Real lovers of cheese aren’t satisfied with a dusting of parmigiano. These thirteen dishes showcase the world’s best cheeses in truly lavish proportions. So if your heart is gladdened by gruyère or you say “halleluiah” at halloumi, loosen your belt for these wicked ways with cheese...
What started as a ruse to use up leftover bread and cheese is now a button-popping highlight of any trip to Switzerland. Today’s recipes bubble gruyère, garlic and lashings of white wine in a caquelon (communal dish). Cubed day-old bread is twirled in the stringy mixture using long-stemmed forks. Fondues are usually accompanied by crisp crudités – and half-hearted promises to burn the calories on a hike in the Jura.
So you think Chinese food is light on dairy? Not so: mountainous Yunnan produces an unctuous goat's cheese, rubing. This meaty-textured cheese is served chargrilled in huge slices, accompanied with sugar for dipping, or sizzled with vegetables. If you can’t nibble it in its region of origin, Beijing’s Little Yunnan (28 Donghuangchenggen Beijie) sears some of the best.
Hearty cuisine is essential in the raw wilderness of the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and few dishes ensure your survival in these fog-draped peaks quite like mămăligă cu branza – a porridge of cornmeal layered with rich sheep's cheese. The best eateries will drown your polenta in the good stuff; Laci Csarda in Târgu-Mures is especially generous.
Wondering about the freshly-baked fragrance that floats out from Tbilisi's eateries? Follow your nose to the khachapuri, an oval-shaped loaf baked around a pool of melted cheese and topped with an egg. Think of it as Georgian pizza, with the emphasis on excellent puffy dough and ample cheese (usually salty local sulguni).
Need your cheese with a bit more kick? Mexican cheese aficionados whip up a sauce of chorizo, chillies and onions to accompany a rich bowl of melted cheese. The finishing touch is a flambé, where tequila or rum is poured onto the cheese and lit. Only then is it combined with the spicy sauce and scooped greedily onto tortillas.
It would be an injustice to France's most famous soft, rinded cheese to nibble a small wedge. Make it the centrepiece of your meal by having it baked. Sometimes it'll be crumbed, sometimes simply drizzled with olive oil and speared by a sprig of thyme. What's guaranteed is a steaming round of cheese, just waiting to be punctured by a hunk of baguette.
Don't let the word 'salad' fool you. Huge door-wedge-sized chunks of this sheep's cheese, sprinkled with oregano, are the salty showpiece for a medley of tomato, onion, cucumber and olives. And as if the creamy tang of feta wasn't indulgent enough, Greek salad is swimming with rich olive oil. Still not full? Neighbouring Bulgaria dishes up a similar salad, shopska, with even bigger portions of cheese.
Ghee-drenched okra, aubergines simmered in rich sauces… with the world's lowest meat consumption, it makes sense that India has a wonderfully indulgent approach to vegetarian cuisine. And paneer – a simple, unaged, farmhouse cheese – is a key ingredient for many dishes. There's no more decadent way to enjoy this chewy cheese than in mattar paneer, where it’s lovingly simmered in a creamy tomato sauce with peas. Mop up the mixture with smoky stone-baked naan.
Don't get between a Cypriot and their halloumi. This briny cheese, which makes a characteristic squeak as you chew it, is Cyprus' biggest global export and a source of immense island pride. Pressed from a blend of sheep's and goat's milk, the cheese is almost weapons-grade: it has a very high melting point, making it ideal for barbecues. Savour halloumi simply, with a squeeze of lemon or some cooling watermelon.
No one can argue that a crispy pizza is one of the finest vehicles for cheese. But the Windy City upped the ante with the creation of the deep dish base. More like a pie crust than a flatbread, this wicked tweak in design allows an extra 2cm or so to be filled with tomato sauce, pepperoni, and of course a sea of bubbling mozzarella. Try it at Uno Pizzeria, which claims to have masterminded Chicago-style pizza.
In Bavaria, beer and cheese are best of friends. Soft cheeses, butter, spices and a healthy splash of beer are whipped into thick Obatzda, which practically begs to be swiped with a pretzel. Local wisdom says Obatzda is ideal to line your stomach before a session in Munich’s beer halls. You never know, the kick from horseradish and caraway might even have a sobering effect – prost!
On tables across France, and especially in the Savoie region, medieval-looking contraptions are used to hoist hefty half-moons of cheese next to heaters. Use a wooden spatula to massage the melting cheese onto potatoes, and adjust the distance between the smoky raclette and heater, depending on how quickly you’re chowing down. Guzzle one at La Chaudanne in Morzine, then pedal it off on the area’s superb mountain biking trails.
In most cheesecake recipes, cream cheese takes a back seat to other flavours. But not in in Central and Eastern Europe, where grainy ricotta and other soft cheeses have centre stage. In Hungary, cottage cheese is sweetened and layered onto a layer of dough before baking. With sour cream to bring out the unctuous flavour and fresh fruit toppings a mere afterthought, there’s no finer finish to a cheese-lover’s tour of the world.