2022’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 — whether layered on pizza, smothered over nachos, or laid temptingly on a charcuterie board.

But cheese love isn’t spread evenly across this vast country, so what are 2022’s Best Cities for Cheese Lovers?

To mark National Cheese Lover’s Day on Jan. 20, LawnStarter compared over 180 of the biggest U.S. cities based on cheese access, quality, and affordability, as well as local events.

Find out which cities took the cheddar in our ranking below, followed by 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 ScoreAccess RankQuality RankAffordability RankCommunity Rank
1Chicago, IL50.91529336
2Modesto, CA42.622413451
3San Francisco, CA41.542251673
4Jersey City, NJ40.63325862
5New York, NY40.319241561
6Boston, MA40.212515722
7Madison, WI35.988127411
8Los Angeles, CA35.8261212715
9Washington, DC33.8242511220
10Milwaukee, WI31.992164341
11Santa Rosa, CA31.7310717639
12Atlanta, GA30.681196831
13Glendale, CA29.97171215110
14Buffalo, NY29.86438570
15Long Beach, CA28.33151210523
16Paterson, NJ27.76142513114
17Alexandria, VA26.7572517921
18Philadelphia, PA25.783025548
19Aurora, IL25.51214966
20Pomona, CA25.4819125362
21Pasadena, CA25.07161216855
22Naperville, IL24.7411247467
23Miami, FL24.5833251169
24Portland, OR24.48122513671
25Seattle, WA24.23132517325
26Torrance, CA23.8221212744
27Minneapolis, MN22.9118257840
28Lancaster, CA22.8740121276
29Kansas City, MO22.7835947111
30Palmdale, CA22.0341124856
30Dallas, TX22.0327252527
32Austin, TX21.9159251104
33Hayward, CA21.896225216
34Providence, RI20.97342312947
35Hollywood, FL20.613925377
36Louisville, KY20.52025113122
37Santa Clarita, CA20.43381215175
38Orlando, FL20.0337256338
39Hialeah, FL19.9829254880
40Arlington, VA19.33322515024
41Colorado Springs, CO19.3228259398
42Pittsburgh, PA18.98252514588
42Baltimore, MD18.9851256319
44Indianapolis, IN18.9665919109
45Cleveland, OH18.836255695
46Santa Ana, CA18.4591251397
47Cincinnati, OH18.413125109101
48Fort Lauderdale, FL18.3442259158
49Rancho Cucamonga, CA17.3147254064
50Fresno, CA17.3432536159
51Garland, TX17.1249251783
52Bellevue, WA17.082625173116
53Irvine, CA17.05134251255
54Las Vegas, NV16.72442511593
55San Diego, CA16.48532511926
56Charlotte, NC16.4766252237
57Newark, NJ16.27782515313
58Anaheim, CA16.1767254034
59Springfield, MA16.14145717054
60Norfolk, VA16.1352256078
61Oakland, CA15.98232518049
62Houston, TX15.968256928
63Richmond, VA15.84502510081
64Dayton, OH15.667125596
65Plano, TX15.4458259852
66Gilbert, AZ15.376252107
67Grand Rapids, MI15.244525137117
68Bridgeport, CT15.071102511117
69Tampa, FL14.97772514918
70New Orleans, LA14.714625131151
71Akron, OH14.7702518105
72Tulsa, OK14.58602539130
73Salt Lake City, UT14.47632552103
74Worcester, MA14.3890257632
75St. Louis, MO14.37552583147
76Cape Coral, FL14.3593254108
77Mobile, AL14.211502512312
78Fremont, CA14.1581258450
79San Jose, CA14.1396258829
80Chandler, AZ14.1288255136
81Pembroke Pines, FL14.0580254874
82Eugene, OR14.024825143165
83Boise, ID13.98572591157
84St. Petersburg, FL13.88692513460
85Columbus, OH13.855625120127
86Denver, CO13.49752516030
87Frisco, TX13.2986257087
88Irving, TX13.2711825884
89Fort Wayne, IN13.12732570148
90San Antonio, TX13.0897257972
91Rochester, NY13.075425169100
92Fort Worth, TX13.03100255886
93Glendale, AZ12.93872528144
94Winston-Salem, NC12.91541256118
95Fontana, CA12.851012510565
96Yonkers, NY12.831742510016
97Phoenix, AZ12.74106259657
98Raleigh, NC12.6128251673
98Des Moines, IA12.66125142160
100Nashville, TN12.547225124132
101San Bernardino, CA12.441012513063
102Murfreesboro, TN12.39922570124
103Spokane, WA12.37842566166
104Wichita, KS12.351072515170
105Tempe, AZ12.347925100139
106Peoria, AZ12.28822596141
107McKinney, TX12.24113259868
108Albuquerque, NM12.21982563128
109Mesa, AZ12.061192528110
110Fort Collins, CO12.04742515997
111St. Paul, MN11.911112551123
112Knoxville, TN11.85942588153
113Huntington Beach, CA11.81142514843
114Baton Rouge, LA11.638925117149
115Omaha, NE11.68525121162
116Detroit, MI11.531162567121
117Sunnyvale, CA11.49952517153
118Shreveport, LA11.481252512160
119Tallahassee, FL11.4610325103146
120Springfield, MO11.351222520169
121Corona, CA11.281322513842
122Henderson, NV11.191402526112
123Arlington, TX11.1141255884
124Chesapeake, VA11.09169251134
125Lubbock, TX11.081372510177
126Chattanooga, TN11.071232570114
127Sacramento, CA10.991242516133
128Toledo, OH10.981382535118
129Huntsville, AL10.969925145125
130Greensboro, NC10.861262577115
131Tacoma, WA10.8110925140120
132Augusta, GA10.791332533155
133Overland Park, KS10.771362537142
134Corpus Christi, TX10.731292538173
135Montgomery, AL10.72160257145
136Jacksonville, FL10.681312554131
136Oklahoma City, OK10.681272545164
138Escondido, CA10.621082517259
139Garden Grove, CA10.61582510548
140Macon, GA10.591352511782
141Columbus, GA10.391672511126
142Lexington, KY10.311472528136
143Port St. Lucie, FL10.29162254294
144Chula Vista, CA10.26174252790
145Syracuse, NY10.2512025125150
146Sioux Falls, SD10.2211725121167
147Memphis, TN10.091522524156
148Virginia Beach, VA10.071422560138
149Oceanside, CA10.061742515845
150Bakersfield, CA10.011462544154
151Newport News, VA101512562113
152Scottsdale, AZ9.97832517892
153Birmingham, AL9.961482545139
154Savannah, GA9.9410425165152
155Cary, NC9.831552579106
156McAllen, TX9.721722514175
157Durham, NC9.7111525155133
158Riverside, CA9.661302517546
159Killeen, TX9.51171257999
160Fayetteville, NC9.391702510589
161Reno, NV9.311682595102
162Salem, OR9.2915725114104
163Midland, TX9.281742522179
163Rockford, IL9.281442516461
165Brownsville, TX9.161742528175
165Tucson, AZ9.161492588158
167Laredo, TX9.151742528180
168Stockton, CA9.091742516235
168Clarksville, TN9.091652582135
170Aurora, CO8.991612513491
171Little Rock, AR8.71632587170
172Honolulu, HI8.5310525177168
173El Paso, TX8.3916625104172
174Vancouver, WA8.3215625144129
175Kansas City, KS8.2416425133142
176Jackson, MS8.1315325141174
177Lincoln, NE8.0914325153163
178Oxnard, CA7.961742516679
179Amarillo, TX7.6815925145180
180Anchorage, AK6.8517325162177
181Salinas, CA2.791392518169
infographic of 2022's Best Cities for Cheese Lovers
Note: We ranked 181 cities on each metric. However, the ranking positions for some metrics above may be lower than 181 due to a significant number of ties.

Highlights and Lowlights

Chicago: The Windy Cheesy City

Sing the praises of Chicago’s deep-dish pizza all you want, but once you’ve sampled local Chi-Town cheese outside the pie, you’ll be chanting “Cheeses, Take the Wheel” instead. That’s because The Windy City has earned a new nickname as The Cheesiest City in America. 

Oozing with high-quality queso and melting locals’ hearts with an abundance of cheesy events, Chicago is a true cheese lover’s paradise. 

California Cheesin’ or Meltin’?

Three Golden State cities managed to find their way to our top 10: Modesto at No. 2, followed by San Francisco in third place and Los Angeles in eighth. Zoom out, and you’ll find four other California cities in our top 20. This “grate” performance is no surprise when considering California is the second biggest producer of cheese among the states.

But not everything that glitters is gold in the Golden State. Salinas finished last in our ranking, with Oxnard not far behind at No. 178. While these two cities offer plenty of cheesy events to entertain locals, regular access to high-quality cheese is lacking. 

Gouda News for Wisconsin

No ranking of cheese heavens passes a “good taste” test without at least one city from America’s Dairyland in the top 10. And we’re happy to report that both Wisconsin cities in our ranking form part of that elite group: Madison finished seventh, while Milwaukee placed 10th, thanks to high marks across the charcuterie board.

Green Bay didn’t make our cut because of its size, 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 of America’s cheese. It even beats out much larger states like California and Texas. 

Not-So-Modest Queso in Modesto

Wisconsin might produce the most cheese of any state, but one Central California city’s winning strategy is quality over quantity. 

Modesto, located 92 miles east of San Francisco, took the top spot in our Quality category, helping the city rise to second place overall. In fact, Modesto’s local cheese producers bagged more U.S. Championship Cheese Contest awards in 2019 — the most recent competition — than those of the other 180 cities in our ranking.

Ask The Experts

If there’s one thing uniting Americans during the pandemic, 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 181 of the biggest U.S. cities from best (No. 1) to worst (No. 181) based on their overall scores (out of 100 possible points), averaged across all the weighted metrics listed below.

MetricWeightingMin. ValueMax. ValueBest
Access
Cheese Shops per Square Mile300.37Max. Value
Fondue Restaurants per Square Mile100.14Max. Value
Establishments Serving Mac and Cheese per Square Mile201.14Max. Value
Number of Farmers Markets Offering Cheese and Dairy Products208Max. Value
Number of Cheese Factories and Plants2010Max. Value
Quality
Total Points for Latest U.S. Championship Cheese Contest® Awards Earned by County Producers401,050Max. Value
Affordability
Average Per-Pound Price of Local Cheese2$2.50$14.00Min. Value
Community
Number of Cheese-Related Events and Festivals112,474Max. Value
Number of Cheese and Wine Meetup Groups1015Max. Value
Number of Cheese Tasting Classes101Max. Value

Sources: Cheese Market News, Dairy Foods, Everfest, Meetup, Numbeo, TripAdvisor, U.S. Championship Cheese Contest, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Yelp

Main Photo Credit: PxHere

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