Trying to decide which 11 of the world’s best cheeses are most worthy of praise is close to impossible. France alone would be a challenge (as Charles de Gaulle once famously said, “How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?”) To help with the selection process, we used a few criteria to narrow down the field. Quality was of course our first standard, and each cheese chosen had be considered one of the best, either by cheese experts, certifying bodies, food writers, chefs, or each country’s people — or, most likely, some combination of the above.
Second, we chose our selections based on location, with an eye to geographic diversity; after all, this isn’t just a list of the best cheeses in France and Italy. For a few EU-produced cheeses, we used shorthand and chose cheeses that were in the list of registered PDO cheeses and/or individual countries’ lists of registered, quality-designated cheeses such as AOC and DOP. What does all this alphabet soup mean?
PDO stands for "Protected Designation of Origin," a product label established by European Union law in 1992 to protect the names of regional foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Jambon de Bayonne. It’s similar to the EU wine laws of AOC (appellation d'origine contrôlée or "controlled designation of origin”), and this designation protects the integrity of food products’ ingredients, breeds, and terroir, location, culture, history, and production methods, and also indicates exceptional quality.
Authenticity, local traditions, and protection from unfair or fraudulent competition are at the core of the regulations, and food products like wine, cheese, ham, chicken, olive oil, fruit, and vegetables all fall under PDO classification. If you are in doubt about the authenticity of a cheese from the EU, you can search by name here. Sadly, the U.S. doesn’t recognize these certifications, which is why you can find cheese made in America labeled as feta, parmesan, etc.