Have you thought about your bucket list? Most of us have a list of things we want to achieve and places we want to see around the world and close to home. Sometimes the list is general, comprised of cities, countries, and activities ranging from the everyday (do a headstand) to the hair-raising (BASE jump from a hammock over Moab). Sometimes the list gets a bit more specific: Carnival-hopping around the world, getting in touch with your roots, and chasing your favourite food (or drink!) through the countries that produce them.
Let’s focus on that last point. In fact, let’s talk about cheese. It comes in different shapes, sizes, flavour palette, and all shades of from stark white to bright orange. It’s produced all over the world. It seems ripe for the heart of an explorer, doesn’t it? Being something of a self-described foodie lite, I feel like a global quest to discover local cheeses is a bucket list unto itself!
My cheesy bucket list has its roots in the Croatian island of Pag. I visited the island because I heard the sheep’s diet consists of rosemary and lavender. Can you imagine what cheese is like with the undertones of those two very fragrant plants? I had a burning desire to find out, and so I hopped a bus from Zadar to Pag Town and found me some Paški Sir. It was a tasty day in a sleepy town (it was a Sunday in September) that I’ll never forget. I have 4 more pilgrimages I’d like to make to the lands that birthed my favourite varieties of cheeses.
Pamplona, Spain: Running of the bulls
Have you ever been told that you in particular would love a certain country or city? That people just see you there, fitting right into local life? That was Spain for me. Apparently, Spain and I were like two peas in a metaphorical pod. Soul mates, perhaps? All this served to fuel the fire I had in me to see Spain in 2012. Verdict? They were right! Spain is the intersection of so many different aesthetics and a deep-rooted love of life and quirk that I totally see why many people saw me in that beautiful country. I think I can go back time and again and uncover more similarities between us.
My favourite thing about Spain is the high concentration of delightfully bizarro activities, events, and festivals. There are the castellers (a traditional Catalan human tower) in Catalonia, the messy La Tomatina street tomato fight and the slightly (ok, very) creepy Batalla de ratas muertas in Valencian country (where dead rats are thrown around – ugh), and the procession of giants and big heads during San Fermín in Pamplona. Another event that occurs during San Fermín is the running of the bulls. (you may have heard of it?) While the practice of bullfighting and even the running of the bulls itself is steeped in animal cruelty that I do not agree with, the event serves as namesake to a variety of cheese that I can totally get behind. The Running of the Bulls cheese is dipped in olive oil and then topped with dried rosemary – is there a better combination? The cheese sucks up the flavours of the two ingredients and makes it one of the most heavenly cheeses I’ve ever had. I would definitely chow down on some Running of the Bulls cheese while enjoying the giant heads parading around the Spanish city!
Campania, Italy: Mozzarella di bufala
Oh Italy! Is there any way to not love Italy? Is there any way to not love the food in Italy? The answer is no and hell no! From the cacio e pepe you had for lunch to the bomboloni for dessert, Italy will basically knock your tastebuds sideways at every turn. Being a fairly young country, the country we know today is comprised of old states, republics, duchies, and marquisates with their own distinct cultures, which only means the sheer variety of mouthwatering meals will amaze you almost as much as the architecture. This country loves food and we love Italy for loving its food!
I think it’s pretty obvious that a country with so many cultures will also have so many varieties of cheese. While Parmigiano and Taleggio are among the most popular, my favourite and the most widely used worldwide (according to me) is mozzarella. Not just any mozzarella but buffalo mozzarella. There are few things that get my mouth watering as much as the sight of some mozzarella dripping with brine. It’s basically 3D foodporn that you can look, touch, and consume. In my bucket list dreams, I’m sitting on a stone terrace of a cliffside house in the Amalfi coast overlooking the sparkly blue sea with a glass of red wine (preferrably some Nebbiolo d’Alba) and a round of mozzarella waiting to be sliced, topped with tomatoes, a drizzle of olive oil, cracked salt and pepper, all on some crusty fresh bread. I think I just whipped myself into a mozzarella-craving frenzy…
The first time I actually laid eyes on Norway was from my seat in the sky as we approached to Finland. I looked out at the rugged and rocky terrain below and swore to myself that one day I would return to this magical land (that day is fast approaching – to be confirmed very soon). Since then I’ve Googled and Pinterested my way to finding out more about Norway. What did I find? The aurora borealis. The day of the midnight sun. The Atlantic Road. Bergen. The fjords. Trolltunga. The Flåm railway. So. Many. Reasons. To. Go!
My family has had a penchant for Norwegian cheese since I can remember. I grew up on the light Norvegia, yet we veered off-course over the last decade or so with the other Norwegian cheese, Jarlsberg. Similar to what we know as Swiss cheese, Jarlsberg is the kind of cheese that grew on me unexpectedly. Several bites in, I discovered that I not only liked the somewhat sweet taste but that it was a really comforting flavour profile (pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever used “flavour profile” but I digress). It seems to fit right in with the cozy feelings that Norway invokes in me. It seems like the ultimate autumn country: the wild greenery, moody climate, seaside villages. Doesn’t it make you want to wear you coziest sweater, wrap yourself in a blanket scarf and sip on some coffee? (In case you were wondering, my bucket lists get a bit descriptive)
Franche-Comté, France: Comté
With an upcoming trip to Paris, France is on my mind these days. I’m pretty late to this party though, especially being from Montreal though this may be obvious to me only. I have a week planned in the French capital but I’m already hankering for more. What about the Loire valley and the châteaux? Or Annecy and the Swiss border? Who can forgo the French Riviera?
It seems I’ll have to hold on to my wanderlust until my next visit, but in the meantime, I’ll indulge in the cheesy representative of the country I’m longing to experience. France is known for its cheese after all, and with so many varieties, I have the pick of the litter. I can go brie (which I love), or camembert (which I enjoy). I’ve instead decided on the off-the-eaten-map Comté, hailing from the Franche-Comté region in Eastern France. The charming medieval towns in the region are home to historical luminaries from polymath Victor Hugo to ground-breaking scientist Louis Pasteur to the filmmaking Lumière brothers. Plus who hasn’t dreamt of having a baguette and some cheese in France? Am I right?
Oka, Québec: Oka
The cheesy tour of my bucket list wraps up in my home province of Québec, the top producer of Canadian cheese. Québec is a pretty distinct society within Canada, and the oldest province to boot. The architecture in the old quarters of the major cities veer toward the 16th century when the province was first settled. So why have I included Québec in my cheesy bucket list when I grew up there? Because it’s huge! I have seen only a smidgeon of the province and the beauty extends from the leafy forests of the Eastern Townships bordering on the Northeastern United States to the icy tundra. So much geodiversity packed in one convenient package!
Québec isn’t just about culture and history, though. As I mentioned, it is the province that produces the most cheese in Canada. With so many varieties, it’s hard to pick a favourite, and having tried very select few, I am definitely not qualified to do so. But it was the humble Oka cheese that piqued my interest in exploring my home province and its dairy. Next time I’m home, I’ll be heading straight to the nearest fromagerie for some local goods!
It’s pretty common to make a pilgrimage to a specific destination for a specific reason. I just happen to let my tastebuds lead the way!
Would you travel for food? Where would you go and what would you eat?