Europe doesn’t have a superiority complex about cheese. It’s served everywhere. You’re probably a European if you use “if” as an exclamation mark.
But you’re likely to love Europe if you’re looking for high-quality cheeses, as well as ideas for places to eat them.
Here, in no particular order, are the 12 cheeses we tested for aroma, visual impact, and texture:
Jacobsen Gruyère: Would any cheese be more spectacular than this, a smoldering, luxurious beast whose shape could be traced to one of Superman’s fistfuls of pebbles? It was at once creamy and clammy, and tasted of cheddar, mushrooms and Chardonnay — and more cheese. JYC 8.8/10
Hattori: Layering cacao nibs, black currants and almonds in the center of this soft milk-paste cheese is a great way to deepen flavors. And if you finish this on top of plain sliced bread with chopped cilantro and red chile paste, you’re a bona fide European. MRK 7.9/10
Merola: One of the world’s most extensive gastronomic centers, Montreal’s Merola is where a lot of American chefs get started. Meanwhile, this freakishly smooth cheese with mushrooms, crisp Parmesan and black olives is all their sweat and toil. MRK 8.5/10
Conforte: A spicy, flaky, bright-colored cheese that came closest to European cheeses we tasted, this round blue could easily complement other styles of cheeses. It’s dry enough for light eating, while tasting meaty and fruity. The beauty is its freshness, which is why it’s eaten fresh from the cold cream. MRK 7.8/10
Santa Cruz: This lumpy, buttery white cheese has a faintly smoky undertone and an enameled brown finish that have turned this mousse-like concoction into one of the world’s most respected blue cheeses. At $3.50 a pound, it’s also one of the least expensive in Paris. MRK 8.7/10
Chardonnay: This creamy cheese made from bits of blue that were cooked and then drained over milk, is served plain, with onions and olives, or with a loaf of sourdough. MRK 8.7/10
Panthère: This sweet-smoky cheese was the most pleasing, with an invitingly thick, pillowy texture and flavors of banana, nutmeg and cardamom. The Rhone region is credited with making the Chardonnay, which are still made commercially. L’Artista 7.3/10
Le Royal Tenderloin: Not widely available, this walnut-size cheese is really only one cheese: The walnuts, pickled-onion bits and pearls make it difficult to tell it apart from the cured beef, bacon and onion praline in the photo. STK 8.8/10
Gajaj: An Indo-Chinese cheese made from egg yolks, this almost paste-like cheese, with its bright blue milk color, has been heralded as a fundamental part of the melting-cheese pantheon. It’s a common ingredient in Asian cuisines; we’d be inclined to stir-fry it with chicken. STK 8.7/10
La Napolie des Jeunes: This elegant cheese is not particularly fragrant, but its salty taste has a lingering freshness. We found the flavours delicate and almost unashamedly sophisticated. The ingredients were combinations of milk, eggs, dried apricots, sunflower seeds and paprika. This wins the prize for sharpest flavor. MRK 8.6/10
Joey Baker: When looking for a farm-to-table cheese that’s downright refreshing, look no further than this gleaming blue cheese with its sharp, pure taste. Its texture was pleasantly textured, with lots of contrast of tangy-sweet. MRK 8.5/10
More information: American Cheese Society www.americanceces.org; Cheese Society www.cheese.org; Taste of France www.tasteoffrance.com.