Category Archives: Cheese

The Best Cheese Plate in Cleveland at L’Albatros

franceThe cheese plate at Cleveland’s French stalwart L’Albatros (11401 Bellflower Rd.) is the best one we have ever tried. Usually, when you order a cheese plate at a restaurant, you get a small plate of pre-selected cheeses. Maybe at better restaurants you choose from 10 or so cheeses off of a list. One of the most disappointing things about cheese plates is either that they have repetitive, common cheeses, or the servers have no idea how to direct you to the right cheese selection. However, at L’Albatros, nothing is left to chance, and the staff goes above and beyond to help you get the right selections. You can get the cheese plate for either lunch or dinner, and you can select either 3 ($11), 5($14) or 7 ($17) cheeses. There are no pre-set selections, and the cheesemonger comes over to your table with a giant tray of dozens of cheeses, and you can talk about what you want, and even have samples! Check out at the amount of cheese to choose from (plus there were even more that didn’t fit into the frame).

cheeseplate

Here’s what we ended up with after much discussion and sampling:

  • Tomme de Savoie – France – A good start, Tomme is a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a mild flavor.
  • Cantal – France – A sharp, semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that was almost Cheddar-like in taste and consistency.
  • Cabrales – Spain – M asked for the “blue-est” cheese they had, and after sampling, this was our choice. It was indeed a super sharp, crumbly sheep and cow’s milk cheese (so sharp it was almost metallic, which sounds weird, but was tasty).
  • Robiola Bosina – Italy – The first of two Robiola varieties we tried. This was a more mild, creamy goat and cow cheese.
  • Robiola Rochetta – Italy – As a contrast to the first robiola, this was a sharp, super-creamy (almost runny) blue cheese made with sheep, goat and cow’s milk.

We really enjoyed all of our our selections, and felt we got exactly what we wanted: a good mix of flavors and consistencies (granted we did take a while with the process). The plate also came with bread, honey and quince paste. We loved our cheese choices that night, but if we went back, we may end up with a totally different selection of just-as-delicious choices, depending on our mood. We cannot recommend the L’Albatros cheese plate enough!

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Lemon Ricotta di Bufala Cheese from Puglia

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ItalyWe came across one of the most unusual cheeses we have ever encountered at the new Whole Foods in Cleveland, which looked like tiny wedges of lemon cheesecake. Turns out it was a baked buffalo milk ricotta, flavored with lemon, from the Puglia region in Italy. When the ricotta is baked it takes on the texture and consistency of a cheesecake! So is it a dessert or a cheese? Maybe a little of both…. When it is whole, the cheese looks like a round or bundt cake (which may vary between brands), and you can buy the whole thing or little wedges. So even though you will usually find this in the cheese section, we think it may be better suited to the dessert case. We also saw this cheese in the inimitable DiBruno Brothers in Philadelphia, so we are hoping it will be relatively common in cheese stores with better selections (or Zabar’s online). We think we have found the perfect dessert for cheese lovers (or cheese for dessert lovers)!

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The best grilled cheese in Astoria: The Queens Kickshaw

Being cheese lovers, M and I absolutely jumped at the chance to try what my cousin deemed “the best grilled cheese in Astoria” at the Queens Kickshaw (40-17 Broadway, Astoria, NY). The vibe inside was warm and cozy, and had the feel of a gastropub. There was a small but well-curated menu of grilled cheeses, along with burgers, soups and some other entrees. Not to mention a full menu of imported beers, coffee drinks and even mead. As for the grilled cheeses, Queens Kickshaw had the classic rendition of a grilled cheese, Cheddar & Mozzarella ($8.5) on a brioche roll, which was even served with a comforting cup of tomato soup. M got the gouda grilled cheese ($10), topped with black bean hummus, guava jam, pickled jalapeños, and with a side of green salad with jalapeño vinaigrette. L got a tomato burrata grilled cheese, ($12) on herb focaccia with heirloom tomatoes and herb pistou. How can we resist anything with burrata?

Gouda and Black Bean Grilled Cheese

Gouda and Black Bean Grilled Cheese by Garrett Ziegler

We figured they also would do other cheese-based dishes well, so I had to try the Mac ‘n Cheese ($14) which had a mix of Gruyere, cheddar and smoked mozzarella. The sandwiches were delicious and the cheese and bread were both extremely fresh. We also appreciated the interesting add-ins like black bean hummus and herb pistou that elevated the sandwich to another level. The gouda and black bean was definitely one of the best grilled cheeses we’d had recently, and we’d venture to say that it may be one of the best in the city. Not to mention that the Mac and Cheese was absolutely killer. What could more comforting (and tasty)? The Queens Kickshaw is definitely worth a stop if you get a craving for grilled cheese!

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Cheese in London: Neal’s Yard Dairy

One of the things we are looking forward to most in London is the vast variety of British cheeses (and nice cheese shops). The video below is from Neal’s Yard Dairy, one of England’s foremost artisinal cheese shops, which specializes in local cheeses from all around the British Isles. We can’t wait to visit! In this short video below, we get to visit some local producers making St. James, Tymsboro and Montgomery Cheddar cheeses. What are some of your favorite British cheeses to recommend?

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Report from the 4th Annual Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest

Wherein the Fearless and Intrepid Lindsay and Matt Consume Much Free Meats and Cheeses Before Purchasing Even More.

The Pastoral Artisan Producer Fest, an annual April tradition held in the Chicago French Market, serves up a crowd-pleasing recipe for disaster: free samples of meat, cheese, and alcohol to any hungry Chicagoan who wanders in the door. With nearly one-hundred locally-sourced, artisanal, and talented vendors, the Fest may be one of the city’s best opportunities to eat well at zero cost. When we arrived at 11am, no wonder the place was already packed to the gills.

Crowded.

Crowded. But worth it.

One can easily get overwhelmed in the crowds, and the many patrons cutting in line to get samples. Here’s the thing, though: there is enough for everybody. Really. As such we tried, as best we could, to take our time: wait in lines, sample everything we could, talk closely with the vendors and makers about their products, snap photos when we had the chance, and save our favorite selections for purchase at the Pastoral counter at the back of the market. So, we meandered amongst the fifty tables, each showcasing two of the nearly one hundred producers of fine meats, cheeses, wines, spirits, and other accompaniments from around the country. With this slow-going method, we sampled the offerings at about half the tables (snaking through the lines at all of them would have taken all day) and took special attention to spend time at the section devoted entirely to Wisconsin cheese makers.

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Prosciutto, salame, mortadella, etc. from Smoking Goose Meatery.

Matt quickly made a bee-line for the charcuterie purveyors. Deservedly, much praise has been heaped upon West Loop Salumi right here in Chicago, and we did love their selections. At the end of the day, though, we could not escape the draw of the Stagberry Salame (pictured at center in the above photo) made by Smoking Goose Meatery in Indianapolis. Stagberry features ground elk – a meat neither of us had tried before – studded with blueberries and soaked in honey wine. A brilliant balance of bold flavors, this hiking-trip in a sausage was worth every penny of its $36.99/lb price. At the end of the day we purchased half a stick for a very reasonable eight dollars.

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Little Napoleon (left) and Manchester (right) from Zingerman’s Creamery.

Cheese was everywhere at the fest, with over one third of the vendors dedicated specifically to cheese. Wisconsin, as we mentioned before, boasted its own section – including the amazing offering of a free map of Wisconsin cheesemakers, which now sits in our glove compartment in case of emergencies. We made a point, however, to venture outside the Dairy State this day: Zingerman’s Creamery in Ann Arbor, Michigan (above) served up samples of its aged, soft Manchester and Little Napoleon cheeses. We were also big fans of their burrata, a creamy mozzarella mixture, and went back for seconds. Our were won, however, by the Bijou produced by Vermont Creamery: a simple, French-inspirted, aged goat’s milk cheese that was perfect for spreading and reminded us of similar table offerings we often encountered in Portugal. At $10.99 for two, we took one and ate it for lunch (in addition to all the other samples we had).

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Helpful assistance with choosing at Pear Tree Preserves.

Finally, while meat and cheese ruled the day, we can’t overlook the other offerings. Patrons had a seemingly endless choice of wine and spirits, dessert items, as well as other accompaniments. A great match for many of the cheese would have been one of the local, organic fruit spreads orpreserves from Pear Tree Preserves, based right here in Chicago. We had a cherry preserve that was delectable, great for pairing, eating alone, or thickening into a pie filling. You can check out their current flavors list.

While we were forced to make purchases – and we hope others did as well, as it seems sinful to wade through all these free samples of skilled labor and not buy anything – honestly, we didn’t dislike a single thing we tried. As such, don’t consider our list exhaustive or best-of-the-best by any means. Take a look at the Fest’s vendor list, and support these local makers even if you did not have a chance to attend!

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Photo Series on Swiss Cheesemakers

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switzerlandThe Atlantic has an amazing photo series on Swiss cheese makers, the Murith family, during their seasonal production of Gruyere cheese. The pictures take the term “pastoral” to a whole new level.

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The Quark Cheese Revival

Topfentorte quark cheese cake with seasonal fruit at Cafe Sabarsky

Topfentorte quark cheese cake with seasonal fruit at Cafe Sabarsky by Loretta Hui

germanyThe first time we heard the word “Quark” our minds immediately went to the elementary particle and the publishing software (I guess we are a bit nerdy). However, much more appropriately to this blog, Quark can also refer to a type of fresh, un-aged cow’s milk cheese from Germany. While the name may not sound too appetizing, Quark is tasty and versatile, and can be used in any sweet or savory dish that calls for cream cheese or ricotta. Quark is popularly eaten in Germany for breakfast or as a snack (often with Nutella or fruit mix-ins). Popular recipes are quark kuchen/Käsekuchen, German cheesecake made with Quark, and Austrian TopfenstrudelThough it has always been popular in Europe, Quark is experiencing something of a revival in the US. Vermont Creamery has a version of Quark, and Quark is now made in the Midwest, too. Quark has even been popping up on Chicago menus. Apparently one of the easiest cheeses to master, you can even make your own Quark.

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Blu di Bufala Cheese at Purple Pig

ItalyPurple Pig in Chicago (500 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL) is one of our favorite places to get cheese or charcuterie, that is, if you are able to get a table at this tiny no-reservations spot (don’t count on it). Purple Pig has an extensive selection of well-curated cheeses from all over the world. Some on the list we had previously tried (Fontina, Lincoln Log and Robiola), while others were new to us (Quadrello, Iborez, St. Agur). You can make your own cheese plate for $7 per cheese, 3 for $19, or 5 for $32. One now-favorites we first encountered on the Purple Pig cheese list was Blu di Bufala. The name will likely give you a clue to its contents: a blue cheese made with buffalo milk.

Blu di Bufala

Blu di Bufala by Madame Fromage

Now we are practically obsessed with Mozzarella di Bufala, so we figured we would love this variety, and we were right. There was a strong blue flavor, but the cheese itself was extremely creamy – almost buttery – and it wasn’t overpowering at all. Blu di Bufala hails from Bergamo, Lombardy in northern Italy, and is made by Caseificio Quattro Portoni. This cheese was first made by the Gritti brothers who run Caseificio Quattro Portoni, in 2005, and it has already taken second place in the World Cheese Awards (yes, this is a real thing). Today the brothers manage a herd of 1,000 Water Buffalo to make the cheese. You can buy Blu di Bufala in cheese stores throughout the US, and online. If you can get your hands on some, Blu di Bufala is great for snacking, and for the ambitious, DiBruno Bros. has a creative recipe for a dessert grilled cheese with Blu di Bufala on chocolate cherry bread.

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The story behind Madison favorite, Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread

We absolutely love the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison. It is gigantic, and you can get pretty much any type of produce or baked good there. However, we are creatures of habit, and we make a fairly predictable round of purchases (Hook’s Cheddar, Heirloom Tomatoes, Cilantro, possibly honey, and a few others). One of things we have to get every time we visit is Stella’s hot and spicy cheese bread (which is as awesome as it sounds), and we know many others who feel the same. However, we never really knew the backstory behind the bread. WXOW has the inside scoop, and you may be surprised to learn its origins are actually related to tamale production. You can find the bread in other locations around town, but getting it at the farmer’s market is the best since it is delivered fresh and hot several times throughout the day. If you are far from Madison and craving some cheese bread, Stella’s ships. Or for the more ambitious, Badgerlicious has a DiY recipe.

Stella's Spicy Cheese Bread Stall

Stella’s Spicy Cheese Bread Stall & Crowd by Adam Fagen

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Spain Week at ETW: Spanish Cheeses

spainHappy Monday – Buenos días! This week is Spain Week at ETW. On our way back to Chicago from Lisbon we took a stopover in Madrid where we ate some excellent food. However, we never put up any of our posts, and the blog was quickly taken over by our updates from Brazil. Since we are back in the US we figured it would be the perfect time to share our Madrid culinary adventures with you. Stay tuned for a new post about cuisine from Madrid every day this week. To get you started, you can check out some of previous Spain posts on ETW.

Spanish Cheese

Spanish Cheese (l to r) Montenebro, Ibores, Mahon Curado – by Tenaya Darlington

To kick off the week, why not learn all about Spanish cheeses. Though Manchego is the best-known cheese from Spain, the country has a huge cheese culture with hundreds of varieties. Catavino has a wonderful series on Spanish cheese that gives a crash course on the country’s diverse dairy offerings, divided into cow, goat, sheep and mixed-milk cheeses. The New York Times has a piece on Spanish cheese from the region of Asturias, though that is not the only place cheese is produced in Spain, and there is even a National Cheese fest in Trujillo, in the region of Extremadura.

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Cheese at Brick Street Market in Delavan, WI

Brick Street Market
104 E Walworth Ave
Delavan, WI 53115

We took a little trip to Lake Geneva this past weekend to get away from the hustle and bustle of Chicago. We hit up our usual haunts, but are happy to report we found somewhere new (to us). We were going to our favorite antique store in nearby Delavan, WI (where we found some interesting postcards and stereograph slides), when we spotted Brick Street Market, right across from Delavan’s signature giraffe statue.

Brick Street Market Cheese Cooler

Brick Street Market Cheese Cooler

The front of the store is given over to a cheese cooler, along with a cute seating area. In the back there is a little wine cellar with an international selection of wines, along with other cheese related products (knives, boards, etc), coffee, jam and mustard. There is also a well-curated menu, including a selection of excellent-looking sandwiches, salads and a selection of cheese plates. 

Brick Street Market Cheese Flight

Brick Street Market Cheese Flight

A small cheese plate is only $3.50, but we opted for the heartier Single Cheese Flight ($9). While advertised as serving 1-2 persons, it easily served both of us for lunch. The staff selects the cheeses for you. Our plate included Manchego from León, Spain, Wisconsin-made Holland’s Herbed Gouda, and Hook’s Little Boy Blue sheep’s milk cheese. We also received crackers, quince jam, dried fruit and nuts, a bit of local raw honey for the blue cheese, and a delicious local salami from nearby Milwaukee. We were completely astounded at the quality of these cheese plate for a mere 9 dollars! Everything was completely delicious, and it was one of the most well-composed cheese plates we had recently, at any price.

Brick Street Market

Brick Street Market

On our way out we bought some 4-year aged Hook’s white cheddar to take home (our old favorite from the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison). Now after our travels, we are a pretty jaded bunch, but we felt more pleased after our visit to Brick Market than most of our recent trips. We have to go back very soon.

Delavan Giraffe

Delavan Giraffe

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Oka Cheese for Canada Day

canadaThough the most familiar Canadian cheese to American may be the cheese curds on Poutine, in honor of Canada Day, July 1st, we are featuring Oka, one of Canada’s native cheeses. Oka was created by trappist monks in Deux-Montagnes, Quebec in 1893 at the Abbey of Notre-Dame du Lac (known as Oka Abbey), where it earned its name. The recipe for Oka was sold by the Trappist monks in 1981 to a cheese co-op Agropur. The cheese is modeled after French Port Salut cheese, but was tweaked to have an original taste and to adapt to local conditions. Oka is a buttery, semi-soft cheese with an orange rind, which lends itself to a wide variety of recipes calling for a melty cheese (Grilled cheese or Mac and Cheese seem suited to Oka).  Food Network Canada has a gussied up version of Poutine with Oka, or how about Oka Fondue or an Oka and Tomato tart.

OkaCheese

Oka Cheese (left), a Canadian Classic by Christopher Porter

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Chihuahua Cheese’s (Queso Menonita) Mexican Mennonite Origins

Mexico FlagBack in the US we are very familiar with Chihuahua cheese (Queso Chihuahua) and have seen many recipes calling for the mild, slightly yellow cheese. However, we did not know much about its origins – and it turns out it has a rather unusual history.

Chihuahuacheese

Chihuahua Cheese by Mérida Hideaway

Chihuahua cheese, known for the Northern Mexican state where it is produced, is also known as Menonita cheese in Mexico. Yes, Menonita is “Mennonite” in Spanish – and it is indeed Mennonite cheese! Turns out there is a rather large Mennonite population in Mexico, having first arrived in the 1920s, and they were the ones who first produced the cheese. Though it has now been commercialized, you can still find Menonita cheese being made by Mennonites in the town of Cuauhtemoc, Chihuahua.

MennoniteMexico

A Mennonite sells cheese in Mexico by Cristiano Oliveira

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The origins of Macaroni and Cheese and Thomas Jefferson

In honor of Presidents Day – we decided to share a little bit of presidential food lore – according to food legend Macaroni and cheese was popularized in America by none other than Thomas Jefferson. Of course, macaroni and cheese, or as it was known then (simply as Macaroni) was very different than its modern-day counterpart, and consisted with pasta layered with butter and cheese. Jefferson didn’t invent Macaroni and Cheese, as similar recipes were already known in Europe, but he was one of the dish’s popularizers in the United States after he first sampled it in Europe. There is actually a historical record for Thomas Jefferson’s foodie discovery, he was fond of pasta and even requested a pasta machine from Europe, which was listed in his list of possessions moved from Philadelphia to Monticello, and he certainly served Macaroni at official functions. Macaroni and cheese is purported to have been served by Jefferson as early as 1802, and it appeared in the 1824 Virginia Housewife cookbook, recipe adapted here. So for helping to bring Macaroni and Cheese to the USA, we say, thank you Thomas Jefferson!

Virginia Housewife Mac and Cheese

Recipe for Macaroni and Cheese from the Virginia Housewife Cookbook, 1824

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Juustoleipä, or leipäjuusto: Finnish Bread Cheese

finlandRecently, there has been a post from the blog Dude Foods making the rounds of the blogosphere about a 100% cheese grilled cheese sandwich: the “bread” in this case is actually Finnish Bread cheese, and the filling is American cheese. So what exactly is “Finnish Bread Cheese?” It’s Finnish name is juustoleipä, or leipäjuusto (leipä=bread, juusto=cheese), and it is similar to the better-known (in the US) Halloumi, and Brazilian queijo coelho. The variety of  leipäjuusto Dude Foods used was from Carr Valley cheese in Wisconsin. In order to get the most of this cheese – it should be heated or broiled, giving it distinctive brown grill marks. Though there will probably be a run on this type of cheese for people hoping to recreate the epic “cheese grilled cheese”, there are many other recipes involving leipäjuusto. It pairs particularly well with fruit and jams and you can even dip it into coffee!

leipajuusto

Leipajuusto Finnish cheese and jam by Magnus Franklin

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Sweets for Australia Day: Milo Cheesecake

AustraliaHappy Australia Day! We love celebrating national holidays with the appropriate food, and look at how festive this nice Australian Milo cheesecake with chocolate crackle crust looks. Milo is a malt and chocolate powdered drink (similar to Ovaltine, but definitely different). We first tried Milo in Singapore, and it enjoys popularity all over the world, but we were surprised to hear it originated in Australia in the 1930s.

Australian Milo Cheesecake

Australian Milo Cheesecake from Raspberri Cupcakes

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Canada: Artisinal cheeses from the rare Canadienne cow

canadaCulture magazine had an interesting post about an effort to revive the rare Canadienne Cow, one of the oldest breeds in North America. The Canadienne cow was brought to Canada by French settlers in the 16th century, and though it was initially popular, it was gradually replaced by other varieties. Canadienne cows are now relatively rare, except in pockets of Quebec. However the Canadienne cow is making a comeback. Along with promoting the Canadienne cow comes the revival of unique cheeses only made with Canadienne milk, including the varieties made at La Laiterie Charlevoix.

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Discovering Portuguese Cheese

We’ve been in Lisbon for two weeks now, and have noticed the cheese and meat shops we expected to be so plentiful, well, aren’t. So, we have been searching around to find some good cheeses, and managed to pick up two at a small grocery store close to home on Lisbon’s far north side. They have a small, but well-stocked, meat and cheese counter, along with some bubbly-personality butchers and cheesemongers, which always make a purchase better.

Our first splurge was Castelo Branco, a semi-hard goat milk’s cheese named for the town where it originated in west-central Portugal. Castelo Branco packs a strong, pungent punch dispersed in a crumbly texture. It’s far too strong to eat on its own, but does make a great complementary flavor with something softer, like a simple salad or a pasta. We found it worked particularly well with a simple pesto pasta, which we have made a few times since we’ve been here. (M also decided to throw in some chouriço, but that is a different story).

Opening the refrigerator door every day and catching the wafting smells of the castelo branco made us opt for a slightly more mild second cheese. We opted for Flamengo, a semisoft cow’s milk cheese that is a staple on Portuguese sandwiches. It’s inoffensive, nutty, tasty, and melts very well – especially on grilled cheese sandwiches, we discovered. Flamengo usually comes in a red wax package, wrapped in red plastic or foil. Our brand was Terra Nostra (pictured right).

Over at CataVino, Andrea Smith has a great user’s guide to Portuguese cheeses that did a great job enlightening us to some of the finer points. Most interesting for us, Flamengo – Portuguese for “Flemish” – is actually a copy of Dutch edam (we knew it tasted familiar!).

And for those of you link-obsessed readers who clicked on all the links from this post, you will have noticed that our brand of flamengo is noted as “Natural dos Açores.” Does this mean we have officially eaten Azorean food? We think so. So with apologies to the hard work of Anthony Bourdain and his crew, up goes the flag!

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An American (Cheese) in Paris

It’s funny to imagine that a Wisconsin cheddar is a pricey luxury import abroad. But, according to the Wall Street Journal, this is increasingly the case, as American artisanal cheeses are making their way to Europe. This is a trend I approve of – hopefully it will change some attitudes that American Cheese = Velveeta.

dbbcheese

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Cheese Map of the UK and Ireland

cheeses_map_595_2united_kingdomDid you ever wonder EXACTLY where you British cheese come from? OK, so maybe I’m the only one – but I guess I must not be since there is apparently a World Cheese Book chockablock with cheese maps. Here’s Ireland from the World Cheese Book, You can find the UK Map at the BBC, where it was chosen as Mark Easton’s Map of the week in honor of the just-ended British Cheese Week.

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