- Think of wine and images of Bordeaux or Tuscany may come to mind, but does one of wine's finest pairings,cheese, conjure up any images? Well, it should. But, even with its equally rich history and vast industry, many of us still don't know much about this favorite food and the special places it comes from. That's why Cheapflights.com, the online leader in finding and publishing travel deals, has made a fine pairing of its own.
Cheese is part of the food tradition in almost every corner of the world. So our first course, Around the World in 29 Cheeses, is a culinary tour stretching from Andorra to Serbia with stops in Argentina, Iceland and Mongolia along the way. Next we are serving a more robust plate of culture with our Top 10 Storied Cheese Destinations. From caves full of cheese wheels to rolling cheese races and remote island farms, these destinations are enticing for the local tastes and traditions.
Here are five cheesy choices to start:
- Parma, Italy - Imagine trading your house for an endless supply of a special cheese. That's the level of love inspired by Parmesan, even more than 1,100 years ago. What started as a local specialty, initially made by monks in the Middle Ages, burst its regional boundaries with the growth of trade in the 13th century. Its first reputed claim to fame was a noblewoman of Genoa who, in 1254, traded her home for 53 pounds a year of cheese from Parma. Over the centuries, the cheese makers of Parma and nearby Reggio standardized their production process and officially adopted the name Parmigiano-Reggiano for their product. In Europe, any cheese labeled Parmesan is made in the Parma region. And efforts are underway to limit the use of the name in other parts of the world. Get a first-hand look how the so-called King of Cheeses shaped the development of Parma and surrounding provinces with a visit to the Museo del Parmigiano Reggiano or see it being crafted with a factory tour.
- Gloucestershire, United Kingdom - Here, cheese's biggest day comes in May when thousands descend for the annual Cooper's Hill cheese-rolling races. Competitors from as far as Australia and Japan join in a series of races chasing a wheel of the local Double Gloucester cheese down an impressively steep hill. Sounds simple but it's closer to insane. The rolling cheese builds up to speeds of close to 70 miles per hour. The mad dash to catch it, or at least be first down the hill behind it, repeats four times during the day -- three men's races and one women's race. In between, kids 14 and under race up the hill, which isn't really much easier though at least there doesn't need to be a line of rugby players at the finish line to catch out-of-control competitors. The prize for the race winners is, of course, the very cheese they've been chasing.
- Wisconsin, United States - No place takes pride in its cheese like Wisconsin. People wear their love of cheese and of home on their heads. Welcome to "America's Dairyland" where 15 percent of the country's milk is produced along with more than 350 varieties of award-winning cheese. Welcome, also, to Green Bay Packer country. The NFL team's home crowd is easy to spot as fans fill Lambeau Field in green and yellow jerseys and giant cheese hats. These self-proclaimed "cheeseheads" are following in the footsteps of Ralph Bruno, who made the first cheesehead hat from the foam of a sofa cushion using a turkey slicer. Bruno wore the original to a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game in 1987. Its immediate popularity prompted Bruno to trademark and begin selling the hat, which is now a symbol of local pride for Green Bay and all of Wisconsin.
- Île d'Orléans, Quebec, Canada - In the middle of the St. Lawrence River, just east of Quebec City, lies Île d'Orléans (the island of Orleans), which was one of the earliest French settlements in Canada. These settlers, true to their French heritage, were the first to make cheese in North America. Cheese-making methods on Île d'Orléans, which remained a rural farming island for generations and still retains its rustic feel, has been handed down over the years, dating back to the 1600s. Today, the traditional cheese of the island is sold locally by costumed vendors. There are three variations of Fromages de l'isle d'Orléans, with two sold only on the island.
- Roquefort, France - While cheese is a way of life throughout much of France, the village of Roquefort is basically built on cheese. The collapse of Combalou Mountain created a network of natural caves that are the one and only place where Roquefort cheese can be aged. While the village itself is home to fewer than 1,000 people, its caves hold hundreds of thousands of aging wheels of this pungent but highly sought-after cheese. The history of the cheese dates back to the Middle Ages and is rumored to have been invented by a shepherd who left his cheese curd and rye bread lunch behind in a cave to chase a shepherdess who caught his eye. He returned days later to find his moldy meal. Quite hungry, he still opted to eat it and made a delicious discovery. Today, seven companies produce Roquefort, each with its own blend of sheep milk curds and specially bred molds. It's this mold, however, that has prompted the most recent chapter of the story as the FDA just declared Roquefort and other moldy cheeses off limits in the United States, launching what some are calling a "war on cheese."
And, if that's not enough cheese to fill your palette, check out these other destinations that round out our list: Emmental, Switzerland; Pag Island, Croatia; Alkmaar, Netherlands; Tibet; and Chihuahua, Mexico. For a full list of Cheapflights.com's storied cheese destinations visit:www.cheapflights.com/news/get-cultured-top-10-storied-cheese-destinations.