Supermarkets are easy, right? Shopping at one is as simple as reading overhead signs and deciding in which order to purchase groceries (frozen foods last, of course). It's often that shoppers are so familiar with shopping at a location where everything is labeled and spaced out that when walking into a gourmet market, such as a cheese shop, things get a little... confusing.

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The cheese section at the supermarket, to say the least, is usually pretty self-explanatory. There's usually no more than three sections of cheese - soft, semi, and hard cheeses - with various meats, crackers, and marinated vegetables surrounding. This makes it easy to browse and pick, especially when every cheese is labeled and described in a simple way, as many stores only sell the most popular and well-known cheeses. So, while this makes a cheese plate incredibly easy to make, it also deprives a potential cheese lover of the pleasure of exploring a world full of incredible flavors and pairings. For anyone who was looking for a sign, here it is: go check out your local cheese shop and use this expert Cheesemonger guide to navigate it.


First Rule Of Cheese Club: There Is No Bad Cheese

It's going to smell like cheese. There will likely be a wafting of interesting scents that shoppers notice upon walking into a cheese shop and, eventually, regular customers will grow to know and love each one. With that being said, there are no 'bad cheeses.'

The only 'bad cheese' is what happens when a soft cheese begins to emit an ammonia scent or flavor, or if a hard cheese has grown too much mold to be cut away from its precious, delicious interior. Therefore, the 'bad cheese club' doesn't actually exist because everyone has different flavor palates that will take to cheese differently: some people might lean toward pungent, stinky cheeses while others could prefer delicate triple cream brie or a sweet and sharp aged gouda.

Second Rule Of Cheese Club: Trust Your Cheesemonger Or Shop Associate

Trust us, they've gone through plenty of training (and likely many tastings) in order to deliver to you what it is that you're truly craving. Cheesemongers, especially, know the world of cheese inside and out and won't only know the types of cheese - they'll be able to pinpoint the exact underlying spicy, sharp tones in a Sao Jorge or the pungent, earthy, and grass-like flavors of a cave-aged cheddar.

They'll be able to sing songs of sweetness and cream-like notes of brie or introduce you to a sharp cheddar that tastes like the rolling green hills of Ireland. All it takes is a brief description from a customer, and a little trust on their end - the worst that can happen is the cheese isn't liked, and you move on to the next.

Third Rule Of Cheese Club: Cheese Isn't Always Cheap

Anticipate this when visiting the cheese shop. There are shops that do get discounted cheese but even so, the shop needs to make money to pay for shipping fees (it takes a lot to get a cheese freshly from one continent to another) and to employ staff. That aside, this isn't your typical Sargento sliced cheese or Babybel cheese wheels.

In comparison, cheese shops are home to gourmet, artisan-created cheese that's as fresh as it gets, as flavorful as possible, and entertains award-winning cheesemakers. That's why the third-pound of Leicestershire cheese will cost twice as much as a package of slices - did we mention cheese is sold by weight and not by the package? With the exception of individual miniature cheeses, this will always be the case.

Fourth Rule Of Cheese Club: Don't Cheat Your Local Cheeses

If you're lucky enough to live within driving distance of any farms, this is the perfect chance to try their dairy offerings. International cheeses are alluring and captivating in a way that's exotic - and we get it, many of them can be intoxicating with their unique flavors.

Just don't forget about the local farms that work hard to produce fresh cheese. After all, the U.S., in particular, is home to a plethora of world award-winning cheesemakers, and you might not even know it.

Fifth Rule Of Cheese Club: Respect The Cheese And The Country

Food is the one great unifier and it brings people together from all over with something as simple as a flavor profile. Cheese works in very much the same way; France produces incredible brie and soft cheeses, Italy makes a mean history of sharp cheeses, Spain is home of the Manchego and the dry, nutty, salty cheeses that pair well with figs. However, that doesn't mean each country has only one cheese style.

Customers might be surprised to know that Italy offers a semi-soft cheese called Tallegio that smells like a foot but tastes rich and creamy on the inside. Or, for that matter, that France created Comté, which is like a pumped-up Swiss cheese that tastes so much better than one.

And, speaking of the region, Austria has produced an incredible cheese called Alp Blossom which is - you guessed it - covered in Alpine blossoms and has a flavor that's sharp on the tongue thanks to six months of aging, with savory umami and a floral scent from the blossoms. In short, cheese is magic, and to walk into your local cheese shop expecting a mild yellow cheddar would be a crime.

Next: Cheese Board For Beginners: The Guide To Choosing The Perfect Cheeses