The Best Cheese in America: These Are the Top 50 U.S. Cheesemakers
In many ways, the 2019 World Cheese Awards were like every other year, except for in one, very important way: for the first time, an American cheese, the Rogue River Blue from Rogue Creamery in southern Oregon, was crowned the World Champion.
To know this fudgy, funky organic icon—made only with milk collected at the beginning of the Northwest's famed rainy season, aged between nine and 11 months, then wrapped in Syrah grape leaves soaked in pear spirits—is to love it. Never mind what you know about crumbly, classic American blues, do yourself a solid, pinch your pennies, and snag a hunk, or even a wheel, of the most elegant cheese to come out of one of the country's oldest creameries, founded in 1993 in the Rogue Valley. It's unforgettable. In a blind tasting of nearly 4,000 cheeses from over 40 countries, the judges, some of them trying the Rogue Blue for the first time, were swept right off their feet.
We've come a long way, us Americans, in just a little over a century. It was only in 1916 that James Kraft, a Canadian-American entrepreneur of Mennonite heritage, curious about shelf-stabilizing the cheeses he distributed to Chicago-area grocers, unknowingly invented American Cheese (in the process of trying to kill off bad bacteria, by subjecting cheeses to high heat). Kraft's swiftly-patented process would very quickly change the industry—within a decade almost half of the cheese sold in the entire country would be made this way. We know the rest; our domestic cheese industry was condemned to spend the next ninety years or so as the butt of a global joke, with many Americans growing up on cheese so shelf-stable, it barely had more in common with the real article than the plastic wrapping.
The rumblings of our current revolution came quite a long time ago, back in the 1970s, and it all began with a few herds of goats, scattered around the country. There was Laura Chenel in Sonoma County, California, who returned from Europe inspired toward greater sustainability and self-sufficiency; there was Indiana mom Judy Schad, who began experimenting with the milk from her children's 4-H show goats, eventually founding Capriole Goat Cheese; Mary Keehn went from Northern California goat farmer to creator of the iconic Humboldt Fog.
Chenel was the first to go commercial, receiving her first standing order, according to legend, from none other than Alice Waters. (The order? 50 pounds a week to Chez Panisse in Berkeley, back in 1981.) In retrospect, Sonoma was the perfect place for the revolution to begin. This was, after all, where real cheese heroes like the Vella family had for generations been bucking national trends, championing local dairy farmers and producing their famous Italian-style dry Jack. This was the same family that owned Rogue Creamery, where Ignazio Vella—a Sonoma County politician everybody knew as Ig—got the notion that Southern Oregon was the perfect place to create world-class blue cheese. And here we are.
Anybody with an unshakable habit of loitering at cheese shops, or even around the cheese case at their local supermarket, can tell you what happened in the decades since a handful of goat-loving ladies lit the fire. It's been a long, slow burn, but each year has yielded something slightly more interesting, for those eager to support the fledgling domestic artisan cheese market. And where are we, these days? Where aren't we, is the better question. Right now, think of a style of cheese that you'd like to try, even if it comes from a country far, far away, and chances are good someone here is at least doing a decent job—they might even be winning awards doing it, too. Show up to one of these international cheese meet-ups, and you might be surprised who's bringing home the trophies. At that same 2019 awards ceremony in Bergamo, everybody from a generations-old family farm in Wisconsin to a boutique operation in Maryland's Allegheny Mountains were celebrated.
Plenty of Americans may not yet be aware, but the Old World producers have been paying attention. At this writing, some of the most treasured brands in the country have taken on European investors or owners, among them Cowgirl Creamery, Cypress Grove, and—that's right—Rogue Creamery. The average American supermarket may still be filled with uninspired cheese, but in 2019, the future of cheese in this country was looking pretty damn bright—with just a few more hurdles to get past. As good as things have gotten, we're still terrified of that bad bacteria, at least at the regulatory level—a firm rule of no commercial sales of raw milk cheese before 60 days of aging keeps a wall between us and some of the most celebrated cheeses in the world. What we might call Brie here for example, isn't that at all, even if the label says it's imported from France, where the style will age barely half the time of the legal requirement on this side of the Atlantic. Somehow, millions of cheese eaters over there manage to muddle through. For us, Brie is never quite as enjoyable as on its home turf, though many American makers are doing admirable work, at least in the general vicinity of the authentic original.
There are, of course, other things holding us back now, as well. All the accolades in the world haven't been able to insulate celebrated operations like Rogue Creamery (and so many other celebrated producers on the Pacific Coast) from the West's brutal battle against increasingly dry conditions. All the acclaim couldn't protect thriving enterprises in places like Vermont when the bottom dropped out of the restaurant industry in early 2020. Critical darling Jasper Hill Creamery had to let go of an entire herd of Ayrshire cows in the early days of the pandemic, just to make ends meet. The better part of two years later, many makers are still holding the line, waiting for things to get back to normal.
Related: 12 Perfect Gifts for Cheese Lovers
While we wait along with them, fingers crossed, there is still so much to be excited about. Along with everything else, distribution has been transformed; from a proliferation of diligent cheesemongers in towns large and small to a dramatic increase in quality and selection in even the most pedestrian of supermarkets, not to mention the internet-enabled mainstreaming of mail order, Americans have never enjoyed the access to top quality homegrown cheese we do today—you do not need to leave your home to sample some of the finest this country has to offer.
Yes, there is so much further to go; unlike in Europe, too often our best cheeses remain a luxury item, out of reach of most Americans, as is so much of the better food we produce in this country; at least in this case, however, some of the slack has been picked up by vibrant co-operatives across the country, or even Amish and Mennonite farms in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, all selling their remarkably affordable cheeses just about everywhere throughout their respective regions. Sure, there's work to be done, but we've also accomplished so much already; no, we're not France, but finally, after nearly half of a century of going against the odds, we're looking a lot like a contender.
Interested in a career as an expert in domestic cheese affairs? Work your way through this list of our finest makers right now—some you will have heard of, others not; no creamery was too large or too small to elude consideration—our only requirement was that they help to accurately paint a picture of what has become an extremely broad and exciting scene, from great supermarket cheeses to the smallest of the small batches. Roughly 30 states are represented, which is extremely exciting, when you think about how things were even a decade ago—imagine where we could be in another ten years. Finally, we dedicate this list to the late Anne Saxelby, who dedicated her life to supporting American cheese producers and promoting the country's best—first to New Yorkers, and then the entire country, via her online business. Saxelby died recently, at the age of 40.
What began as a modest experiment on a farm in southern Minnesota back in 2008 quickly became one of the Twin Cities' favorite cheeses, to the point where the whole operation moved into town back in 2019. The mood here is 100% grass-fed, soft-rind, and ripened, from a gentle, buttery Brie-style to the flagship Bent River, a funky Camembert. Don't overlook Good Thunder, a fragrant Reblochon-style made with local beer.
Arethusa Dairy (Connecticut)
Two former Manolo Blahnik executives who swapped SoHo for the Litchfield Hills bought the neighboring farm in order to save it from being developed, not to build a small dairy empire, but that's exactly how it played out. Twenty years or so after their fortuitous decision, cheeses like the mountain-style Tapping Reeve and creamy, British-style Arethusa Blue have become regional favorites.
Beecher's Handmade Cheese (Washington)
Can't find an American cheddar to satisfy your cravings for the good, Old World stuff? By now, that's on you—from East to Midwest to West Coast, you're never far from something good. The Flagship and Flagship Reserve cheeses from this Northwest specialist, famed for their eye-catching operation at the heart of Seattle's Pike Place Market, gives the classic style a serious upgrade, creating a familiar, crumbly cheddar that's also elegantly rich and superbly melty.
Beehive Cheese (Utah)
One of the more exciting Irish-style cheddars comes not from actual Ireland, but rather from the herd of lucky Jersey cows grazing on alfalfa in the shadow of the the Wasatch Range near Ogden. However, the full-throated, creamy/crunchy Promontory, perhaps Utah's most iconic cheese, is merely a launchpad. Try the Barely Buzzed, which is the Promontory rubbed generously with ground espresso and fragrant lavender.
Belle Chevre (Alabama)
Huntsville native Tasia Malakasis had to go all the way to New York to discover the gorgeous goat cheeses being made right near her hometown. In 2007, Malakasis moved back and took over the small creamery, growing it into a national contender. Her fresh spreads (the Tuscan giving strong, most welcome Mediterranean vibes) and zippy chèvre cream cheeses are by now Southern essentials.
Blackberry Farm (Tennessee)
Not content to be one of the country's finest small resorts, this exclusive paradise in the Smoky Mountains has also become one of the South's most awarded cheesemakers. From soft-ripened Hawkins Haze to Manchego-style Singing Brook to fresh, spreadable Brebis made pungent with foraged ramps come springtime, it's all worth seeking out. Make sure to sample their own pimento cheese as well, one of the best (if priciest) on the market.
Briar Rose Creamery (Oregon)
From creamy Butterbloom to fragrant washed-rind Maia, all the cheeses at this can-do operation in the Willamette Valley are winners in our eyes, but it's the wintertime, when the pungent, brine-rubbed Phoebe makes her appearance, all dolled up in French spruce bark, that things get really exciting. Organic Ayrshire milk goes into a semi-soft cheese that smells a lot like a Northwest pine forest during the magical wet season—earthy, fragrant, ever so slightly intoxicating.
Calkins Creamery (Pennsylvania)
You know how Champagne is only Champagne if it comes from that one region in France? Same goes for Brie cheese, which must be produced in very specific designated areas in order to bear the title. Not that it matters to us here in America, where FDA regulations ban the import of the proper (and properly raw) stuff, leaving us with two choices—eat the stripped-down (and typically bland) imports, or look to makers of finer, Brie-style cheeses here at home. Up in the Poconos, Emily Montgomery produces the intensely good and creamy Noble Road, on a historic dairy farm that's been in her family for six generations now.
Capriole Farmstead (Indiana)
Back during the American cheese dark ages, Judy Schad swapped suburban life for an 80-acre farm in deeply southern Indiana, and began experimenting with goat's milk. Forty years or so later, the pioneering Schad is known as the maker of one of the country's most prized goat cheeses, the ash-seamed, wrinkly, superbly fragrant Sofia, one of the very best cheeses being made in the Midwest, which only sounds like a bold pronouncement until you've tried it for yourself.
Cascadia Creamery (Washington)
Just beneath mighty Mount Adams, right on the divide between the two Northwests, the cool, green, wet one, and the drier, sunnier one where so much of the region's agricultural work is accomplished, John Shuman and Marci Ebeling make award-winning organic, raw milk cheeses, aged in natural lava tube caves. Cloud Cap—a creamy but firm bloomy-rind beauty aged between 60 and 75 days—has become something of an artisanal Northwest icon. Fudgy, approachable Glacier Blue has been known to convert more than a few samplers to the style.
Cato Corner Farm (Connecticut)
Some of the most sought-after cheeses at New York City's Union Square Greenmarket come from this tiny family farm, where mother and son team Elizabeth MacAlister and Mark Gillman work wonders with raw milk from their hard-working but happy herd of Jersey cows. At it for over forty years, MacAlister began experimenting with cheese in the 1990s, as a way for the farm to support itself. Thanks to winners like the Hooligan, a superbly ripe, French Muenster-style washed rind, everything seems to have worked out just fine.
Central Coast Creamery (California)
As far as we're aware, there's no American Cheese Walk of Fame anywhere, at least not yet, but if there were, Reggie Jones would be one of the first stars to go in. Jones has been tagged as one of the country's best cheesemakers many times, for good reason. From workhorse, everyday luxuries like the Seascape, a semi-hard, slightly crumbly blend of cow and goat milk to the exciting, aged sheep milk Ewenique, you're in extremely good hands here. Being really good at making cheese seems to run in the family—daughter Avery Jones is still in her teens, and running her own, notice-gathering operation, Shooting Star Creamery.
Chaseholm Farm (New York)
By now, anyone fortunate enough to be living in New York's Hudson Valley ought to be looking local for most, if not all, of their cheese needs, and certainly when it comes time for one of those decadent, American triple cream soft cheeses first made famous on the West Coast. Sara and Rory Chase's Nimbus, a chunky little wheel of buttery, bloomy rind beauty, is a marvelous addition into the genre, aged 6-8 weeks to give the cheese the time it needs to achieve that smooth taste and texture.
Consider Bardwell Farm (Vermont)
Today, there are a couple of highly notable cooperative creameries selling their cheeses in supermarkets throughout the country. One of the oldest, however, was almost lost to history until literary agent Angela Miller and husband Russell Glover snapped up the property with the goal of restoring the farm to its original purpose. Cheesemaker Leslie Goff started working here at age 15; her fragrant, orange-hued Dorset is a washed-rind pop of color to brighten any Vermont winter day, not to mention wake up your tastebuds.
Cowgirl Creamery (California)
Before everyone was making American-style Bries, there was Mt. Tam, still one of the finest triple-creams on the market, even after industry pioneers Sue Conley and Peggy Smith sold out to a Swiss dairy conglomerate in 2016. The story begins in the 1990s, when Conley and Smith made the move from San Francisco into the singular Northern California countryside, and it ends with them making some of the best cheese ever produced on this side of the Atlantic. All these years after Mt. Tam became a staple in better supermarkets across the country, we're still struggling not to finish an entire wheel in one sitting.
Crooked Face Creamery (Maine)
Growing up on her parents dairy farm near Skohegan, Amy Rowbottom never imagined that she'd one day be running the place. Her plans mostly involved moving far away, and then staying there, but life has a way of interfering. Sooner than later, she was back home, and cheese-loving Mainers are extremely grateful. Rowbottom uses raw Jersey milk to create some of the most prized American-made ricotta, alongside aged beauties like Bonfire, a winning Raclette-style, washed with local ales and ciders.
Cypress Grove (California)
Would it surprise you to learn that Humboldt Fog, one of our best-known (and best-loved) modern, artisanal American cheeses, began life as an experiment in a Northern California kitchen? Mary Keehn started raising goats in the 1970s, founding Cypress Grove a few years later. Today, that instantly-recognizable, ash-veined wedge remains a staple of many finer cheeseboards—it's the one that paved the way for so many others.
Buy it: Cypress Grove cheese, from $25 at goldbelly.com
Firefly Farms (Maryland)
High up in the Appalachians, this creamery deals in goat milk sourced from local farms to create cheeses that have brought Mike Koch and Pablo Solanet's small but mighty operation a considerable number of accolades. You won't find an American-made cheese like the semi-firm, funky and well-aged Cabra la Mancha every day, at least not yet. The fresh-as-falling-snow chèvre is a regional must.
Fiscalini Farmstead (California)
All crumble and crunch, the beautifully sharp bandaged cheddar from this century-old Central Valley dairy evokes the Old World more strongly than far too many better-known takes on the style, reminding us that it's not where you make the cheese—in this case, a historic family ranch outside of Modesto—it's how you make it that counts.
Four Fat Fowl (New York)
An abandoned school building on the doorstep of the Berkshires found new life as one of New York's most talked-about creameries, largely on the strength of the St. Stephen, yet another magnificent triple cream mini-wheel for this post-Cowgirl age, dripping with buttery flavor derived from all natural Jersey cow's milk and cream. A glamorous cheese that fits right into an increasingly glammed-up Hudson Valley.
Buy it: Four Fat Fowl St. Stephen, $40 at murrayscheese.com
Goat Lady Dairy (North Carolina)
By now, you probably get the picture. When tracing the history of modern artisanal American cheese, it's very much a tale of goats wobbling forward so the cows could come along and do the same. Here is yet another pioneering outfit dating back to mid-1990s, when cheese for many of us still meant Kraft singles. Today, you'll find both goat and cow's milk cheeses being made here, but the hard, aged goat milk Providence, which began as an experiment in Tallegio-style cheese a long time ago, is still one of the stars.
Green Dirt Farm (Missouri)
You don't always find soft-ripened sheep's milk cheeses in a Midwest supermarket, unless you happen to be somewhere like St. Louis, where you could wander into Schnuck's and emerge with your very own 6 oz. wheel of Dirt Lover, the bloomy rind, vegetable ash-coated gem from Sara Hoffman's rural farmstead creamery that can't stop winning national awards. (Think Humboldt Fog, but sheep's milk, and you're getting there.)
Grey Barn & Farm (Massachusetts)
Rising from the prized dirt of Martha's Vineyard, the home of one of New England's best blue cheeses might vibe kind of like some sort of theme park for agrijunkies (and a highly Instagrammable one, at at that), but the cheesemaking here is serious business, centered around meeting demand for the Prufrock, a soft, crystal-flecked blue brimming with seafront terroir. An absolute standout in what feels like an increasingly active category.
Jasper Hill Farms (Vermont)
Nearly twenty years after brothers Andy and Mateo Kehler scraped together the money to buy a Northeast Kingdom dairy farm, Jasper Hill's trademark blue-labeled cheeses can be found at pretty much any decent monger around the country, and every one of them a winner, from the Stilton-style Bayley Hazen blue, to the spruce bark-wrapped Harbison, a gooey gem paying tribute to the formidable and funky Vacherin Mont D'Or. The Kehlers are some of the most collaborative makers around, aging cheeses in their vast network of underground caves for everyone from small New England makers to cooperative behemoth Cabot. The latter's Clothbound Cheddar, which spends 9-14 months in the caves here, is one of the better cheeses you could ever hope to find lying around your average Northeast supermarket.
Buy it: Jasper Hill Farms 'The Vermonter Collection,' $99 at jasperhillfarm.com
Landmark Creamery (Wisconsin)
Aiming for a king like Ossau-Iraty, the legendary aged sheep's milk cheese from the French Basque region seems like a bold move, but reaching for the stars is how Anna Landmark and Anna Thomas Bates like to work, and we're all the better for it. Their washed-rind Anabasque is a wonderful example of cheesemaking's evolution in Wisconsin, where everything, and anything, appears to be possible.
Laura Chenel (California)
Scoop up a bite of fresh chèvre from this groundbreaking Sonoma creamery, and you're digging into modern American cheese history. Back in 1979, when Chenel started making cheese, nobody else was selling domestic goat's cheese commercially, which made her some pretty powerful friends, fairly fast—Alice Waters and Thomas Keller were some of her first customers. Today, the company is French-owned; the cheese is still a Bay Area favorite.
Lazy Lady Farm (Vermont)
Laini Fondiller started farming with almost nothing, moving into an off-the-grid cabin on fallow land, with room for three sheep, a goat named Blooper, and a modest vegetable patch; roughly thirty-five years later, Fondiller is regarded as an industry pioneer. These days, her small herd of goats remain at the heart of the business, with cows from a neighboring farm ensuring that the (spectacular) cheeses keep rolling out during the winter months, when the goats are on hiatus. One of the more experienced makers on this list still working on a relatively small-batch basis, the best Lazy Lady cheese tends to be whichever one you can get your hands on, at any given time.
Marieke Gouda (Wisconsin)
Marieke and Rolf Penterman came to the United States because they wanted their own dairy farm; the cost of achieving that dream in The Netherlands was simply too high. Not so in northern Wisconsin, where the family found exactly what they were looking for. After getting up and running, Marieke began flirting with the idea of making her own cheese. In relatively short order becoming known for some of the finest aged Gouda made anywhere outside of the homeland.
Marin French Cheese (California)
Since before half the states were states, grocery shoppers in the Bay Area have had access to their very own, locally-made, French-style soft cheeses. The triple-cream here was for generations the regional gold standard, and to this day, it remains a handsome addition to any Northern California cheese plate. After nearly a century, one of America's oldest artisanal cheeses, the Schloss, recently went into retirement. The new kid, a funkier, washed-rind known as Golden Gate, has made saying goodbye so much easier.
Maytag Dairy Farms (Iowa)
It was a time, not so long ago, when we knew exactly what American blue cheese was. These days, we're all over the map, and nobody's saying stop, but sometimes you just want the quintessential, crumbly, classic, the kind that pairs well with a wedge of iceberg lettuce and bacon bits at a steakhouse. You'll never go wrong coming to the foil-wrapped original, a staple in Iowa and across the country since the World Wars, using the milk of prize-winning Holsteins.
Meadow Creek Dairy (Virginia)
Going back at least a few decades ago now, when Helen Feete got the idea to make a classic, washed-rind Reblochon, which translates roughly into American as "one of the really smelly ones," people told her it probably wouldn't work. Thank goodness she didn't listen. Today, Feete, with daughter Kat, is celebrated throughout the industry for taking that bold step, and all this time later, Meadow Creek's Grayson, made with raw Jersey milk from the family farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains, remains one of the finest in its class.
Milton Creamery (Iowa)
There are probably even a few British people who don't even know this anymore, but for the longest time, cheddars were made in big cylinders, otherwise known back then—in very old times—as truckles, which is one half of how the Midwest's most interestingly named cheese, Flory's Truckle, came by its title. The other is that the cheese, one of the country's finest clothbound cheddars, was first made in collaboration with the dairy-farming Flory family.
Mozzarella Company (Texas)
Picture it: Tomato season in North Texas. If you're eating something else besides caprese salads made with Paula Lambert's mozzarella, can we ask why? At it since the early 1980s, Lambert started out in a tiny Dallas storefront, growing her operation to become one of the finest and most versatile sources for cheese in the Lone Star State, from spreadable, Banon-style goat cheese aged in aromatic hoja santa leaves to queso menonita, the semi-soft, typically Chihuahua-made favorite that's a staple of Mexican cheese culture.
Nettle Meadow Dairy (New York)
Even with the finest cheeses, a little can often go a long way. Not so with Kunik, which presents as yet another fine American triple cream, except this one harbors a secret—a pillowy center of aged goat cheese, a burst of freshness to break straight through all that languid buttery beauty. This is a remarkable, balanced cheese you will likely start out intending to sample; don't be surprised if you eat the whole thing at once. Kunik is just one of the exceptional offerings from this relatively tiny dairy farm (and animal sanctuary!) way up in the Adirondacks. When Sheila Flanagan and Lorraine Lambiase decided to swap California for the wilds of Upstate New York, they landed on what was a fledgling cheesemaking operation, putting in the work to make everything close-to-perfect—not all that many years later, it's difficult to imagine the American scene without them.
Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. (New York)
By now, any self-respecting stockist in the Northeast keeps a supply of Hudson Valley Camembert on hand, which means this thirty-ish year-old operation long ago outgrew its original Columbia County patch; these days, the flock at Old Chatham has grown from a few hundred to a few thousand, and you'll find them grazing in the Finger Lakes region, two hundred miles or so to the west; fortunately, the cheese is still the cheese; the luxurious, Roquefort-esque Ewe's Blue is worth seeking out.
Parish Hill Creamery (Vermont)
We're better than we've ever been at adapting the classics from across the pond; so what's the next step? For Peter Dixon and Rachel Fritz Schaal, it's asking the question—what does the new American cheese look like? In partnership with two other cheesemakers, they've come up with what might be the answer, the Cornerstone, produced individually but to the same specifications, a firm, raw cow's milk cheese that aspires to high standards but is uniquely ours, each maker's effort reflecting its own surroundings, in this case southern Vermont. Not that there's anything wrong with the Old World; Parish Hill's Reverie is a beautiful interpretation of the Italian Toma, a semi-hard snacker aged for up to five months that goes great with beer.
Point Reyes Cheese (California)
Can you imagine being one of those lucky few who migrated from Europe to Northern California, back when there was nothing but room to do what you wanted, snapping themselves up a giant patch of land near the coast? Over a century has passed since Tobias Giacomini left Northern Italy for the wilds of Marin County, but you'll find his descendants still at it here, making one of California's best blue cheeses, a fudgy, Stilton-style number. Their Toma—a taste of the old country, to be sure—is also very good.
Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery (Illinois)
With its trademark garnish of delicate native blooms, the bloomy goat milk Fleur de la Prairie (an homage to a Corsican sheep's milk cheese) is one of the most recognizable little wheels coming out of the Midwest right now. It also happens to be one of the finest, and the pride of the first modern-day farmstead cheesemaking operation in the state. Leslie Cooper and Wes Jarrell aren't just making great goat cheese, they're living examples of what the future of Illinois farming might look like, if we're very lucky—a thriving small-hold in a sea of bland commercial agriculture.
Rogue Creamery (Oregon)
They've been at it forever, but taking home top global honors at the World Cheese Awards in 2019 didn't exactly come out of nowhere. Sample your way around the United States, and there's one thing you'll figure out, fairly quickly, which is that we're having something of a blue cheese moment. In fact, it might be one of the things we do best. Suppose you don't have time to try all of them, which is fine. Find yourself a hunk of the prize-winning, strong but smooth Rogue River Blue, aged for 9 to 11 months, hand-wrapped in Syrah grape leaves soaked in pear spirits, and then aged again—the results are nothing short of luxurious. Don't be surprised if you find yourself struggling to put down the knife.
Sequatchie Cove Creamery (Tennessee)
You won't find great cheese on every back road in this part of the world, the way you might in some northern states, but Nathan and Padgett Arnold are part of an elite group of makers ably shouldering the immense task of changing the way we talk about Southern cheese, doing incredible work in the foothills of the Smokies with raw milk from grass-fed cows. Their sought-after Dancing Fern is one of the most exquisite Reblochon-style cheeses being produced this side of the Savoie.
Shelburne Farms (Vermont)
A non-profit cheesemaker? That's so Vermont. And so is their cheddar, produced on one of the most gorgeous working farms, part of an elegant former estate set on rolling hills above Lake Champlain, looking out to the Adirondack Mountains. Cheese-wise, it's all about the standards here, done exceptionally well. Cheddars are made with raw Brown Swiss milk to exacting standards—as usual, the more aged the better.
Spring Brook Farm (Vermont)
Inspired by the cheeses of the French Alps, Tarentaise (and its older cousin, the beautifully aged Tarentaise Reserve) is a true mountain cheese for the Green Mountain State, made with luxurious raw Jersey milk. At Spring Brook, however, making prize-winning cheese is just the start. Proceeds go to support Farms for City Kids, a foundation based on Spring Brook's scenic, 1,000+ acre plot working to narrow the gap between the typical urban classroom and agricultural education.
Sweet Grass Dairy (Georgia)
Lively little Thomasville is one of the best small food towns in America, a status it enjoys partly due to the presence of one of the South's finest cheesemakers. Raw milk from a family farm going back generations is the foundation for some excellent work. The nutty, award-winning Tomme pays tribute to the French mountain original; consume as is, or sample it in one of the most luxurious pimento cheeses money can buy.
Tomales Farmstead Creamery (California)
Very few people encountering the windswept semi-wilds of West Marin leave unaffected by the area's outstanding natural beauty. David Jablons and Tamara Hicks loved it so much, they moved there. Just outside of the tiny town of Tomales, they've been producing cheese for just shy of a decade, but it didn't take long for restaurateurs and cheese lovers around the Bay Area to take notice. Atika, a firm but rich sheep and goat mix Tomme, was off and winning awards from the very start.
Uplands Cheese (Wisconsin)
Back before there was bark-wrapped cheese everywhere you looked, which is how it can feel these days, there was Andy Hatch and his homage to Vacherin Mont d'Or, a very grown-up, very raw cheese from Switzerland that you eat with a spoon. Rush Creek Reserve would come on the market for a brief, but wonderful moment every year, shipping all across the country to whoever could get their orders in. This was one of those high-profile stunners from the early days (yes, 2010 was pretty long ago in cheese years) that showed us just what we Americans were actually capable of. Not that it's gone anywhere; the 2021 batch is out right now, for as long as it lasts. If you're too late, not to worry; Hatch also makes one of the best European-style mountain cheeses on these shores—his Pleasant Ridge Reserve is by now something of a modern American classic.
Vella Cheese Company (California)
When it comes to uniquely American cheeses, you can't do much better, at least historically, than Monterey Jack, which started out being made by monks in Monterey. Dry Jack, a distinctive Sonoma County specialty, supposedly came about by accident, when somebody left a few wheels lying around too long, resulting in a nutty, aged cheese that local Italian immigrants, one of them being founder Tom (Gaetano) Vella, couldn't get enough of. Back during the lowest point for artisanal cheesemaking in the United States, we had Dry Jack, and we still do today. Fun cheese history fact—back in the 1950s, Vella purchased what would become the Rogue Creamery we know and love today.
Vermont Shepherd Creamery (Vermont)
One of the country's oldest operating sheep farms—handed over to the next generation in the 1990s—is the setting for some of the most notable cheesemaking taking place in the country today. Top-quality raw milk is the foundation for the French mountain-style, cave-aged Verano, made at the peak of summer, when the sheep are happily grazing in pastures at full flower.
Von Trapp Farmstead (Vermont)
Anyone who's hung around Stowe for more than a minute can tell you that the von Trapps—yes, those von Trapps—have been part of Vermont life pretty much since World War II, but it wasn't until a little over a decade ago that the grandchildren decided to add cheesemaking to the list of the many things that the family seems to do around here. The results have been superb. Like every other cheesemaking center in the country, blue is big these days; the farmstead's Mad River Blue is a decadent, raw milk must.
Working Cows Dairy (Alabama)
Buried in the scrub, way down in the part of Alabama that's basically the Florida Panhandle, along a backroad that feels like it connects nowhere to nowhere, eagle-eyed passersby will come across a modest farmstand. Open all day and all night, it's where you can pick up some of the South's best cheese—after, of course, indulging in the free sample tray, kept in the fridge, because around here, that's just the neighborly thing to do. It's a charming introduction to one of the Southeast's most sustainable dairy farming operations, founded by a Dutch family that came to the United States a few decades back and never got around to leaving. Beautiful, buttery, 60 day-aged Farmstead Cheese has proven too good to keep down, recently receiving excellent national notices. As you might expect, the aged Gouda is well worth a look, too.
Zingerman's Creamery (Michigan)
More than a few businesses of note have descended from Ann Arbor's Zingerman's, that iconic Midwestern pioneer of modern deli culture, known not only for curating one of the country's most thoughtful artisan cheese selections, but for making plenty of their own. At the forefront is the bloomy-rind Manchester, an accessible—but not at all shy—aged soft cheese, typically left from two to four weeks. But the Detroit Street Brick—a fine, aged goat log studded with fresh-cracked green peppercorns—is equally notable, as is the spreadable Liptauer cheese, a delicious interpretation of a Hungarian favorite, fresh farm cheese flavored with anchovy paste, fresh garlic, Hungarian paprika, capers, and toasted caraway. Pass the rye bread.