Like wine, cheese reflects the land it comes from. In the West, rolling meadows where dairy cows graze lead to rich, grassy dairy products. Since the Gold Rush, the region has excelled at cheese making: The Marin French Cheese Company, north of San Francisco, started in 1865. Today, you can taste the different terroirs at producers' sites and specialty stores—all of them fun to visit.
Beehive Cheese, Utah
The cow's milk used at Beehive Cheese in Uintah, Utah, picks up a distinctive, salty minerality from the marshes of the Great Salt Lake, where the herd grazes. Co-owner Pat Ford particularly recommends the rosemary-flecked Promontory, a tangy, Irish-style delight that makes a great mac and cheese. The creamery holds tours that include sampling fresh curds.
Brush Creek Creamery, Idaho
Nestled in tiny Deary, Idaho—a logging town east of Moscow that's popular for nearby hiking—Brush Creek Creamery hawks its cheeses from a restored century-old brick storefront. Watch the cheese making from an observation window in the Pie Safe Bakery & Kitchen, where you can also sample a Brie wrapped in local mountain maple bark and grape leaves.
Cheese Board Collective, California
It's hard to get more Berkeley than the Cheese Board Collective in the California city's Gourmet Ghetto. The employee-owned institution isn't the place to grab and go; each purchase requires sampling and discussion. The shop also runs a pizzeria two doors down, where you can call ahead to hear about daily specials, perhaps such combos as roasted cauliflower, pickled red onion, mozzarella, feta, and currants.
California Cheese Trail
The California Cheese Trail links more than 60 cheese makers, including Harley Farms Goat Dairy in coastal Pescadero, California. Summertime brings weekly farm tours and chèvres exquisitely decorated with petals of local calendula, viola, cornflower, and borage.
Rogue Creamery, Oregon
Central Point's Rogue Creamery has been called the best rest stop in southern Oregon. The shop offers samples of the creamery's full line, including its award-winning Rogue River Blue. If you're feeling peckish, order a grilled cheese panino that melds the famous blue with a drizzle of honey.