How to Find The Best Artisan Cheeses, Anywhere

All this week, Sue Conley and Peggy Smith from Cowgirl Creamery will be sharing recipes from their forthcoming cookbook Cowgirl Creamery Cooks, answering our questions, and giving away a book every day.  

Today: How to hunt for the best cheeses, no matter where you live.

Cheese on Food52

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As Patrick Rance, one of the greatest cheese hunters of all time, wrote in his effort to catalog farmstead cheeses in France: Cheese hunting leads us to the most beautiful landscapes and rewards the traveler with unique flavors specific to the place. 

The best place to begin your own hunt is at the local farmers market or specialty cheese shop. Get the names of cheesemakers who might have visiting hours or are willing to give pre-arranged private tours. Here's we've laid out a few tips to help you find the best cheeses around you.

More: Find good cheese, then melt it into Panade.

Panade on Food52

1. Find the local farmers market by checking the national USDA directory or the non profit Local Harvest. The local Slow Food chapter is also a good source for finding local cheesemakers here in the states as well as overseas.

More: You can also find a farmers market near you with Real Time Farms.

2. Connect with government agencies that provide listings of the region’s agricultural products, like the California Department of Food and Agriculture, or France’s Appelation d’Origine Controlee.

3. Engage with agricultural non-profits and guilds. These organizations provide education and support for farmers and producers, like the American Farmland Trust, the American Cheese Society, and the Maine Cheese Guild.

Cheese Board on Provisions by Food52  Cheese Paper on Provisions by Food52

4. Start a notebook. After locating the cheese producer, record your impressions of the operation. Dig deep and get the details. What are the animals eating? What’s growing in the pasture? What’s the breed of the herd? How is the cheese made? Where is it aged? How does it taste?

More: Turn your cheese scraps into a flavorful vegetarian broth.

5. Bring along boots or an extra pair of shoes. Dairies are usually wet, muddy places. Don’t forget a cooler with ice packs and plastic bags to store the cheese in while wandering the countryside -- and maybe a knife and a cheeseboard, too.

Cheese photos by James Ransom; Panade photo by Christopher Hirscheimer and Melissa Hamilton

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • bethan
  • Emily
  • Jan Weber
    Jan Weber
Cowgirl Creamery launched in 1997, but our story began well before then. We met freshman year at the University of Tennessee where, little did we know, a lifelong friendship and infatuation with food would ensue. In 1976 our journey westward began. Once arriving in the Bay Area, we became involved in the burgeoning food movement at Chez Panisse and Bette's Oceanview Diner, both in Berkeley, CA. By the early 1990s, we were ready for a new challenge when we decided to launch Tomales Bay Foods, a marketing vehicle to help West Marin's farms and dairies get their delicious products into the hands of the Bay Area's finest chefs. From there, we decided to make our own cheese using the milk from neighboring Straus Family Creamery. Two decades, two creameries, four retail stores, and two thousand tons of cheese later, we still love what we do and have decided to bring our stories and recipes (dishes that use cheese not how to make cheese) to you in our first cookbook, Cowgirl Creamery Cooks.


bethan October 27, 2013
In the UK farmers markets and local produce stores are the best places to find artisan cheeses! The best cheese I have found in a while came from a lady who milked her own cows to make her cheese - you can't get closer to the source than that!
Emily October 25, 2013
I love the idea of a cheese notebook! Like a reading journal or wine-tasting journal . . . a effective and fun way to document one's tasting journey!

Jan W. October 25, 2013
Formaticum (Brooklyn, NY) makes an excellent Cheese Log for recording your cheese tastings in great detail.