The 12 Days of Cheesemas are here! And, there are just 12 shopping days before New Year’s Eve, the cheesiest night of the year. We’re highlighting today some of the best places to shop for your holiday cheeses — the independent cheese shops in your own backyard (we hope!). Sure, NYC may think of itself as the epicenter of artisan cheese, but you don’t have to head to the Big Apple to find fabulous American farmstead and handcrafted cheeses from near and abroad. We’ve cherry-picked a couple smaller town shops across the country to feature. The “best” here is by no means scientific or exclusive* — we could easily add another 20 or so shops (and more keep opening every day!).

12 best little cheese shops | cheeseandchampagne.com

Yes, sometimes the hours at small shops are less convenient than your grocery store and the lines may be long this time of year, but shopping local means you get cheese from people trained in how best to handle it and who can recommend the perfect cheeses for your holiday cheeseboards. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet a new cheese crush?

12 Best Little Cheese Shops in the US

calf and kid, seattle cheese shop | cheeseandchampagne.com

West Coast

We asked Sheri Lavigne, owner of Calf & Kid, what the best-selling holiday cheeses are in her shop: “That’s a tough call, but I’d say top 3 are Rogue River Blue, Dinah’s Cheese and Gruyere 1655.”

From Southern California, the Cheese Cave dishes “Aged alpine cheeses are super popular, Tarentaise Reserve, L’Etivaz and 18-month Comte top the list!”

Midwest

artisan cheese company, sarasota | cheeseandchampagne.com

South

What cheeses do Floridians seek out for the holidays? Louise Converse at Artisan Cheese Co. — a lovingly curated shop in Sarasota, just look for the red ship’s funnel — responds, “Colston Basset Stilton, and cheddar is a close second. For sure!”

fairfield cheese company | cheeseandchampagne.com

Northeast

In Connecticut, Fairfield Cheese Company owners Laura Downey and Chris Palumbo have just opened a second location in Greenwich. They report that Colston Basset Stilton is their holiday best-seller.

the cheese plate | cheeseandchampagne.com

We sought cheese shop nominations on twitter, and some of our British friends asked us to include their favorite shops, too. So we also give a nod to these small shops worth seeking out on your travels:

2 Great Little Cheese Shops in the UK:

  • Mousetrap Cheese in Hereford, Ludlow & Leominster was nominated by Brock Hall Farm, who writes: “Please mention Mousetrap Cheese from Ludlow, they keep their cheese so well & support producers like me.” (Mousetrap returned the love-fest, adding, “We’re so lucky to have such talented dairies like yours nearby, it’s a pleasure to sell your lovely cheese.” Don’t these folks sound lovely?)
  • The Cheese Press in Devon, England — who just happen to carry the 2014 World’s Best Cheese Bath Blue from Somerset.

{Uh, what about DC, you ask? I couldn’t single out just one of my local shops, but you can find them on our DC Cheese Map on pinterest.}

Follow Curdwise | CheeseandChampagne’s board DC Cheese Shops & Bars on Pinterest.

Chime In

Did we miss your favorite shop? Give it a shout out in the comments!

*We’ve been to many of these shops personally, but others we’re only internet friends with. ;) We love to see shops connecting with their customers on instagram, twitter and facebook — and sometimes we learn about a new cheese that way, too. {Need some social media pointers? Give us a shout at dccheese@gmail.com.}

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As much as we’re obsessed with seeking out the freshest new cheeses to share here, there are certain favorites that tend to rotate across our cheeseboards with some frequency, particularly around the holidays. And no holiday cheeseboard would be complete without one of the little aged jewels from Vermont Creamery. Our friends at VC have provided a fantastic giveaway prize for us to share, but first I have to share some highlights from my visit to the Creamery and new Ayers Brook Goat Dairy this past summer.

goat love at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy | cheeseandchampagne.com

Vermont Creamery was founded by Allison Hooper and Bob Reese in 1984; rather than resting on their well-deserved laurels (30 awards for their products this year alone) in this 30th anniversary year, they set about doubling the size of their aged cheese production facility, launching new fresh goat cheese crumbles, and, building a first-of-its-kind demonstration goat dairy just down the road from the creamery. Oh, and they attained B-corp certification too. Given the popularity of their products, they’ve had an increasing challenge sourcing enough goat milk to meet demand. From their roots as a farmstead creamery with 60 goats, they’ve grown to source milk from 17 goat farms. In the past several years, sales of their aged cheeses have grown exponentially — upwards of 45% each year. They planned to increase the production space from 4,000 square feet to 14,000 square feet, and clearly more goat milk was going to be required.

pre-construction at Ayers Brook Goat Dairy | cheeseandchampagne.com

So they purchased a farm just a few miles away from the creamery and set about building a barn and milking parlor. When I visited last summer, after the 2013 Vermont Cheesemakers Festival, I got the before-the-construction tour at Ayers Brook (above). Back this summer for the 30th anniversary bash, the new facility was up and running. While they are now producing milk there, the intention is to use the facility to train future goat dairy farmers in best practices while providing a guaranteed source of income for those who can produce the high quality milk demanded by the creamery. A win-win for them and for all of us who crave their cheeses.

As mentioned, the creamery was expanded this year as well — the aged, aka wrinkly cheese wing is to the right in the pictures below.

Vermont Creamery expansion | cheeseandchampagne.com

I stopped by the creamery, curd kids in tow, to tour the new space. Here’s another before and after — the vats in the small, single room where the aged cheeses were produced last year (top right) vs. this year, where there are separate rooms for each phase of the process (bottom right).

vats at vermont creamery | cheeseandchampagne.com

cheesemaker Joey Conner and general manager Adeline Druart behind the scenes at Vermont Creamery

Even with all this growth, the cheeses are still truly made by hand. Here we watched Coupole being shaped and placed on racks to head into the aging room; Bonne Bouche is the ashed cheese and in the “caves” you can see the white bloom gradually overtake the ash and the rinds crinkle and shrink.

Coupole make, Bonne Bouche aging | cheeseandchampagne.com

Read on for Part II to learn more about how we enjoy Bijou and to enter our holiday cheese giveaway!

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Bijou, Vermont Creamery Crown Jewel {& #WrinklesAreSexy Giveaway!}

December 9, 2014

Part II of our celebration of Vermont Creamery’s 30th Anniversary year — read more about our visit to the Creamery here, and continue below to learn about Bijou & our special holiday giveaway! You’ll recall we’ve highlighted Vermont Creamery’s wrinkly cheeses before: Coupole was featured here, and Bonne Bouche here. Bijou is the tiny crown jewel of the collection [...]

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American Cheese Goodie Bag {Giveaway!}

November 20, 2014

Happy birthday to us! This month marks our 6th year of sharing our cheese discoveries with you, dear readers. To celebrate, Jill and I gathered our curd kids for a weekend retreat in Minneapolis (thankfully, pre-snow) and, well, ate cheese. Would you expect anything else? We thought we’d knock off a few missing letters from [...]

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10 American Winners at the 2014 World Cheese Awards

November 16, 2014

Congratulations to the winners of the World Cheese Awards, which took place this weekend in London. Out of nearly 2,600 cheeses from 33 countries, American cheesemakers garnered 10 of 62 Super Golds: Bloomsdale, Baetje Farms, Missouri Truffle Tremor, Cypress Grove Chèvre, California Bismark, Grafton Village Cheese, Vermont Shepsog, Grafton Village Cheese, Vermont Bandage Wrapped Cheddar*, [...]

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7 New American Cheeses for Your Holiday Cheeseboard

November 14, 2014

As we compiled our 26 cheeses for American Cheese Month, we wanted first to avoid duplication from last year’s 31 Essential American cheeses — it also turned into an opportunity to go through a year (or more’s) worth of photos to find the cheeses we hadn’t yet shared tasting notes for. And to realize just [...]

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ABCs of American Artisan Cheese {#AmCheeseMonth 2014}

October 31, 2014

In celebration of the 4th annual American Cheese Month, we featured 26 fabulous American cheeses on our social media pages. Here’s the full A to Z of American artisan cheese, for your enjoyment. Ameribella | Jacobs & Brichford | Indiana Bloomsdale | Baetje Farms | Missouri Coupole | Vermont Creamery | Vermont Dorset | Consider [...]

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Miranda and Ouleout, Vulto Creamery, New York

October 23, 2014

The cheeses of Vulto Creamery have been on our radar for a while now, but like so many good things, they weren’t readily available outside of New York. I had the pleasure of meeting cheesemaker Jos Vulto briefly over the summer, but his Miranda and Ouleout only recently made their debut on my cheeseboard. Coincidentally, [...]

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Falling for Fall Cheese Fests

September 17, 2014

Aaahhh, fall at last. I have so many wonderful summer memories to share with you all, so many new cheeses that graced our cheeseboards and earned our adoration. Enough to fill a book, you might say. {wink} But first, there are some pretty exciting cheese festivals coming up this fall that we wanted to let [...]

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Pacific Northwest Goats: Mountain Lodge Farm’s Glacier and Rivers Edge Chèvre’s Sunset Bay

August 19, 2014

Another trip to Seattle, another cheese-scouting expedition in the books. As always, a highlight of my annual visit to my parents were my excursions to local cheese shops Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and the Calf & Kid. And I don’t know if it’s a pregnancy thing or what, but I mostly had my eyes on goat [...]

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