There are hundreds and hundreds of cheeses, so there are probably quite a few you haven’t tried, especially if they don’t come from the usual suspects: France, Italy, the Netherlands, and other countries that produce cheese in humongous quantities. Some of these cheeses wouldn’t even get past U.S. customs, and others — from countries we don’t associate with cheese, like Tibet or Japan — you’ve probably never even heard of. It’s too bad you can’t readily buy these cheeses at your local market, but in the meantime, work with what you have and learn how to assemble a mean Spanish cheese plate for your next tapas party.
Some of the cheeses on this list look divine, and others, um, not so much. We might think these countries are crazy for eating some of these cheeses, but may we remind you that we here in New York have quite the array of crazy cheeses as well.
Casu Marzu is a Sardinian specialty made of rotten sheep's milk cheese that is decomposed and crawling with live insect larvae. Though declared illegal in the European Union, it is a thriving black market staple because of its supposed aphrodisiacal properties (and its wonderful taste, we guess).
Found in East India, Nepal, Tibet, and Bhutan, chhurpi cheese is made from buttermilk. It is similar to ricotta, but its long fermentation gives it a more tangy taste. In its soft form, it has a goat cheese-like consistency and is usually served alongside rice. The hard variety is made by dehydrating the cheese and letting it hang over a fire.
Leipäjuusto, also known as “Finnish squeaky cheese,” comes from cow’s beestings (the very first few amounts of milk it secretes), though reindeer and goat milk can also produce this cheese. You can get it made with regular milk, but since the cheese is already mild, it won’t taste like anything special. When served, it looks like a cake, and is served in slices alongside coffee; its charred top comes from being flambéed.
Oscypek cheese looks more like a loaf of bread than cheese, due to its wheatish complexion and patterned ridges. It is a smoked sheep’s milk cheese that can only be found in the Tatra Mountains region of Poland.
When you look at parenica, it doesn’t look like cheese as much as finely sculpted butter — the kind you would find on a table at a fancy, old-fashioned restaurant. A traditional Slovak cheese, it is steamed and smoked (giving it a burnt yellow color). It is produced in strips and rolled into intricate, snail-like circles.
We don’t normally associate cheese with Japan, but we do associate the Land of the Rising Sun with cherry blossoms. Sakura cheese is a soft white cheese that is wrapped and flavored with cherry mountain leaves. The cheese is so good it even won the gold medal at the 2004 Mountain Cheese Olympics in Appenzell, Switzerland — which is a contest that actually exists.