Cheese is a staple of many cultures. The way a region enjoys its cheese can flavor not only its dishes, but can also be a reflection of the way its people approach life. From a hearty Bavarian side dish best enjoyed in a beer garden, to a mild but flavorful Arab delicacy often shared around the table, here are some of the best ways to enjoy cheese while traveling.
Bavaria offers much more than the beers during Oktoberfest. While sitting in a beer garden anywhere in the region, you'll find the breakfast veal sausage Weiswurst and the popular Indian-influenced Currywurst on the menu. Accompanying them you'll also often see kaesespaetzle, a popular dish akin to macaroni and cheese, with a gnocchi-like consistency due to its starchy origins. Sampling it, you'll be rewarded with a delicious, carb-packed snack dripping with Emmentaler cheese and covered in onions. It's been described as “what macaroni and cheese is trying to be.” The Swiss version may even be an ancestor to the popular American dish. (See other places you can celebrate Oktoberfest.)
Walk the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, and the smells of hummus and shawarma will waft from open windows, along with a cornucopia of Western foods available in this multicultural city nicknamed the “Paris of the Middle East.” On grills in every restaurant and street corner, you'll find the unremarkable-looking white halloumi, a mild cheese made from goat, sheep, and cow's milk and originating in nearby Cyprus. Don't be fooled by its humble appearance. The versatile cheese soaks up the flavors of the grill and will melt in your mouth. If you decide to try it in a restaurant instead of on the street (where you can buy it to eat plain, straight from the grill), you can find it in sandwiches, grilled with chicken, and placed on kebabs.
Ask Parisians to share their cheese knowledge and their enthusiasm may surprise you. In the quaint market neighborhood of Rue Cler, cheese shops line the street that is its namesake. Walk into any one of them and ask the fromager this question: Which brie should I try? You'll walk out with an armful of some of the best cheeses you have ever tasted (and baguettes, of course). Sample the light and firm to the heavy and gooey, and savor the variety of flavors, from sour to nutty.
Belo Horizonte, Brazil
Belo Horizonte, the small, modest capital of the Minas Gerais region in Brazil, is nevertheless universally considered the best place in the country for cheese. Its sprawling central market has hundreds of stalls just for cheese, and the notoriously friendly Brazilians will happily tell you all about each variety. Before you get overwhelmed, there is one snack you need to try as an introduction to Brazilian cheese: pao de queijo, or cheese bread. Made with tapioca flour, the cheesy rolls have a chewy texture that accentuates the mild but memorable flavor of the cheese. Even if you can't make it to Belo Horizonte, the Minas Gerais cheese, or queijo Minas, can be found on menus throughout the country, and you can find it in every form, from grilled to fried.
Quebec City, Quebec
Stroll along the river in historic Quebec City and pick any pub or café with a view of the water. It's the perfect place to sample a dish that could not be more uniquely Canadian: poutine. Usually served drenched in gravy (try any variation of maple syrup gravy) and covered in the delicious hard local cheddar, poutine is truly one of the most versatile of snacks. Originally from the English village of Cheddar, cheddar cheese is now produced in many places in the world, famously Wisconsin and other parts of the northern United States, including Quebec's neighboring Vermont. Poutine with cheddar is a treat: You'll be sampling two local delicacies at once.