Gone are the days when “American cheese” was synonymous with “orange, plasticky, and flavorless.” In fact, there’s never been a more exciting time to be eating cheese made in America. There are hundreds of small, family-owned creameries across the United States, each with its own story and line.
While we always recommend shopping local and supporting the businesses in your community, here are six of our favorite American cheeses that you’ve probably never had — but should definitely try.
Nettle Meadow Farm’s Kunik is a brie-style cheese made by hand in Thurman, N.Y., with goat’s milk and rich Jersey cow cream. It is perfect to share with cheese nerds and novices alike. With notes of butter and a gentle herbaceousness, one of the secrets to Kunik’s delicate complexity is the diet of the goats — hay, grains, wild herbs, raspberry leaf, garlic, and kelp, which keeps the goats happy and healthy and gives this cheese its incomparable flavor. Kunik is delicious on its own, life-changing with your favorite sparkling wine.
Available from Bedford Cheese Shop
Smokey Mountain Round
Made by Goat Lady Dairy in North Carolina, Smokey Mountain Round is a fresh, hand-formed chèvre smoked over apple wood. If bacon and your favorite fresh goat cheese had a baby, it would be Smokey Mountain Round. It has beautiful smoky notes, tempered by the bright acidity typical of goat’s milk. Even those who don’t think they like smoked cheese are often won over by this one. Try it with maple butter!
Available from Murray’s Cheese
Raclette is most people’s favorite funky melting cheese, but the very similar Reading may just have it beat. Pronounced “red-ing,” this lovable funk bomb is made with raw cow’s milk by Vermont’s Spring Brook Farm, a traditional dairy farm that offers programs for urban kids that combine classroom studies with firsthand farming experience. Experienced cheesemongers like to give their European customers tastes of Reading and then Raclette, without identifying the cheeses, and then ask which the customer prefers. Nine times out of 10, it’s Reading.
Available from Formaggio Kitchen
Made by Bellwether Farms in Sonoma County, Calif., San Andreas is made with raw free-roaming East Friesian sheep’s milk and was inspired by the recipe for Tuscan Pecorino. Semi-soft and fruity, it is an excellent representation of American sheep’s milk cheeses, which are known to be difficult to produce. Try it with your favorite red wine from California, and soak in that terroir.
Available from Dean & Deluca
Inspired by Alpine cheeses like Appenzeller, Jasper Hill’s Alpha Tolman is named after the philanthropic dairy farmer who built the first library in Greensboro, Vt. This is where Jasper Hill is located. It has rich, layered notes of chicken broth, caramelized onions, and toasted sesame oil. This is another cheese as loved by the beginner as it is by the most seasoned cheese monger. Excellent with your favorite beer or on a grilled cheese sandwich!
Available from Jasper Hill Farm
A cheesemonger secret is that almost everyone who says they don’t like blue cheese would probably like it if they had the right one. Bay Blue is very often that gateway cheese. Made in the style of Stilton by Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, it was inspired by the rich natural beauty of the Northern California coast. While the peppery character of the blue mold isn’t wimpy, its fudgy texture and notes of caramel and cookie dough make it the perfect beginner’s blue. Try it with some tawny port, or with your favorite chocolate bar as a cracker.
Available from iGourmet