From Iceland to Italy, a Wisconsinite cheesehead’s guide to European cheese


While many stereotypes are far from true, the one about Wisconsinites and their cheese certainly holds true for me – although being from the state probably wasn’t the reason I fell in love with this one.

Growing up in a Hasidic Jewish family with more than a dozen children, cheese seemed more valuable than gold. My parents kept kosher and all of our cheeses had to be made with Chalav Yisroel milk, which means he had a special certification that a Jew had overseen the entire milking process and made sure that the cow’s milk was not produced. was not mixed with that of another animal. milk, which was often the case historically.

Poverty also added to the appeal of cheese.

For most of my childhood, almost all the cheese we ate was whatever we got from WIC. The volume depended on how many pups were eligible for the supplemental nutrition program in the family at the time. Some years we had just four 8-ounce sticks of cheddar cheese to share among all of us. However, we made it count.

The joy was palpable when we got those four precious cheddar sticks and watched the orange blocks turn into delicious macaroni and cheese. Maybe it was the luxury of a hot meal, or maybe my Wisconsin roots – but whatever the reason, I fell in love with cheese.


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My tastes improved with age (much like good cheese tends to). Cheddar blocks turned into fried cheese curds, which turned into intricately designed charcuterie boards and trips to specialty cheese stores. When was the time to plan my European honeymoon this year – a late treat for my wife and I after a pandemic uninvited wedding “I knew I just had to eat as many tangy, creamy, aromatic cheeses as possible.

Iceland

Our first and last stop on our honeymoon was Iceland, which most people don’t associate with cheese. I know not, but there was cheese everywhere. Breakfast at Silice Hotel included an assortment of cheeses. I sat by the window, eating a slice of Icelandic gouda which had the texture of silk and a remarkably delicate flavor.

Later I discovered my new favorite blue cheese at Heavenly lagoon in Kópavogur. Auður is particularly tasty because where most blue cheeses are produced with around 26% milk fat, it is made with whole milk with 33% milk fat. When paired with moist, steamed Icelandic bread and tangy blueberry jam, this is the perfect combination. I might come back to Iceland just to eat it again!

Italy

I have eaten Parmesan cheese in the United States before, but usually it’s grated on or in something. However, when we took a boat ride from Lake Como I opened the food provided to us by the host and found large chunks of Parmigiano Reggiano. Apparently Italians just eat pieces of it! When paired with prosecco – along with the gentle breeze and breathtaking views – the fruity, tangy, and slightly grainy bite was perfect.

Switzerland

Just like cheddar cheese, I have memories of Swiss cheese from my youth. My father gave it to me once with a warning: “You’ll have to wait six hours before you can eat meat, Musia!”

Practicing Jews do not eat meat and dairy together, although when they eat most dairy products, one hour is enough time to wait before eating meat again. However, my father informed me that aged cheese, like Swiss, is the exception and it takes a full six hours; this has deterred me from eating Swiss cheese to this day.

But when I planned my trip to Switzerland, I knew I wanted to try Swiss cheese – but not that Swiss cheese. I’m a girl from Wisconsin who was obsessed with cheese and after watching fondue videos over and over again, this was definitely on the route.

However, it ultimately looked nothing like the videos I had watched so diligently. When we tried to blindly order from Auberge de Savièse, we were gently redirected to the fondue that they thought we would like better. “It’s tastier,” the waiter told me.

We were served pieces of crusty bread and a pot of bubbling Gruyere, mixed with other cheeses and dry white wine. As soon as the creamy cheese soaked bread hit my tongue, all of my worries just melted away. It was paradise.

While I can’t take home all the cheeses I’ve tried with me, I will be bringing this Swiss fondue recipe home where it will stay on my list of party recipes all the time. I wonder what would it taste like with Wisconsin cheddar?

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