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From Mexico to India, these are the countries you need to visit if you're obsessed with cheese

It's no secret some of the best cheese in the world comes from France, Switzerland and Italy. But true cheese aficionados should be eager to explore what the rest of the globe has to offer.

In its simplest form, cheese consists of milk (usually from cows, but it can also come from goats, sheep or other livestock) mixed with an acid-like vinegar or rennet that separates the whey from the curds. Then, the curds are shaped and often aged. Terroir, though, is responsible for all the different shapes, textures and flavors.

Since cheese is essentially a reflection of place—the vegetation, climate and soil—it's really worth traveling the world to taste it all (as if you needed persuasion). So the next time you're choosing a vacation, consider bumping the local cheese (ahem) culture to the top of your list. Here are eight destinations you shouldn't overlook.

Mexico
Mexican cheese making dates back to the Spanish conquest during the 16th century when Europeans first brought dairy to the region. Today, it's home to more than 40 varieties, and certain states, like Oaxaca and Chihuahua, have their own signature cheeses. Look out for soft queso fresco, salty queso añejo, crumbly cotija and firm rounds of queso panela.

Great Britain
Historically, the Brits have a bad reputation when it comes to their traditional food culture. But when cheese making is concerned, that bad rap is completely undeserved. The island is home to more than 700 cheeses, including genuine cheddar from the village of the same name in Somerset. Stilton, with its distinctive blue veins produced by piercing a cylinder of cow's-milk cheese with needles, is a well-known favorite. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Striking red Leicester cheese gets its orange color from annatto, while Wales lays claim to semisoft Caerphilly, as well as a variety of nutty sheep's-milk cheeses.

Traditional wheels of Gouda cheese on display on cobblestones at Alkmaar cheese market, The Netherlands | Photo: Tim Graham/Getty Images

The Netherlands
Forget everything you think you know about Gouda—there's much more to this legendary cheese than squishy logs wrapped in red-brown wax. The Dutch, one of the biggest consumers of cow's milk per capita in the world, have perfected this cheese over time. In fact, they've been making it since at least 1184, making Gouda not only one of the most popular cheeses in the world but also one of the oldest.

Portugal
The cheeses of Portugal come in all shapes, sizes and milk varieties. Although most rennets are derived from cows, some Portuguese cheeses instead rely on a unique enzyme made from the cardoon thistle. It lends a distinct sour yet vegetal flavor to cheeses like Serra da Estrela and Azeitão. They tend to be on the soft side, so just remove the leathery rind on the top and dig in with a crusty piece of bread.

India
Step aside, paneer. From the south all the way into the northernmost reaches of the mountains, you'll find a whole slew of cheeses on the subcontinent. Chewy Qudam and aged Kalari both hail from Kashmir, while hard Chhurpi is made from yak's milk high in the Himalayas.

Norway
Anyone who's ever helped themselves to a breakfast buffet in Norway has encountered thin, square slices of brown gjetost on a tray. It's one of the country's most iconic foods. Made by boiling down whey until it's practically caramelized and takes on a savory yet fudgy flavor, this cheese is often used as a topping on sandwiches, crackers and biscuits. But you haven't lived until you've tried it on a Norwegian waffle with raspberry jam. And now a new cheese in town is giving gjetost a run for its money. Last year, a farmhouse blue cheese called Kraftkar, also from Norway, was named best in the world at the World Cheese Awards.

Cheese shelves | Photo: bikec/Getty Images

Croatia
You'd be remiss to visit Croatia without trying the famous Paški Sir (or Pag Island cheese), named for the tiny Adriatic island of the same name. The island's rocky terrain and briny air create the perfect conditions for producing this singular cheese, known for its sweet and salty qualities that are almost reminiscent of butterscotch. The sheep forage on wild herbs, which imparts an aromatic and salty quality to the milk, and the mild temperatures and dry air are also ideal for aging cheese.

South Africa
It shouldn't come as a surprise that there are some great cheeses coming out of South Africa to go with all those outstanding wines. Cheddars and Goudas have been popular for years due to the country's English and Dutch connections, but now French techniques are becoming more popular, too. Although more than half are made in the countryside and coastal waters of the Western Cape, some, like flaky Karoo Blue and melt-in-your-mouth chevres, are made further inland.

Sausage and Ricotta Lasagna

Our version layers fresh pasta sheets with sausage ragù and pesto ricotta for a dish that's rich and bright—and might even replace your grandmother's recipe (we won't tell).

All-Purpose Vegan Cheese Sauce

Though the sauce is short on dairy, there's no questioning its bold flavor. Nutritional yeast gives it a surprisingly cheesy taste, and both white wine vinegar and lemon juice lend a tang.

Pasta with Charred Tomatoes, Burrata and Rosemary Oil

The tomato sauce is really the star of this dish. It's both tart and sweet, with a hint of smokiness, which clings to thin strands of al dente angel-hair pasta. Dots of fresh burrata add creaminess, while a fragrant and herbaceous rosemary oil gives the dish a nice contrast.

Ricotta Toasts with Poppy Seeds, Orange and Mint

This ricotta-ladened toast is brightened with honey, poppy seeds, orange zest and torn mint. It's the perfect (and easy) way to start your day.

Pimento Grilled Cheese

Homemade pimento cheese is stuffed between focaccia with tomatoes and pickled jalapeños for a spicy and cheesy sandwich that's beyond addictive.

Sweet Potatoes Aligot

Adding the cheese in two batches is key to a smooth aligot. This allows the cheese to melt faster and results in a smoother consistency.

Chicken-Apple Sausage Mac & Cheese

Caramelized onions, chicken-apple sausage and Honeycrisp apples come together for the base. As for the cheese sauce, hard apple cider deglazes the pan before making a roux to thicken the sauce. The final touch is one pound of grated cheese just because we can (and should).

Chicken Parmesan

This classic Italian comfort food combines juicy breaded chicken and tomato sauce, covered in melty cheese.

Everything Bagel Grilled Cheese

The inverted-bagel grilled cheese sandwich situation at Sadelle's in New York takes one of baker Melissa Weller's chewy and small-ish bagels, slices it in half, flips it inside out, sandwiches layers of American and Muenster cheese in the middle, and then throws it onto a griddle for toasting and melting.

Bucatini Cacio e Pepe

The OG pasta dish cacio e pepe combines noodles with a no-fuss sauce of pasta water, cheese and loads of freshly ground black pepper.

Pea Pesto with Ricotta

While we serve this recipe for pea pesto swirled with creamy ricotta as an appetizer, you could also devour it as a main course. All you need is some crusty bread, and you're good to go.

 

Cheesy Broccoli Rice Casserole

We love how broccoli fits into this casserole, but don't feel bound to this veg. You can substitute cauliflower or carrots and still get the same cheesy goodness. Just don't mess with the cheeses.

Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

Instead of classic white bread with American cheese, slices of potato bread are filled with grated Comté and Gouda for a sharp, crisp grilled sandwich.