The 14 Types Of Cheese That Are Best To Splurge On

According to Wisconsin Cheese, estimates put the number of cheeses worldwide at over 1,800. Across that span, you can encounter varying quality and price points, and trying to discern a good cheese can be difficult (though there are some unique cheeses out there you should try at least once). We consulted Matthew McClure, Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director at Vermont's Woodstock Inn & Resort. McClure's reputation for championing local ingredients makes his compunction for Vermont's cheese industry a natural fit.

While regions have reputations for good cheese, McClure worries more about milk quality, "The better the milk, the better the cheese." This declaration isn't to disqualify the microclimate of an area before and after the cheese is made, however. "Where the cheese gets aged can dramatically affect the cheese just like the quality of the milk," he continues. We'll find along the way that notable regions and styles from them have significant contributing factors to the milk's quality, be it sheep's milk, goat's milk, or cow's milk. Using those two factors as a starting point, we can dub the cheeses below among those worth some extra dollars. The list isn't exhaustive, and remember that "splurge" can mean different things to different people.

Pecorino Romano

This sheep's milk cheese originated in the present-day Lazio region of Italy over 2,000 years ago, according to the Consortium for the Protection of Pecorino Romano Cheese. Roman royalty enjoyed it at feasts, and due to its longevity and nutritional value, Roman troops' daily rations included 27 grams.

With a name derived from pecora (sheep), those pecori are necessary components for the cheese's creation. Much of the production relocated to Sardinia, which boasts a sheep population that outnumbers humans by 1.3 million, and the grazing grass and herbs to create the milk for Pecorino's distinctive taste.

The cheese goes through a series of saltings during the aging process. When intended as a table cheese, Pecorino is aged for a minimum of four months and has a lightly spicy and tangy flavor, conveying the grass and herb diet of the sheep. The grating version many people outside of Italy are familiar with has a spice flavor intensified by at least six months of aging. This version is the non-negotiable ingredient for cacio e pepe, giving the Roman mac and cheese dish its distinctive flavor. Prices range from $15 to $20 per pound for this dense sheep's cheese.

Vermont cheddar

Depending on where you're from, you might take issue with this recommendation. (We see you, Wisconsin.) In an interview with Vermont Public Radio, cheesemonger Gordon Edgar notes what makes Vermont cheddar stand out, focusing on its bitter, sharp, and more sulfury tones than those of other cheddars. McClure cites Vermont's milk's " [higher] butterfat and protein content" in creating the texture and distinctive flavor. Edgar takes the credit a step further, addressing the mineral content in the water and soil quality that helps contribute to the milk's quality. There's no standard for pasteurizing cheddar, so the environment likely contributes to its distinctive flavor.

With more than 45 cheesemakers in the state, techniques vary, as there is no standard of what makes cheddar other than cow's milk, the cheese contains less than 39% moisture, and it undergoes cheddaring. Cheddaring is a process of cutting curds into blocks, stacking them, and rotating and re-stacking them, which acidifies the curd and gives it its distinctive texture before aging for a minimum of two to three months, with longer aging producing a sharper cheese. Looking at the milk's physical properties and the nuances of terroir, Vermont cheddar might be worth the extra dollars.

Aged gouda

Gouda has a history dating to the 10th century, which is a good run, not considering Pecorino's longevity. Gouda is not a protected name under European or international law, meaning it can be produced anywhere, with varying quality. Many of you are familiar with the red wax-wrapped young gouda, with a sweet and creamy taste and texture. Or perhaps you've crossed paths with the brown-skinned smoked gouda, also a young version of the cheese.

Aged gouda, though, takes on a markedly different flavor profile than its younger siblings. Gouda curds, typically cow's milk, are washed in hot water before pressing, ridding it of some of its lactose. This washing process provides less food for lactic bacteria to convert into acid, maintaining the sweeter taste of the milk, and avoiding the sharpness of cheeses like cheddar. Water evaporates as the cheese ages for up to two years, and the sweetness intensifies while proteins meet and create tyrosine and calcium lactate deposits or cheese crystals. The smooth texture, punctuated by the naturally occurring crunchiness and the concentrated sweetness, makes a two-year gouda a treat.


Taleggio isn't for the faint of heart. This Italian semi-soft cow's milk cheese, named after the caves of Val Taleggio where it was first aged, gets its pungent aroma and surprisingly mild flavor from smear-ripening. In "Cheese (Fourth edition)," the effects of smear-ripening are described as a gooey, red-orange smear that develops on the surface of the cheese. Sounds good. Should we continue? Smear ripening is covering the surface of the cheese with a culture of yeast and bacteria to kickstart the ripening process.

Process aside, Taleggio has a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, contains 48% milk fat, possesses a mild, fruity flavor, despite the sulfury aroma, and is made with pasteurized or non-pasteurized milk. "Raw milk gives you more terroir of the flavors but pasteurized gives you more consistency," McClure says. In many Taleggios, the fruity, floral notes are a testimonial to that terroir in addition to the aging process. Taleggio stands strong alone on a cheese board, in a grilled cheese, or ramps up mac and cheese.

Tomme de Savoie

Another semi-soft cow's milk cheese, this time originating from the Savoie or Haute-Savoie region of France, although there are multiple tommes, each named for the village or region of their origin. The raw milk cheese speaks to the terroir from alpine areas the cows graze in, as McClure described previously.

Tomme is a leaner cheese. Makers remove the cream from the milk before starting the cheesemaking process, yielding a lower fat content of 20% to 40%. After packing it into 1-to-2 kilo rounds, the cheese is pressed during aging, controlling the development of air holes, or eyes, during fermentation. A thick grey rind develops during the two-to-four-month aging process, concealing a pale, creamy, ivory-colored flesh.

After aging, the tomme has an earthy, barnyard aroma, and the intricacies of its flavor vary with the production season, as the cows dine on hay in the winter and alpine grass in the summer. Generally, one can count on a mushroomy flavor accentuated with bits of citrus, nuts, and grass in their tomme, no matter the season. It's another cheese that can stand alone but is also a good backbone ingredient for dishes like pommes aligot.


There are very few occasions where the unique comté cheese isn't appropriate. In its younger forms, it's perfect for sandwiches, melting, baking, or fondue, while an aged comté will hold court on a cheese plate just fine. Comté is a PDO product originating from the mountainous Jura Massif region of France, where cows get to dine on alpine grasses before their raw milk (there's that terroir again) is transformed into cheese. It's a cooked cheese, where after the milk coagulates from the addition of rennet, the cheesemaker heats the curds to make them pliable before shaping them into wheels and pressing them to remove the whey. The wheels get a treatment of sea salt and yeast before heading into a cave in the Alps for aging.

Young comté is after four months, while older, more refined wheels sit for two years before making their debut. claims there are approximately 83 flavors associated with a mature version, the most consistent being the nuttiness associated with brown butter, while others note nutmeg or celery leaves. Younger versions skew towards the nutty flavors already described. Because of its nuanced flavor and versatility, comté is not a cheese to pass up lightly.


It's difficult to pinpoint the exact age of "The King of English Cheeses." In 1724, writer Daniel Defoe proclaimed it the English Parmesan, so we know it existed before that point. This pasteurized cow's milk bleu cheese has a PDO designation. Production is limited to Leicestershire, Derbyshire, or Nottinghamshire, with only six producers currently in operation, according to the Academy of Cheese.

After inoculating the milk with starter cultures, the bleu mold Penicillium roqueforti, and rennet, the cheese is shaped into cylinders and aged without pressing or turning, which forms a loose shape and structure that facilitates mold to grow in veins when the time is right. After five weeks, makers drive spikes into the cheese, allowing oxygen to enter and the mold to bloom and work its magic as it ages for another seven to eight weeks. Young Stilton has the usual suspects for a bleu flavor profile; salty, spicy, and strong, but it settles out to umami and fruitiness as it ages and skews more expensive than its counterparts, with prices from the high $20's to high $50's.


In sheep's milk cheese, McClure recommends looking for "lanolin [flavors] but not too wooly. A dense structure with higher fat and protein, not crumbly." With a subtle lanolin flavor and smoky notes that honor the tradition of drying the cheeses by the fire, Idiazábal hits those marks. It brings nutty flavors when it's young that develop into flavors of roasted meat and caramel as it ages. It's worth noting that not all are smoked, so ask your cheesemonger if you're in doubt.

The richness of the milk from the particular sheep breeds used in making Idiazábal lends a buttery texture that compliments the gaminess the lanolin provides. Its PDO designation dictates that milk used comes from Latxa or Carranza sheep from the northern Spanish Basque or Navarra regions. The sheep dine on high-pasture grass in the summer, with their raw milk processed during those months before the cheese undergoes light pressing and aging for a minimum of two months. The limited production timespan and breed restrictions add some rarity to Idiazábal, which is reflected in its price more so than its cousin, Manchego.


Generalizing in the way Americans do, alpine-style cheeses made in Wisconsin by Swiss immigrants collectively became known as "Swiss" cheese. Among those alpine styles was Emmental (or Emmentaler), the prototypical, large-eyed, slightly nutty cheese we associate with the loaves found in deli cases.

There are at least four registered geographic areas that produce Emmental, all in the vicinity of Bern, Switzerland. Ending further comparison with mass-produced Swiss cheese, Emmental comes from unpasteurized cow's milk, with the cows spending the warmer months grazing on alpine grass, along with native herbs and flowers. The complex fermentation that creates the eyes in the cheese is considered one of the more complicated processes in cheese making. In contrast with the nutty flavor of Swiss, Emmental has a more buttery, fruity flavor when young, which matures to a spicier, saltier flavor as it ages. At 18 months, there's little resemblance to the grocery store Swiss, with a denser texture more akin to Pecorino, which might pair best with a lower-proof bourbon.

Parmigiano Reggiano

Parmigiano Reggiano and grocery store "Parmesan" share little in common, save that they're pale and sometimes grated. Parmigiano Reggiano is an Italian POD cheese produced within a triangular area roughly bounded by Mantua, Bologna, and Parma, which also encompasses Modena and Reggio Emilia. The first record of Parmigiano Reggiano dates to 1254 with monks, and trade in the cheese increased across the Italian peninsula to a point where stakeholders felt the need to protect their product from imitation or manufacture elsewhere. To provide this, the Duke of Parma create the first PDO in 1612 (codified by the EU in 1996) to regulate it.

Parmigiano Reggiano is a cooked-curd cheese comprised of three ingredients, milk, rennet, and salt. After molding, the cheese gets bathed in a salt brine before the aging process starts. During the minimum of 12 months the cheese ages; it takes on flavors of cashew, stone fruit, and citrus, which become more intense as the cheese ages. Some Reggiano ages for 96 months, at which point the flavors evolve to dried fruit and tobacco. Though it doesn't have the historical longevity of Pecorino, the complexity of flavors and historical prominence earns it a spot on this list.


The origin of the name Jarlsberg, other than being the name of a Norwegian town, is a closely-kept secret. But it is seemingly more marketable than its original branding. Jarlsberg came about in the 1950s as a university experiment in adding bacterial cultures to cheese milk. The resulting Gouda-Emmental hybrid was sold at the university's dairy shop under the name "Research Cheese."

If that's not intriguing enough to get you to try it, consider that Jarlsberg slipped in to carry the torch when Camembert de Normandie faced extinction in 2017. Camembert, a soft cheese with an earthy aroma and buttery flavor, is highly labor-intensive, and few wanted to continue the production. Jarlsberg, while slightly firmer, carries a similar flavor profile of mild, buttery nuttiness.

Jarlsberg also has the potential to aid your health. The level of vitamin K2 in Jarlsberg may slow bone loss and spur bone growth while not contributing to an increase in cholesterol. Priced in the mid-$20 range, if the idea that it can go head to head with Camembert isn't enough for you, the health benefits and origin story may be enough to nudge you to try it.


In its short lifespan, kefalograviera has gained the title The Macedonian Prince. It's a hybrid of Kefalotyri and Graviera, combining the salty, intense, piquantness of the former and the more mellow qualities of the latter. With such a lofty moniker, one would expect kefalograviera to have an equal lineage, but it is a relative newcomer to the Greek cheese world, originating in the 1960s.

It's a natural rind, pasteurized goat and sheep's milk cheese, aged for a minimum of three months, that is firm enough to grate but well suited for frying in traditional dishes like saganaki, a Greek dish you need to try at least once. Kefalograviera is another POD cheese, with production limited to the western Macedonia and Epirus areas. Priced similarly to Jarlsberg, in the mid-$20s, this isn't an exorbitantly expensive cheese, but it is one worth experiencing for its balance of aggressive and mellow flavors that can stand on a cheese board or fit into your dinner plans.


Gjetost is a fun cheese to try to speak authoritatively on. There are almost as many pronunciations (Yay-Tost, Yetost, Jitost, Ji-Tost) as there are ways to spell it Gjeitost, Geitost, or Gjetost. Finding the history is fun because some places state it originated in Norway's Gudbrandsdalen Valley over 100 years ago, while others say it was a staple of Viking diets. But do we have to understand all the details to appreciate it? Not in our opinion.

What's good to understand about gjetost is that it's a breakfast cheese made of cow's milk, goat's milk, or both and resembles fudge more than cheese. Despite its appearance, caramelly flavor, and confectionary texture, it's cheese. Gjetost is made by slowly cooking the whey from the goat or cow's milk until it's thick and brown and the naturally occurring lactose is concentrated to bring about the sweet flavor. It's not unique in the concentrated dairy world, as Mexican cajeta is similar, but with gjetost, the cooked whey is aged for one or two months to solidify it in brick form. You can find gjetost in the mid-$20-per-pound range, with smaller packs available for less. Let's normalize fudge cheese for breakfast, shall we?

Buffalo Mozzarella

Americans ate 12.28 pounds of mozzarella per capita in 2021, according to Statista. Most of that consumption was low-moisture, part-skim, as one would find on pizza or mozzarella sticks, but another report from Dataessential in 2020 showed 28% growth in fresh mozzarella sales at restaurants. Like shredded mozzarella is not like fresh mozzarella or burrata, mozzarella di bufala is not like any other fresh mozzarella.

Strange as it may seem, water buffalo have lived in southern Italy, mainly around Campania, for 1,000 years, give or take. Referring back to McClure's statement about butterfat making better cheese, a water buffalo's milk has twice as much fat as a cow's. Buffalo milk makes the resulting cheese richer, creamier, and more acidic due to its fat content. Since water buffalo milk isn't the commodity that cows are, you'll more often than not find mozzarella di bufala brined and sometimes vacuum-packed. The brine sets a thin skin around the outside of the ball or other small shapes, like bocconcini, giving the mozzarella a slight bite on the exterior. When buying your buffalo mozzarella, check for the DOC or DOP labels, especially if you want the authentic Neapolitan pizza experience.