American cheese once got very little respect, but things are changing. Here are 10 iconic American artisanal cheeses that you should try.

By Christine Clark
February 12, 2020
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Gone are the days when "American cheese" meant "a floppy yellow slice of something mediocre." For years, American-made cheese has been gaining delicious, delicious traction, and in 2019, an American-made cheese was named best in the world at the World Cheese Awards.

Looking for some excellent American cheese to try? Here are 10 of the most iconic American artisanal cheeses out there.

1. Humboldt Fog | California

There are few American cheeses more iconic than Humboldt Fog from Cypress Grove. A soft-ripened goat's milk cheese with a line of vegetable ash running through it (much like the classic Morbier), Humboldt Fog is the perfect cheese to convert goat cheese haters. Its fudgy texture and bright lemony flavor has made it a favorite of millions. If you're a truffle fan, try its truffle-speckled sister Truffle Tremor. Humboldt Fog is lovely with lemon curd.

Buy it: $40/pound;

2. Pleasant Ridge Reserve | Wisconsin

Pleasant Ridge Reserve from Uplands Creamery is the most awarded-cheese in American history, and after tasting it, it's easy to see why. When cows graze on pasture, the flavor and nutrients in their milk skyrockets, and therefore cheesemaker Andy Hatch only makes Pleasant Ridge Reserve between May and October when his herd can graze on lush summer pasture.

"Because we're very particular about using milk from only the best pasture conditions," the Uplands website explains, "the weather largely determines how many batches we can make in a year." Made in the same style as Gruyere or Beaufort, Pleasant Ridge's flavor varies from batch to batch but always has a sort of caramel beef broth note with a delightfully fruity finish. Enjoy with a drizzle of caramel and call it a day.

Buy it: $25/pound;

Cheese wheel halves wrapped in silver paper. The cheese is yellowed with veins of bluing.

3. Maytag Blue Cheese | Iowa

Most of the artisanal American cheeses we know and love came around after the American cheese renaissance of the '80s and '90s. Maytag Blue has been made and aged in the Maytag family's Iowa caves since 1941, thanks to the work of researchers at the University of Iowa who created the recipe. Still made with the fresh local milk of prize Holstein cattle, this classic blue cheese is known for its tangy, peppery bite. It's perfect to crumble over steak or a salad, but also is lovely on a cheese board with some cured meat. And, yes, it's from the same family as Maytag washing machines.

Buy it: $17/pound;

4. Cabot Clothbound Cheddar | Vermont

Cabot Clothbound is a collaboration between two giants of American cheesemaking — Cabot Creamery and Jasper Hill, both in Vermont. Cabot Creamery makes special wheels of cheddar, which are sent to the Cellars at Jasper Hill to be rubbed in lard and wrapped in cloth, an old English process that creates a sort of rind to protect the cheese as it ages. The flavors can vary between batches, though you'll often get a sort of savory baked potato quality or a sweetness reminiscent of peanut brittle. Cabot Clothbound is never better than with slices of crisp, tart apples.

Buy it: $30/pound;

5. Laura Chenel Fresh Goat Cheese | California

Before Laura Chenel started her tiny Sonoma goat cheese operation in 1979, there was no goat cheese being made commercially in the U.S. But, thanks to Laura's passion, hard work, and the fact that Alice Waters put in a weekly order of Laura's cheese to top the famed Chez Panisse mixed greens salad, goat cheese caught on and is widely available in the U.S. today. The Laura Chenel fresh goat cheese is clean, fresh, and vibrant — perfect for cooking or crumbled on a cheese board. For lovers of mustard, pickles, and other vinegar-heavy foods, there's nothing better than scooping up some Laura Chenel fresh goat cheese with a salt and vinegar chip.

6. Vermont Shepherd Verano | Vermont

Vermont Shepherd, based in Putney, Vermont, is one of the country's oldest sheep farms, making what The New York Times has called "one of the country's best cheeses." After buying the farm from his parents in the 1990s, David Major traveled to the French Pyrenées and became inspired by the sheep's milk cheeses there. Aged in the family's caves, herbaceous, earthy Verano is their pure sheep's milk cheese only made in the summer when the sheep are grazing on fresh pasture. Also excellent is Invierno, their winter milk cheese made with a mix of their sheep's milk and the organic cow's milk from their neighbors. Enjoy with mixed nuts.

Buy it: $40/pound;

Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam
Credit: Cowgirl Creamery

7. Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam | California

Mt. Tam, named after the nearby Mt. Tamalpais in Northern California, is made with fresh organic milk by Cowgirl Creamery. This beautiful brie-style triple cream cheese has notes of grass, cultured butter, and white button mushrooms. For utter bliss, serve with a dollop of raspberry jam.

Buy it: $33/pound;

8. Vermont Creamery Bonne Bouche | Vermont

Bonne Bouche, with its speckled grey wrinkly rind, looks a little scary and tastes absolutely wonderful. The wrinkles, technically a mold called geotrichum candidum, ripens the cheese, leaving a halo of ooze (called the "creamline") around the chalkier interior, called the "paste." Vermont Creamery has long been known for their lovely cultured butter, crème fraiche, and fresh goat cheese and branched into soft-ripened goat cheeses in the early 2000s. Bonne Bouche gets its mottled rind from a dusting of vegetable ash, which encourages the delicate geotrichum mold to develop. Bonne Bouche tastes like fresh bread, hay, and citrus and is excellent smeared on a baguette.

Buy it: $13/wheel;

9. Vella Dry Jack | California

Vella Dry Jack is an American original. Monterey Jack was originally made by monks in Monterey, California, but at some point, an anonymous (perhaps disgruntled?) monk snuck the recipe to David Jack, who started making it for the mass market. Dry Jack was said to have been somewhat of an accident — some forgotten wheels were discovered and sold, much to the delight of the nearby immigrants who missed their Italian grating cheese, but couldn't get it, thanks to World War I. Dense, buttery, and nutty, Dry Jack is rubbed with oil, black pepper, and cocoa powder as it ages. Grate it over your pasta or serve it on a cheese board with black pepper crackers.

Buy it: $37/pound;

Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson
Credit: Amazon

10. Meadow Creek Dairy Grayson | Virginia

Funky, unctuous Grayson is made in Virginia by the Feete family between March and December when their herd of Jersey cows can graze on the native grasses and legumes. Modeled after the classic French Reblochon, Grayson smells like unwashed socks and tastes like bacon, roasted peanuts, and a freshly-mowed pasture. Enjoy with your favorite salami and a frosty beer.

Buy it: $24/pound;

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