People are buying more and more cheese these days. With the help of the wine industry, the demand for high-end and luxury cheeses is increasing every year. Some of the most expensive cheeses in the world don’t even come from cow’s milk.
Cheese in the modern world is widely available and delicious in all its variety. However, early cheese was most likely salty and sour, perhaps curd-like and not very appetizing.
There is no way to know where the first cheese was intentionally produced. Historians and “food sleuths” surmise that as early sheep and goats were domesticated, the first cheese was an accidental occurrence.
A thick, fermented substance, with a texture somewhat like cottage cheese, probably occurred naturally as milk was stored and transported. Salt would have been a natural additive to preserve it.
Over the centuries, as more milk-giving animals became domesticated, and as civilizations spread to regions with colder climates, cheese became a staple of the human diet. It began radiating throughout the world and across all cultures.
Few people don’t appreciate cheese, although there is an enormous variance in quality, popularity, and price. In 2016, the value of the global cheese market was reportedly just over $92 billion U.S. dollars. By 2022, it is estimated that the value will have increased to more than $124 billion.
That’s a lot of cheese!
Much like fine wine, well-marbled beef, rare seasonal mushrooms (truffles), and other sought-after edibles, cheese is a commodity subject to human whim. The value can be influenced by fad as much as by flavor. Aging and rarity also factor into the price.
It is produced in Serbia from a breed of rare Balkan donkeys housed on a nature preserve in Zasavica. The same recipe has been used to produce Pule since the 1700s.
The donkeys must be milked by hand three times a day, and each milking yields little milk, less than a gallon day from 15 animals. A single pound of cheese requires more than three gallons of milk.
The small herd numbers only 130 milk-producing jennies. Donkey milk contains 60 times the Vitamin C of cow’s milk, but only one percent of the fat content. It is known for its health and beauty benefits, and Cleopatra is said to have bathed in it!
Pule is characterized by a relatively soft, crumbly texture, and a slightly sweet and nutty taste that some compare to Spanish Manchego or Gruyere, but with a rich, more complex flavor. It’s not widely available, but if you have an opportunity, you’ll want to have a bite of the world’s most expensive cheese.
2. Moose Cheese
The Moose House in Bjurholm, Sweden, produces four varieties of cheese from the milk of three sibling moose (they are known as elk in most of Europe). They lactate only from May through September, producing about five liters of milk daily.
Perhaps it’s the fact that milking a moose must be difficult, coupled with the limited season, but the four types of cheese produced by the Johansson family on their Moose House farm are really only available close to home and at select local restaurants. If you’re in the area, the Johanssons will offer a tour of the farm.
The three moose were abandoned by their mother and adopted by the family; they are named Gullan, Haelga, and Juno. Despite their size, they must be handled tenderly, especially during milking, or they can become disturbed. This can cause the milk supply to dry up. High-protein moose milk, with a fat content of about 12%, produces cheeses that are similar to Camembert.
The farm also makes a traditional blue cheese, a dried blue, and a smooth-textured feta that’s preserved in oil. The Johansson farm is the world’s only producer of moose cheese, and its annual cheese offering is about 650 pounds.
3. White Stilton Gold
With shining flecks of edible gold leaf, this British “blue cheese” is what you’ll want to make a lasting visual impression if the price is no object.
Only six creameries in the U.K. are licensed to produce this version of Stilton, which itself is protected under European law (PDO, meaning protected designation of origin), and limited to production in only three counties: Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire. Local pasteurized cow’s milk is used for this upscale version of Stilton.
It is unpressed, forms its own crust, and has the traditional cylindrical shape as well as the “typical” taste of Stilton. The more familiar blue-veined cheese is created by piercing the crust to allow air into the core of the cylinder. Although many countries now produce varieties of blue cheese made in much the same way, traditional British Stilton is known for its unique aroma and distinct taste. Gold-veined Stilton is renowned for both, as well as for its price!
4. Bitto Storico
Another cheese produced in only one place in the world, Bitto Storico comes from the Valtelina Valley in Italy. Produced from the milk of cows that graze the mountain pastures and the Bitto River Valley, the cheese varies in flavor with the season.
Aged up to 10 years, Bitto Storica is between 10 and 20 percent Orobica goat’s milk from the Bergamo Alps. Different vintages of the storied cheese are available for tasting if you travel to the small town of Gerolo Alta. If you’re a cheese lover, the trip is entirely worth it!
The 12 cheesemakers who produce Bitto Storico still use copper cauldrons set on wood fires on the mountainside to begin the process. The cows are not given supplemental feed, and the cheese contains no additives. Production occurs only from June 1 to September 30, and cheese must be aged for a minimum of 70 days, although longer aging, up to 10 years, is more common.
Bitto Storico was recognized in 2003 by Slow Food Italy for remaining true to its historical traditions.
Not to be confused with traditional Bitto Storico. A PDO variety named Bitto DOP can also be found in the same valley and is available for online ordering. It, however, is produced with modern methods, allowing additives and cow feed so that every wheel has consistent flavor.
Although cheese made from horse milk is not unknown, particularly in Central Asia, it is not a market favorite. What is commonly known as Horse Cheese is a common Italian cheese produced from cow’s milk.
This oddly-named cheese is produced by cows of a rare Italian breed known as Podolica that lactates only in May and June. Even though the breed is hardy, and the cheese is produced in several regions, including Calabria, Bacilicata, Campania, and Puglia, it is still relatively unavailable outside of its home regions. Traditionally pear-shaped, it was once tied together in pairs and strung over poles for curing.
The cheese might also have been hung over a horse’s neck for transport, giving rise to the name. Caciocavallo can be consumed once it has aged for about three months, but after two to three years, it has a deeper color and a firmer texture. Sicilian chefs prize it for grating over pasta. In other areas, it is simply cut into chunks with a parmesan knife and served with fruit or wine.
It has status with the Slow Food presidium in Basilicata, and produced in a time-honored manner. Today, some Italian horse cheese is formed into rounds. In Sicily, cheesemakers use wooden molds to craft it in rectangles. Caciocavallo contains high amounts of Omega 3, making it nutritionally advantageous as well as delicious.
6. Jersey Blue
Somewhat unique among expensive cheeses, Jersey Blue is anything but traditional. Produced by a Swiss cheesemaker only since 2006, it is a modern take on an old favorite, with veins of blue, white, and grey mold throughout the cheese and also on its mottled surface.
It’s known as an “externally rinded” blue variety. Willi Schmid owns the dairy and produces more than 20 varieties of cheese. He tastes the raw milk that he procures from local farmers and decides which cheese each should produce. Jersey Blue, from the raw milk of Jersey cows, is shaped into domed rounds of about five-inch diameter, each weighing approximately four pounds. The process involves hand-ladling curds into the mold to create multiple “pockets.”
Schmid introduces two types of blue mold, allowing the cheese to age for about ten weeks until the blue mold spreads throughout the paste and coats the rind as well. Uncut, it exhibits a somewhat musty aroma that dissipates once the cheese is cut. It can be consumed fresh or aged; it has a soft, buttery texture when young, but as it dries a bit, the flavors sharpen, and the veining changes to green.
7. Beaufort d’Ete
On the favorites list of turophiles everywhere, Beaufort is a cheese beloved for its smooth, creamy texture and pale buttery color, in addition to its aroma and flavor. It is a product of France’s Savoie region and comes from the mountain breed of cow known as Taurine or Tarentaise.
Cheese similar to contemporary Beaufort has been produced in this Alpine region since the 17th century; it was previously known as Grovire, and its popularity was at a peak at the time of the French Revolution. In 1865, the town was renamed Beaufort, and the cheese made there continued to thrive for another 80 years.
A poor economy in post World War II Europe nearly led to the cessation of cheesemaking in the Alpine region, until the first dairy cooperative was formed in 1961, causing a resurgence of interest in cheese production.
Today, production has increased more than tenfold since the post-war years. The cheese known as Beaufort d’Ete, produced only in summer, has a place among the most expensive in the world. Beaufort was granted PDO status in 2009. Standard Beaufort is made from November to May when cows in the valley feed on the previous summer’s harvested hay.
From June through November, the cows graze in mountain pastures, and their milk then is used to produce Beaufort d’Ete and Beaufort Chalet d’Alpage, another variety of cheese from a single managed herd kept at elevations above 1,500 meters. Made only in small quantities, its price is typically a bit higher than the others.
8. Cacio Bufala
Cacio Bufala is one of several artisanal cheeses produced in Italy, from pasteurized water buffalo milk. It is a traditional delicate, semi-hard white cheese, and should not be confused with Caciocavallo de Bufala or with Buffalo Mozzarella, the best of which is made near Naples in the Campania region.
Traditionally produced in rounds measuring about five inches in diameter and weighing slightly over one pound, the cheese is produced year-round and is readily available. It is salted in brine and ripens for a minimum of 60 days. Sometimes compared to Provolone, the cheese uses natural rennet and salt. The curd is drained during maturation to produce a compact cheese with aromatic scent and slightly sweet flavor.
The cheese produced by Casa Madaio dairy farm in Campania is aged in natural caves for eight to 12 months. Another product, marketed by Luigi Guffanti, is produced in Bergamo, in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The cheese is versatile enough to complement hearty breads and a variety of other foods. It can also be enjoyed with white wine, lager, or stout.
9. Epoisses de Bourgogne
Termed a “complicated” cheese, this interesting variety made with cow’s milk is a product of Bourgogne, another example of cheese with a PDO designation. Only a small, controlled region in France is authorized to bear the name.
Epoisses de Bourgogne originated with the monks at the Abbaye de Citeaux, and it is said that Napoleon was “partial to this cheese,” consuming it with Chambertin wine. It is not a “mainstream” type of cheese, and It nearly disappeared when its production was halted during the war years. However, in 1946 two families in Bourgogne began producing it once again. It is pungent, with a fine, pate-like texture, combining distinctive sweet, salty, and creamy layers of flavor.
Its rind is washed in wine residue known as Marc, which lends another unusual note to its appearance and taste. Unlike many of the expensive cheeses on the list, it is typically sold in small containers and is available in the United States from sources as varied as Di Bruno Bros., local specialty food retailers, Walmart, and Amazon!
10. Rogue River Blue
This American cheese from Oregon is one of only two to warrant a place on the list of high-priced cheeses. It is produced by Rogue Creamery, a certified organic dairy located in Grants Pass. Its cows graze on 68 acres, and its landmark blue cheese is now marketed throughout the world.
The creamery operates in strict conformance with goals that today embrace environmental health, animal welfare, and economic equity. First opened in the 1930s, the creamery produced more than one million pounds of cheddar to supply American troops during the war years. Later, it became a major supplier of Oregon’s cottage cheese.
When it later began producing artisan blue cheese, the shift in focus met with some early skepticism. However, in 2003, Rogue River captured a “World’s Best Blue” title in London, and in 2009 Rogue River Blue won a Best of Show Award in Austin, TX. The company points to four trophies and more than 30 medals and awards as proof of its success.
11. Gorau Glas
A soft blue cheese produced in the United kingdom. Gorau Glas is an award-winning expensive cheese produced in Anglesey, Wales, from a family herd of dairy cattle at Caws Gorau Glas farm.
Even though it slipped from its former position as the most expensive cheese produced in the United Kingdom, Gorau Glas is still an esteemed cheese among blue varieties, both from the standpoint of taste and appearance. Its ingredients, production processes, and distribution are all strictly monitored. It is a traditional soft blue with striking veins that provide characteristic veining.
The final cheese on our list is another American, this time an artisanal from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, VT. Winnimere is only one of 12 cheeses produced by a single herd of cows at the farm. Jasper Hill also sells a variety of dry-cured salami, sausages, and bacon.
The dairy operation is unique, with an onsite creamery and an underground aging facility that serves not only its own needs but those of other local producers. Leftover whey from the cheesemaking operation is used to feed heritage pigs that live in the woodlands nearby. The consolidated operation also includes a cropping center, and a nutrient recapture system dubbed the “green machine.”
Winnimere is a soft cheese that is produced only during winter months from the raw milk of hay-fed cows. The young cheese is wrapped in inner bark from the spruce tree and washed with salt brine during aging. At 60 days, it is spoonable and is said to taste of bacon, sweet cream, and spruce. It won the American Cheese Society’s 2013 Best of Show Award.