You can go through decades wondering where your life is taking you, and then one day, it can dawn on you. The thing that’s been missing from your existence is a cheese-fuelled train journey across Europe, sampling the most celebrated cheeses the continent has to offer.
Okay, that might be a little over the top, but you get the point. Europe does two things well: trains and cheese. So why not put them together and go on a voyage across its green and verdant land, sampling various dairy-laden wonders along the way?
Here’s our cheese Interrail of Europe!
Begin your journey in Liege, Belgium, with Fromage De Herve
While Belgium doesn’t often feature in the annals of cheese-making greatness, it does have one “Protected Destination of Origin” to its name: the cow’s milk cheese Fromage de Herve.
The story of Fromage de Herve starts in the 13th century just a few miles to the east of the town of Liege. Like so many other Northern European cheesemakers of the era, the early Belgians wanted to create something that could withstand the salty, briny local climate while promoting the growth of a particular bacteria, B. Linens. They wound up coming to the same solution as the Dutch: encasing the cheese in an edible rind that helped it to mature into something elegant, decadent, and creamy. By encouraging the growth of B. linens and suppressing moulds, the cheese takes on an almost grassy flavour, making it the ideal accompaniment to beer.
Stop off at Edam in the Low Countries for some… well, you guessed it, Edam!
Edam is the next stop on our interrailing tour, a small Dutch village in the northwest of the country. Edam is famous all over the world for its mild taste and semi-hardness.
While the Edam cheeses you import all have a similar style, local versions vary a lot. When the cheese is young, it is mild and sweet, and the texture is quite bouncy and firm. As it matures, however, the flavours intensify: the saltiness of the cheese remains, but it’s not longer the overriding factor. Other zesty apple and pear notes come to the fore, and the texture takes on a far crumblier character.
Next stop, Munich for some Bavarian Blue
Next stop on our journey is Munich, the capital of Bavaria, some three hundred miles to the south. While Roquefort might be the more famous, there’s no doubt that Bavarian Blue is a cheese lover’s favourite.
Bavarian Blue is actually rather recent – far more so than its French counterpart. Basil Weixler invented it at the turn of the twentieth century after experiencing Roquefort himself on his travels to Franch. The cheese was so enchanting to Weixler that he just had to make it himself.
The only problem he faced was the fact that there were no sheep around to milk (the French use sheep’s milk when making their famous blue). So he opted to copy the process using dairy from cows instead, creating a similar, but not identical cheese in the process.
If you haven’t tried it before, Bavarian blue is creamier and smoother than its French relative. And, thanks to its mild taste, it’s perfect for breakfast.
Head to the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia for Pag cheese
Many people travel to Croatia’s enigmatic Dalmatian Coast for a spot of vacation, but that’s not the only draw of the area. Take the train to one of the stops along the coast, and you’ll discover “Paski Sir”, also known as Pag Cheese.
Pag cheese is made from the milk of local sheep who graze the salty, herby foliage along the Dalmation coast. The richness of their diet means that their milk has a high-fat content, making it ideal for cheese making, and giving Pag cheese it’s sensational flavours.
Pag cheese should be matured for twelve months before consumption.
Continue down through the Adriatic for some Greek feta
People have been travelling to Greece for the food for hundreds of years, if not longer, and one of the biggest draws is the country’s famous feta cheese.
Feta is a distinct part of Greek culture and hearkens back to the days of Homer and the Iliad. The cheese is made from the milk of sheep and goats who traverse the country’s many mountain ranges. Manufacturers create curd from the milk, and then store it in brine, without exposing it to heat, to give it its distinctive texture and crumbliness.
Feta needs around two months to mature. The best time of year to sample the cheese is from April to mid-June when the grazing land for the goats and sheep is at its richest.
The Greeks eat feta all across the country, from Thessaloniki to Athens, and serve it salad and olives.
Hook back around to Emiligia-Romagna for some classic Parmigiano Reggiano
Parmigiano Reggiano, also known as Parmesan, is one of Italy’s most successful exports. And while it might seem like an obvious choice, the story of the cheese isn’t as mundane as you might at first imagine.
Just like Belgium’s Fromage de Herve, Parmigiana Reggiano has Protected Destination of Origin status. All of the Parmesan in the world is made by only a handful of small-scale, heavily regulated, artisan producers that churn the stuff out by the bucket load to keep pace with global demand. Just 500 dairies make around three million wheels of cheese per year in facilities that haven’t changed in over a century.
Finish your journey in the Loire Valley, the most famous cheese-making region on earth
Once you’ve finished in northern Italy, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to France’s Loire Valley, one of the most famous cheese-making regions on Earth. Take the train to Chambourg-Sur-Indre where you’ll find many delicatessens and restaurants serving dishes incorporating Valencay, a goat’s cheese that for which the region is famous.
Valencay is famous for its half-pyramid shape – something that the local cheesemakers use to drain the fluid from the cheese during the setting. The cheese is slightly acidic and peppery, and pairs exceptionally well with French bread.
Take a look at this trip on Interrail Planner.