Wine and cheese. The culinary duo has been enjoyed for hundreds of years and nothing makes them more delicious or memorable than tasting them as you travel.
Italy, France and Spain—which make half the world’s wine—might be off the menu for the time being. But maybe that means it’s time to turn your taste buds to something new.
Craving travel as much as we do good food and drink, we looked into countries near and far, where you can enjoy a full-bodied wine and cheese themed trip, right now.
Up from San Francisco, California wine country is home to tens of thousands of acres of vineyards (growing more Chardonnay grapes than anywhere else in the world) and, over 250 wineries. The oldest winery—Sonoma’s Buena Vista—opened in 1857, while others are less than a decade old. Displaying a marvelous mix of architecture (Bordeaux-inspired chateaux, rustic ranches and innovative, industrial-style setups,) they craft a mouthwatering range of wines—from the region’s signature smoky Cabernet sauvignon to spritzy roses.
Wine steals the show in this neck of the woods, but cheese plays a spectacular supporting role. With thirty farms and creameries in the Sonoma valley alone, and many more in the wider region, there’s a cheese for every palate. Cow, goat, sheep, even water buffalo milks make a smorgasbord featuring creamy ricotta, sharp cheddar, silky mozzarella and crumbling stilton to name a few. Cheese lovers can attend tastings (the best include local wines, olives and meats), tours and even cheesemaking classes.
Historic Napa is a must-see, flanked by the Mayacamas mountain range to the west, and the Vacas peaks to the east. The town of Headelsburg, the other side of the mountains, is foodie heaven. In the wider countryside, you can take hot air balloon rides, drive winding lanes, set off for riverside bike rides and watch the west coast sunset over rolling meadows.
An hour north of Dubrovnik, the sunny Peljesac peninsula stretches into the shimmering Adriatic, its rolling mountainsides striped in vineyards. Winemaking is an ancient art here, introduced by the Greeks, developed by the Romans and passed down generations of the same families. Though there are notes of familiarity—this is where Zinfandel has its roots—the flavors are refreshingly different. Try the Dingac, Postup and Plaval Mali red wines as you get to know their winegrowers over scenic lunches and intimate tastings.
It seems a peninsular is Croatia's secret to good winemaking, because the Istrian peninsular is another winemaking region worthy of note. You can’t visit without enjoying the white Malvasia wine—full, fresh and fruity, a little like Sauvignon Blanc but with its own flair. Try Teran too, which gets its deep ruby deliciousness from Istria’s iron-rich soil.
Nearly everyone knows this nation as a filming location for Game of Thrones—not many credit Croatia for its first-class cheesemaking. Unless they’ve tried the Paški sir, a crumbly, salty award-winner made on the island of Pag, or the Težački sir iz maslinove komine, a hard cheese from Dalmatian hinterland.
Walk along farm trails and through lavender fields, meet lace makers in their workshops, explore the medieval city of Dubrovnik and Roman city of Split, island-hop, eat fresh oysters…and enhance your culinary trip further with a visit to an olive grove or two (Croatia’s olive oil is some of the world’s greatest.)
Puget Sound in northwest Washington is the state’s only grape growing region, but when it’s this good, you only need one. Its geography (sharing a latitude with France’s fabled Burgundy) allows for a long, dry growing season. Cool climate grapes, particularly Pinot noir, thrive. There are more than three hundred wineries dotted along the mainland and on several of the San Juan islands (San Juan, Orcas, Bainbridge, Whitbey and Vashion included). Meet winegrowers, walk and picnic in vineyards, attend a blind tasting and look for wine pairing menus in many of the local restaurants.
Miles of lush pastures, peppered with grazing cattle and sheep means only one thing: delicious cheese. Charming cheese stores and family-run dairies are plentiful in this part of the world. Whidbey Island’s Glendale Shepherd Farm has won awards for its Island Brebis (their Blue Ewe is delectable, too). And if you’re a feta fan, the micro-creamery at Little Brown Farm makes the most gorgeous goat cheeses.
Hike to island hilltops, go whale-watching from boat or kayak, visit lavender farms, devour farm-to-table food, and most of all, soaking up that deliciously slow pace of island life.
Turkey knows wine. Archeological evidence shows the country has been creating it for seven thousand years, and locals will tell you it’s Noah we have to thank for that (after the great flood, he docked the arc and planted the first vines there in Ararat). These days, Turkey ranks as the world’s fourth leading producer of wine, and though only a fraction is exported, an emerging trend in boutique wineries looks set to change that. Six hundred indigenous varieties of grapes, grown in regions around the Agean Coast, Marmara and Anatolia create delicious Çalkarasi roses, Merlots and Turkey’s pinot noir equivalent, Kalecik Karasi. Sip them in vineyard terraces, thousands of years old and you’ll soon see why the Turks have been keeping these wines to themselves for millennia.
Cheese is a staple in everyday Turkey life. It’s the main course at breakfast, a component of mezes and salads and an accompaniment to meat dishes and fish dishes galore. You’ll come across white cheese (similar to feta, but don’t confuse it with the Greek version!) wherever you go, as a side, filling pastries, in salads and as a snack. If given a choice, choose one made in Thrace and your taste buds will thank you. Try the smooth and creamy Kashar cheese, too— slice it, grate it, melt it or just chip a chunk and devour. Turkey’s cheddar equivalent is Aged Kashar, it’s tangy and bursting with flavor. And its mozzarella equivalent is the seriously stringy Dil. If you’re a sucker for smokey flavors, the Marmara region produces a pine-smoked cheese you’ll want to eat a whole wheel of.
Sailing up the coast in a traditional gulet, hikes to small, sleepy villages, soaking up the sights and sounds of Istanbul markets.