat cheeses, Cheddars, Jacks and blues from New England to the Midwest, from the deep South to California.
In the following pages, F&W profiles six of the most influential--and fanatical--cheese experts in the U.S. Follow their lead and you are sure to form some strong opinions yourself. --Jane Sigal