2021’s Best Cities for Cheese Lovers

Closeup of different cheeses on a plate with wine bottle and basket in background

Americans have a fondue-ness for cheese. We live, breathe, and eat cheese — whether slapped on burgers, layered on pizza, or smothered over a big plate of nachos.

Just how much do we love this creamy goodness?

In 2019, the average American ate over 40 pounds of cheese. Yes, you read that right: 40 pounds per capita. And while we’re not the No. 1 consumers of cheese in the world, we’re not far behind in claiming the top spot, either. That’s because every year we’re piling on another half-pound to our plate.

But across this vast country, cheese love isn’t spread evenly.

That’s why LawnStarter chomped its way through all the gooey, messy data to bring you 2021’s Best Cities for Cheese Lovers. We compared the 200 biggest U.S. cities across 10 cheesy metrics, from the availability of fondue restaurants and Cheesecake Factory locations to average cost to the number of cheese-related events.

Scroll down to see which cities took the cheddar in our ranking and some highlights/lowlights and not-so-cheesy expert insights.

Table of Contents

  1. City Rankings
  2. Highlights and Lowlights
  3. Ask the Experts
  4. Methodology

City Rankings

See how each city fared in our ranking:

OVERALL RANKCityOverall ScoreProduction RankAvailability RankActivities RankCost Rank
1San Francisco, CA51.5071125151
2Madison, WI49.19231176
3Pasadena, CA39.91462588
4Chicago, IL34.1215733110
5Atlanta, GA33.714951074
6Arlington, VA32.8971234139
7Torrance, CA32.634343488
8Dayton, OH31.577143424
9Philadelphia, PA31.367125440
10Pomona, CA31.074593450
11Los Angeles, CA30.3245034127
12Milwaukee, WI30.3115944117
13Glendale, CA30.2046525149
14Portland, OR29.4920564143
15Fremont, CA29.0020302588
16Long Beach, CA28.9746734111
17Baltimore, MD28.807173421
18Austin, TX28.647196266
19Alexandria, VA28.1271334171
20Seattle, WA28.0931474164
21Washington, DC27.637183484
22Boston, MA27.37711210157
23Dallas, TX27.2941123416
24Winston-Salem, NC26.777121346
25Palmdale, CA26.7648834130
26Hollywood, FL26.747128342
27Greensboro, NC26.677193484
28Santa Rosa, CA26.6528534163
29Bellevue, WA26.64311734141
30Kansas City, MO26.4041103457
31Lancaster, CA26.2241353413
32Garland, TX26.0615833438
33Miami, FL26.04711925131
34Frisco, TX25.9520523418
35Worcester, MA25.8571143466
36Modesto, CA25.6611673431
37Paterson, NJ25.2171163488
38Hayward, CA25.15202634166
39Providence, RI25.0871233446
40Cleveland, OH24.9249532543
41Pembroke Pines, FL24.9171203462
42Salt Lake City, UT24.7431493427
43Bridgeport, CT24.4371273453
44Hialeah, FL24.2171462562
45Fort Lauderdale, FL24.21712434104
46Oakland, CA24.08202234172
47Jersey City, NJ24.05711834131
48Pittsburgh, PA24.0471581060
49Huntington Beach, CA23.79711534154
50Sunnyvale, CA23.65711034166
51Norfolk, VA23.5671323455
52Santa Clarita, CA23.54412434153
53Buffalo, NY23.1849781045
54Naperville, IL23.1231573488
55Las Vegas, NV23.08497110100
56Grand Rapids, MI22.95493934126
57San Bernardino, CA22.84206434129
58Tempe, AZ22.5131623476
59Des Moines, IA22.44318610135
60Anaheim, CA22.1971403488
61Tulsa, OK22.0018993460
62Louisville, KY21.35498410133
63Plano, TX21.19201073416
64San Jose, CA21.0971513473
65Fontana, CA20.92208734111
66Richmond, VA20.71715534102
67Rancho Cucamonga, CA20.6620953488
68San Diego, CA20.59718010121
69Riverside, CA20.45714234149
70Yonkers, NY20.45714534144
71San Antonio, TX20.4471125997
72Orlando, FL20.4271613452
73Tampa, FL20.42718210122
74Newark, NJ20.35714834144
75Chandler, AZ20.1131138342
76Denver, CO20.02499010147
77Fort Collins, CO19.96714434159
78Aurora, IL19.71311203411
79Oceanside, CA19.70714134164
80Tacoma, WA19.63713534170
81Minneapolis, MN19.5871683447
82Irvine, CA19.56716334108
83Cape Coral, FL19.517193344
84Santa Ana, CA19.50716034137
85New Orleans, LA19.417110110106
86Fresno, CA19.28181503431
87New York, NY19.01715434155
88Indianapolis, IN19.0171813420
89Albuquerque, NM18.864913210118
90Newport News, VA18.8571703484
91Vancouver, WA18.69716934105
92Brownsville, TX18.677198348
93Chesapeake, VA18.6271106344
94Glendale, AZ18.56311283431
95Salem, OR18.55717234103
96Peoria, AZ18.43311313427
97Phoenix, AZ18.32311611076
98Knoxville, TN18.3171753481
99Eugene, OR18.21499134101
100Scottsdale, AZ18.20311654166
101Henderson, NV18.10491133427
102Garden Grove, CA17.88717734108
103Lubbock, TX17.4271121349
104Rochester, NY17.4071923459
105Akron, OH17.23711143414
106Columbus, OH17.18716634161
107Fullerton, CA17.03711134175
108Ontario, CA16.87203834175
109Orange, CA16.84711334175
110Houston, TX16.65711043450
111Spokane, WA16.43711033470
112Raleigh, NC16.32711193440
113Virginia Beach, VA16.20711163455
114Chula Vista, CA16.15711273427
115Fort Worth, TX15.99491413457
116Escondido, CA15.82718934148
117Savannah, GA15.757110534113
118Overland Park, KS15.71711333437
119Gilbert, AZ15.52311693431
120Oxnard, CA15.51719734144
121Cincinnati, OH15.41711223487
122Colorado Springs, CO15.413114734134
123Chattanooga, TN15.37711423425
124Arlington, TX15.36711233488
125Tallahassee, FL15.327111134128
126Toledo, OH15.26711393442
127Omaha, NE15.26711303464
128Lexington, KY15.19711443431
129Nashville, TN15.094914034124
130Irving, TX14.90311803422
131Corona, CA14.857111734135
132Paradise, NV14.76493334175
133Mesa, AZ14.64311723472
134Detroit, MI14.63711453449
135Little Rock, AR14.477117310119
136Bakersfield, CA14.38711791097
137Metairie, LA14.22712934175
138Killeen, TX14.20711433497
139Tucson, AZ14.097112934138
140Syracuse, NY14.057113634125
141Jacksonville, FL14.00711483448
142Oklahoma City, OK13.747114634106
143Rockford, IL13.687113434141
144Memphis, TN13.67711583422
145Wichita, KS13.63491853419
146Sacramento, CA13.637111534162
147Huntsville, AL13.61711573426
148Springfield, MA13.607111834157
149Cary, NC13.58711493471
150Mobile, AL13.52711812576
151Joliet, IL13.37713634175
152Lakewood, CO13.27713734175
153Baton Rouge, LA13.18711633438
154Augusta, GA13.14711623444
155Midland, TX13.0171197341
156Lincoln, NE12.99711543466
157Birmingham, AL12.99711523483
158Sioux Falls, SD12.88711593464
159Miramar, FL12.79714334175
160Columbus, GA12.75711843412
161Springfield, MO12.73711783414
162Fort Wayne, IN12.704917134123
163Mesquite, TX12.62207934175
164Clarksville, TN12.53711903410
165Aurora, CO12.16711663488
166Reno, NV12.07711703480
167Fayetteville, NC11.88711883431
168Montgomery, AL11.8771195347
169Murfreesboro, TN11.74711823453
170Durham, NC11.567110834173
171Corpus Christi, TX11.47711833466
172McKinney, TX11.443120034113
173El Paso, TX11.27711863474
174Shreveport, LA11.207117534119
175Honolulu, HI10.797115534156
176St. Paul, MN10.754910025175
177Kansas City, KS10.487116034160
178Amarillo, TX10.467118934113
179McAllen, TX10.25711933481
180Boise City, ID10.23497634175
181Stockton, CA9.657117734152
182Macon, GA9.287119834113
183Anchorage, AK9.197116834169
184St. Louis, MO9.12717434175
185Jackson, MS9.117119434140
186North Las Vegas, NV8.044910934175
187Charlotte, NC7.067110234175
188St. Petersburg, FL6.057112634175
189Elk Grove, CA5.397113734175
190Spring Valley, NV5.184915134175
191Sunrise Manor, NV4.824915334175
192Grand Prairie, TX4.653117634175
193Moreno Valley, CA3.387115634175
194Pasadena, TX3.077116434175
195Thornton, CO2.704919134175
196Salinas, CA2.487117434175
197Olathe, KS1.797118734175
198Laredo, TX1.787119634174
199Enterprise, NV1.664919934175
200Port St. Lucie, FL1.087119234175
 

Highlights and Lowlights

California Dreamin’ of Cheese

San Francisco reigns as the cheesiest city in America finishing No. 1 in total cheese shops per 100,000 residents and community-supported agriculture centers offering cheese and dairy products. The Bay Area also ranks in the top 10 in total cheese tasting classes, farmers markets offering cheese or dairy products, and Cheesecake Factory locations. The Golden State landed eight cities in the top 10, which makes sense as California is the second-highest cheese-producing state.

Gouda News for Wisconsin

Madison, Wisconsin, finished runner-up on our list, as it is tops for total cheese-related events and No. 2 for total cheese classes and cheese factories. Milwaukee landed at No. 13, and Green Bay didn’t make our cut, but if you’re a true Cheesehead, you know the city and state are packed with fans of the dairy products. Wisconsin is by far the largest manufacturer of cheese, producing more than a quarter of all America’s cheese. This beats out even much larger states like California and Texas. 

Make No Mis-Cheesesteak in Philly

Philadelphia comes in a shocking second place on total cheesesteak restaurants per 100,000 residents. Who beat out The City of Brotherly Love on their own hometown dish? The smaller city of Fort Lauderdale, maybe because so many in Florida are from somewhere else. A quick Google search will show you the numerous options for a delicious Fort Lauderdale cheesesteak. While Philly is known for cheesesteaks and cream cheese, it’s not really the home of either. The lesson here is that in the U.S., you’ll find cheese lovers wherever you look.

Ask The Experts

If there’s one thing uniting Americans during this time of political turmoil and uncertainty over the health crisis, it’s our mutual love for cheese. We asked a panel of experts for their advice and insight on all kinds of cheesy matters. Read what they had to say below.

  • The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?
  • Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?
  • What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?
  • What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

 

Jennifer Spencer
Assistant Professor & Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Science
Vikram V. Mistry
Interim Associate Dean of CAFES Academic Programs
Stephanie Clark
Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Barry J Bradford
Professor, C. E. Meadows Endowed Chair in Dairy Management and Nutrition, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Department of Animal Science
Robert Ralyea
Senior Extension Associate
Kali Kniel, Ph.D. (pictured) & Melinda Shaw
Professor, Department of Animal and Food Sciences & Manager, UDairy Creamery Operations, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
Jennifer Spencer
Assistant Professor & Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Science
Texas A&M University

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?

Americans love cheese because of the flavor it provides. It also provides a lot of protein and other nutrients our bodies need. It is also something that can be a snack or added to meals.

After eating cheese the fat releases endorphins which are known to reduce stress and promote happy feelings.

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?

Part of the reason cheese consumption has gone up during the pandemic is that people are eating at home. more. Meals such as mac and cheese are easy to make and provide essential nutrients. Pizza is convenient and can be delivered directly to people’s homes. This has helped with increasing cheese sales as well.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

Cheese can be bought in many forms and has a long shelf life. Depending on the type of cheese, it can last 1-2 months in the fridge. Cheese can also be placed in the freezer, extending the shelf life.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

Try new cheeses and recipes to broaden your horizons. There are so many things cheese can be used in and there are so many different types of cheeses.

Read books about how cheese is made and how cheeses differ from each other. Also, indulge yourself in learning about dairy cows and the other wonderful animals that produce this nutritious product.

Have a get together with friends and family to discuss what you know about cheese and have a cheese tasting party.

Vikram V. Mistry
Interim Associate Dean of CAFES Academic Programs
South Dakota State University

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?

America’s love for cheese originated with the arrival of the Europeans.  Cheese was a common part of the diet of these groups.  Dairy cows also were brought to support cheese-making operations and dairy processing in general.  Over time, new ways of using cheese in the diet were discovered and the attraction to cheese expanded.  The migration of people from other parts of the world to America further expanded the role of cheese in the diet.  With the introduction and expansion of pizza in our diet, Mozzarella leaped to become one of the most widely consumed cheeses.

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?

Cheese offers three important features: nutrition, diversity in flavor and texture, and functionality.  With approximately 3,000 varieties of cheese available, there is tremendous variety to suit different tastes.  In terms of nutrition, cheese provides high-quality protein and other nutrients. 

The chemistry of cheese offers functional properties such as melting, emulsification, and others, making it possible to use it as an ingredient in other foods.  And since hard and semi-hard cheeses have a long shelf life, they can be refrigerated for a long time.  All these factors make cheese a popular food in times of a pandemic when visits to the grocery store are limited.  It has the stature of “comfort food”.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

Given the wide variety of cheeses available, it’s possible to enjoy a new variety every day of the year.  So, challenge yourself – every time you go to the grocery store, pick out a cheese that you have not had before.  As with any eating habit, with a proper balance between diet and exercise, you can thoroughly enjoy all that cheese has to offer.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

  1. Have an open mind – be open to trying new varieties. Just because a properly made blue cheese has mold on it, it doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  Limburger has a bad reputation due to its strong odor, but once you get past the smell and begin to eat it, it’s a great-tasting cheese. 
  2. Explore different ways of enjoying cheese – it can be used as a table cheese, i.e., eaten as is, or you can try it out as an ingredient, e.g., next time you make a sandwich, you can go beyond the usual American slices.  Try using it as an ingredient in cooking as well.
  3. One fun aspect of becoming a cheese connoisseur is learning and watching the making process. During normal times (non COVID) some cheese-making facilities offer tours. Meanwhile there are virtual tours available.  It’s fascinating to see how through only 10 steps, milk can be converted to thousands of different varieties.
Stephanie Clark
Professor, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition
Iowa State University

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?

Cheese is a comfort food and it is incredibly versatile. It makes everything taste better!  

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?

People need comforting now and are cooking at home more.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

If people are fortunate enough to live anywhere near actual cheesemakers, the best thing to do is to visit the farm (call first!) or a farmer’s market.  Ask if you can taste samples, then buy what you like.  Products are typically cheapest at the source, so buying directly from the cheesemaker is a treat, but not all of us have that opportunity.

Second to visiting with cheesemakers would be talking to cheesemongers.   Cheesemongers are trained cheese handlers and sellers.  Certified Cheese Professionals (CCPs) go through extensive training to become certified experts in the field.  Ask them questions, tell them what you like, and taste samples.  They can guide you well.

The last option is to simply TRY a variety of cheeses and TAKE NOTES.  Keep track of what you like and don’t like.  Because cheese is so versatile, if you don’t love snacking on one of the ones you buy, you can put it into a recipe and turn it into something else!  (For instance, Swiss, Gruyere, and Jarlsberg are not my favorite snacking cheeses (because of their typical propionic acid flavor), but they are great melted in sandwiches.  I don’t like Asiago, Romano, or Cotija as eating cheeses (because of their typical rancid/lipase flavor), but they can perk up a fondue!

Sometimes you can buy a small portion of cheese from a cheese case—take advantage of those pieces.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

Experiment. Taste a lot of cheeses; take notes on every cheese you taste so you can keep track of what you like and don’t like. Meet the cheesemakers (read their stories if you can’t meet them in person) to better understand why it is important to pay the price they request.

Barry J Bradford
Professor, C. E. Meadows Endowed Chair in Dairy Management and Nutrition, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources, Department of Animal Science
Michigan State University

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?

A lot of this is actually tied to our love of pizza! A surprisingly large proportion of the cheese made in the U.S. ends up on top of your favorite slice. However, consumption of other cheese styles is on the rise too, which may be partly due to the increased popularity of higher-protein diets.

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?

Lots of people who study this point to the draw for comfort food. But I suspect that many of us incorporate cheese more frequently now that we are cooking at home, more, as most of us were over the last year.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

Specialty cheeses can be expensive per pound, but the great thing is that small amounts are surprisingly satisfying. For $3 – $5 at the cheese counter, you can grab a wedge of a flavored dry cheese, goat cheese, or blue cheese. These are great for pairing with a few other little “snacky” foods to make a reasonably healthy and super easy meal.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

Figure out whether you like the stronger flavors. If you are into dry wine or IPA beers, you might really enjoy some aged or blue cheese. If you stay away from these types of flavor profiles, you can still sample from a wide range of flavored cheddars and other mild cheeses. One of the best cheeses I’ve tried was made from a 50:50 blend of cow and sheep milk – it was a really unique flavor without being overpowering.

Robert Ralyea
Senior Extension Associate
Cornell University

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from? 

Historically, Europeans settled the US, and the Europeans were huge cheese lovers and that desire for cheese came with them.

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic? 

Cheese is tasty and a comfort food.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

Well, you get what you pay for…generally speaking.  Volume type cheese made in large commercial facilities takes less manpower and costs less to produce per pound.  The artisan cheeses that are handmade are much more costly to produce, but there are many gems out there for which you will pay more for.  Consider it supporting that farmer/artisan cheese producer and supporting the craft that is artisan cheese making.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs? 

Not sure I have 3 tips.  I would say to not always go with what you’re comfortable with, try different styles and types.  You’ll never find that next best cheese unless you branch out and try things you’ve never had before.  There are lots of little cheese shops around the country who have people that are experts in knowing the cheese stories of the cheeses they sell, find one of those stores and enjoy!

Kali Kniel, Ph.D. (pictured) & Melinda Shaw
Professor, Department of Animal and Food Sciences & Manager, UDairy Creamery Operations, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Delaware

The U.S. ranks second in the world in terms of cheese consumption. Where does America’s love of cheese come from?

There has been explosive growth in the world of cheese production, so Americans have many places to turn for their love of cheese, from mass-produced cheese to U.S. artisan cheeses.

The availability of artisan cheese made using traditional practices has ignited a renewed consumer interest in cheesemaking and cheese consumption and this interest in food has been renewed as consumers are spending more time cooking and more time at home during the pandemic. 

Some of this renewed interest is associated with the growing interest in fermented food and the consumption of beneficial microbes. Cheese is the result of the growth of bacteria, yeasts, and molds which all contribute in differing ways to the ripening and flavor of cheese. We have seen this bond with beneficial microbes in our kitchens during the pandemic with the growing interest in sourdough starts that began in the Spring of 2020.

Why is cheese especially popular during the pandemic?

Cheese is a great source of vitamin D and calcium, both nutrients many Americans lack in their diets. These nutrients are also more important at a time when many Americans in the Northern states may spend less time outside in the sun. Also, we have seen in some studies in Spain and Germany that having a good level of vitamin D can correlate with the reduced severity of COVID-19 illness.

What’s the best way for cheese lovers to indulge themselves without breaking the bank or their diets?

At a time when many Americans are suffering from pandemic fatigue, trying new foods is a way of taking a fun and safe “risk.” Perhaps this is a good time to try a new recipe with your favorite cheese or purchase a new type of cheese for the appetizer at the big game or try cheese tasting with family over Zoom.

What are your three best tips for budding cheese connoisseurs?

  1. Don’t judge a cheese by its smell alone! Cheese is ripened in a variety of methods. Washed rind and natural rind cheeses rely on the microflora of their aging environments to develop flavors, which may also bring unique and sometimes pungent smells. However, the cheese inside may be more mellow and balanced.
  2. Search beyond the dairy aisle. Most grocery stores now have specialty cheese sections near the deli area. If you have tried a large variety of cheese in this section, then it’s time to visit a specialty cheese shop. Cheesemongers behind the counters are always willing to give a sample and have a conversation about the cheese you’re tasting, making every sample a lesson in cheese.
  3. Cheese is subjective! Yes, there are cheese competitions, judging, and standards of identification by the FDA. All of which determine a cheddar to be cheddar or a gruyere to be gruyere      However, a high price tag may not mean it’s better than another, nor that you will like it. Great cheeses come with a variety of price tags, just like wine.

Keep a notebook of your tasting notes and prices and be your own judge. A delicious cheese board can cost $20 or $200 but it all depends on what you like!

Methodology

We ranked the 200 biggest U.S. cities in descending order — from best to worst — based on their individual score totals in the metrics list below. The city that scored the highest ranked No. 1, or “best.”

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. Value
Number of Cheese Factories/Plants2010
Production Category Total2
Number of Cheese Shops per 100,000 Residents203.89
Number/Presence of Cheesecake Factory Locations103
Number of Cheesesteak Restaurants per 100,000 Residents108.88
Number of Fondue Restaurants per 100,000 Residents100.82
Farmers Markets Offering Cheese/Dairy Products2037
Number of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) Offering Cheese/Dairy Products20132
Availability Category Total9
Number of Cheese-Related Events204
Number of Cheese Tasting Classes103
Activities Category Total3
Average Per-Pound Cost of Local Cheese21.7514
Cost Category Total2
Overall Total16

Sources: Cheese Market News, The Cheesecake Factory, Dairy Foods, Everfest, Numbeo, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Yelp

Main Photo Credit: Pxhere

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