The American writer and editor Clifton Fadiman once described cheese as "milk's leap toward immortality." James Joyce, on the other hand, wrote “Well and what's cheese? Corpse of milk.” If cheese is a corpse, then there are thousands of delicious zombies around the world — a kind of immortality.
How many cheeses are there? Charles de Gaulle was underestimating France's repertoire of them when he famously (and rhetorically) asked "How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?" Current estimates put the number of French cheeses at somewhere between 350 and 400. Worldwide there are, by some estimates, at least 1,750 kinds — and probably more, considering the industrial variations and all the offerings of the new small cheese producers setting up shop almost everywhere.
We've narrowed that immense number down to just 10 — cheeses from countries that are famous for their immortal milk (like Switzerland) and from places you probably didn't even know made cheese (like Ethiopia) — singling out cheeses so widely enjoyed in their respective countries that they are essential presences on many tables. The one cheese on this list whose presence isn't widespread in its homeland is China’s rushan, a street food unique to the Bai population of China’s Yunnan province — which just seemed too picturesque and delicious not to include.
Though we don't normally associate Asian countries with cheese, the world’s oldest cheese, dating back almost 4,000 years, was actually discovered in the tomb of a Chinese mummy. We found cheeses in other Asian countries, too. For Western nations with which we do associate cheese, we were careful to select examples that were popular yet specific — for example, instead of choosing generic mozzarella, we chose burrata, which has regional origins but is hardly obscure.
We left out the cheeses of many countries — like Spain, Germany, Ireland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Argentina, Canada, the United States, and many more — in the service of geographic diversity. But we have no shortage of articles about cheese at The Daily Meal. To start, you can check out our list of must-try Irish cheeses or learn to build the perfect Spanish cheese plate; if you’re in a wackier mood, read about the world’s smelliest cheeses or New York’s multitude of crazy cream cheese options.
Before we start cheese-waxing poetic, let’s start this tour of the world in 10 cheeses.
The texture of ayib cheese has been described as similar to that of cottage, ricotta, and feta. Very mild, it is often served along spicy food like gomen — collard greens spiced with onions, garlic, ginger, and green chiles — to offset the heat and soften the tongue. You can make a similar dish, Ethiopian Spiced Cottage Cheese with Greens, at home.
A whole burrata looks like a small, white money bag, with skin made of mozzarella and insides stuffed with fresh cream and curds left over from the production of mozzarella. Traditionally made using water buffalo milk, burrata is now more commonly made with cow’s milk. It was first made in the early twentieth century in the Apulia region of Italy.