Most Popular Cheeses in the U.S.
Cheese is hard not to love. Whether creamy, crumbly, salty, sweet or stinky, this humble dairy product is nothing short of perfection. No wonder Americans are eating it in abundance, consuming nearly 40 pounds of the stuff per capita each year. (That’s a lot of cheese!)
But of all the cheeses we consume — and there are a ton of them — which are the most popular of all?
According to data gathered from the US Department of Agriculture, the following 10 cheeses are produced the most in the United States. For good measure, we’re also sharing the best places to eat these cheeses, both on their own and in dishes like lasagna, burgers, pizza, salads and sandwiches.
Do not — we repeat do not — read this while hungry.
10. Blue and Gorgonzola
Annual U.S. production: 94.7 million pounds
Blue cheese is one of those cheeses that you either love or hate — passionately. Made with cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milk, it has cultures of the Penicillium mold added, giving it blue, green or black veins and a distinct pungent smell that some find divine and others find abhorrent.
For those seeking a less, shall we say, powerful cheese, there’s gorgonzola — a specific type of blue cheese that’s considered more mild than its Stilton or Roquefort counterparts. Its characteristics include smaller blue veins, a considerably less pungent smell and a milky, almost sweet flavor.
Best Blue-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Our advice for getting your blue-cheese kick? Try it on a burger, a trend that’s been sweeping the country. (Trust us: It’s awesome.)
Smashburger, which touts more than 300 outposts across 36 states, offers the cheese as a topping on its build-your-own Angus-beef burgers, while Bobby Flay’s Bobby’s Burger Palace, with locations in nine states, makes a wildly popular bacon-blue cheese burger (pictured here).
Blue cheese is also an essential ingredient in the dipping sauce that typically accompanies an American classic: Buffalo wings. This favorite can be found throughout the country, but tastes particularly good where it was first introduced to the masses, at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York.
You can also ditch the accompaniments and try the best blue cheese of your life all on its own at a tiny shop in Oregon. This year, an American blue cheese made by Rogue Creamery was named the best cheese on Earth. Said one judge of the cheese that beat out more than 3,000 other contenders from around the world: “It just tasted so darn good.” You can purchase it from the cheese shop at the creamery, located not far from the California-Oregon border.
Best Gorgonzola-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Gorgonzola has been appearing in macaroni-and-cheese dishes across the U.S., elevating this beloved comfort food to new heights. Mastro’s, with locations in nine states, makes a particularly mean gorgonzola mac and cheese (pictured here) that also features fontina cheese and minced garlic.
Living by the ethos “go big or go home,” Annabelle’s Own in Michigan serves a gorgonzola mac and cheese with bacon, while Mr. Mac’s in New Hampshire adds steak to the mix.
Annual U.S. production: 129.8 million pounds
All the way back in the 8th century, Homer’s Odyssey referenced Cyclops Polyphemus making an ancestor to feta cheese. Historically popular in Greece, feta has since become beloved the world over, including in the U.S.
Feta boasts a umami-packed salty, tangy taste, a product of its brine-cured production method. While Greek feta is traditionally made with sheep’s milk — sometimes with goat’s milk mixed in — American domestic feta can be made with goat’s, sheep’s or cow’s milk, and tends to be more crumbly and less creamy than its European counterpart. Some cheese connoisseurs look down on the U.S. version, but don't listen to them: The American version is excellent in its own right.
Best Feta-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Feta cheese is a key ingredient in the Greek salad, a staple at American restaurants these days and a wonderful choice for those seeking health and flavor. The ubiquitous Panera Bread even offers two versions: one traditional and one with quinoa.
Interestingly, though, a traditional Greek salad (or horiatiki) is actually served sans lettuce. This version, too, can be enjoyed in the U.S., primarily in the Greek neighborhoods of big cities, like Astoria in Queens, New York, and Greektowns in Baltimore and Detroit.
Pictured here is a traditional Greek salad from Astoria's Taverna Kyclades, with pepperoncinis, kalamata olives, tomatoes and — best yet — a sizable block of feta.
Annual U.S. production: 191.3 million pounds
Muenster is actually an American play on a French cheese. Less potent but no less satisfying than its European ancestor, it is made from whole cow’s milk and touts sweet and nutty notes that are comparable to a mild Swiss. It is also known for its pale color and orange rind, the result of vegetable coloring.
Muenster melts beautifully, making it a great choice for dishes like grilled-cheese sandwiches and quesadillas.
Best Muenster-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Muenster was first made by European immigrants in Wisconsin in the 1800s, and that cheese-loving state is still the place to go try to this cheese.
Across the state, you’ll find muenster served on hot dogs, burgers, paired with charcuterie, you name it. You can also try it all on its own at some Wisconsin creameries offering guided tours, like Nordic Creamery in Westby, and specialty stores like K&K Cheese in Cashton. (K&K’s muenster is so good, an Illinois man was busted a few years ago for trying to steal 42,000 pounds of it!)
Not heading to Wisconsin? I Heart Mac & Cheese, with locations in six states (including several in Florida), is mad for muenster, offering it in a lobster mac and cheese (pictured here), Philly cheesesteak and grilled-cheese sandwich.
Annual U.S. production: 311.9 million pounds
According to the USDA, “Hispanic-style cheeses are one of the fastest growing styles of cheese in the U.S. because of the growing Hispanic population and the incorporation of the Hispanic cuisine into the American diet.”
The most popular Hispanic cheese in the U.S. is queso fresco. This is traditionally made from raw cow's milk or a combination of cow and goat milk that has been left to curdle and is then strained in cheesecloth and pressed. The taste is generally quite mild, but the fresh, milky texture makes it a great cheese to use in place of heavier counterparts, especially come summertime.
While queso fresco goes amazing with heartier dishes like enchiladas, tostadas or huevos rancheros, it’s also a nice addition to watermelon, corn on the cob or chilled summer soups, serving as a fresher alternative to feta or even goat cheese. (Just keep in mind that it doesn’t keep for more than a few days!)
Other beloved Hispanic cheeses in the U.S. include cotija, aka “the Mexican parmesan,” a crumbly cheese that serves as an excellent salty garnish, and melting cheeses like Oaxaca.
Best Hispanic-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Not surprisingly, you’ll find Hispanic cheeses in abundance near the U.S. border with Mexico.
In Texas, proud home of Tex-Mex cuisine, you can't throw a rock without hitting a restaurant serving queso fresco and other Hispanic cheeses. Standout dishes include the Green Chili Queso from Torchy’s Tacos pictured here, with queso fresco, guacamole, cilantro and a hot sauce that will set your mouth on fire (in a good way!), served with house-made chips. There are Torchy’s all throughout Texas, and a few in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Colorado as well.
California is the leading producer of Hispanic cheeses, and serves excellent dishes using queso fresco, cotija, Oaxaca and other favorites. To really get your fill of this cheese, hit up authentic Mexican restaurants in the southern part of California, especially in and around Los Angeles and San Diego.
Annual U.S. production: 332.3 million pounds
In the United States, Swiss cheese is typically an imitation of Switzerland’s Emmental, a medium-hard cheese known for its signature holes (or “eyes”).
This yellow, medium-hard cheese is slightly sweet and nutty in flavor, and because of its mild flavor and versatile texture, is often served alongside other cheeses. But it also has plenty of admirers all on its own.
Fun fact: By manipulating acidity, temperature and curing time, cheesemakers can control the size of Swiss cheese holes. The larger the holes, the more pronounced the flavor.
Swiss is also one of the healthier cheeses you’ll find. So eat up!
Best Swiss-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
There are a million ways to enjoy Swiss: on deli sandwiches, in grilled-cheese sandwiches, baked into mac and cheese, cubed on platters, the list goes on. But we suggest joining the “melted cheese renaissance” by trying Swiss in the form of fondue or a raclette.
Fondue, an Alps tradition dating back centuries, is melted Swiss cheese served in a communal pot, which diners dip cubes of bread into using a long-stemmed fork. The most well-known fondue restaurant in the states is Melting Pot, which has locations in 31 states. Outside this chain, “Food & Wine” lists Trestle on Tenth in New York City and Chinook Tavern in Greenwood Village, Colorado, as among the best U.S. restaurants for Swiss-cheese fondue.
Chinook Tavern is also an excellent place to try raclette, another interactive dish, which involves scraping hot Swiss cheese onto potatoes or dried meats. Raclette has become particularly trendy in big cities like L.A. and New York City, and is well worth trying.
5. Cottage Cheese
Annual U.S. production: 402.4 million pounds
Cottage cheese has grown in popularity over the years, largely due to its reputation as a low-calorie alternative to heavier cheeses. (It’s packed with nutrients, too, including vitamin B12, zinc and copper.)
The cheese is made from the curds of various levels of pasteurized cow's milk, which are then drained, rather than pressed, to retain a loose texture. Its appealingly mild flavor is due to the fact that it does not undergo an aging or ripening process.
Best Cottage-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Cottage cheese is often found on “healthy choice” breakfast menus, and can be used to spread on toast or fruit, blended into smoothies, baked into egg dishes or used in place of chip dips for a lighter-calorie indulgence.
But cottage cheese has also, surprisingly and excitingly, become a staple at some higher-end restaurants, where it’s being used in more inventive ways. Fig in Charleston, South Carolina, for example, serves it with seasonal produce like blackberries, peaches, radishes and heirloom tomatoes, while L’Etoile in Madison, Wisconsin drizzles it with pumpkin-seed oil and toasted pepitas.
Pictured here is a beautiful dish from Nix in New York City featuring house-made cottage cheese adorned with chilled asparagus and nectarines. Nutritious and delicious!
4. Cream Cheese and Neufchâtel
Annual U.S. production: 914.8 million pounds
Cream cheese, which has been around in Europe since the 1500s and in America since the mid-1700s, is best-known as the ideal partner for bagels, but has many other uses as well. In the U.S., it needs to be at least 33 percent milk fat and have a moisture content of no more than 55 percent.
Neufchâtel, on the other hand, is a soft, mold-ripened cheese made in the Neufchâtel-en-Bray, French region of Normandy. In 1872, when a man named William Lawrence bought a Neufchâtel factory in New York and added cream, he turned the oldest French cheese into something strictly American.
Best Cream-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
We all know the delicacy that is a fresh New York bagel with a healthy schmear of cream cheese. If you want to go wild, try Becky’s Bites in the East Village, which aims to “make New York City known for its cream cheese in the same way the city is famous for its bagels.” Schmears come with a sweet twist in flavors ranging from cookies and cream to peanut butter to funfetti birthday cake. Want something more conventional? Order a bagel with regular-old cream cheese at a New York classic like Ess-a-Bagel or Absolute Bagels (pictured here).
Of course, you can also get your bagel-with-cream-cheese fix outside NYC, courtesy of national chains like Einstein & Co., which offers its own inventive versions of cream cheese (the smoked salmon and jalapeno salsa varieties are weird but awesome).
Cream cheese is additionally used to make the wonder that is cheesecake. For this, too, New York City reigns supreme, though you can find wonderful offerings all across the country.
3. Processed Cheese
Annual U.S. production: 1.8 billion pounds
Processed cheeses are those made from real cheese and non-cheese products, like salt, food dyes, preservatives, extra dairy and emulsifiers (typically, the ratio is 50/50, though this can vary). These cheeses are usually sold wrapped in plastic and pressed into individually wrapped singles, and they tend to be easy on the budget.
The most well-known processed cheese is, but of course, Kraft singles, which dates back to 1916 and has been a staple in school lunches and on grilled-cheese sandwiches ever since. Provel and Velveeta are also popular in the states.
These cheeses have something of a bad rap and sales have been declining in recent years as Americans embrace fresh and fancy cheeses instead (millennials, but of course, have been blamed for their downfall).
Still, processed cheese remains a popular choice in American households.
Best Processed-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Honestly, it’s hard these days to find processed cheese in U.S. restaurants. Chains like Panera Bread and Cracker Barrel have swapped out processed cheeses for artisan choices like cheddar and Gouda. Even fast-food chains like Wendy’s and McDonald’s are making the switch.
The one notable exception? St. Louis, Missouri, which has had a longstanding obsession with Provel cheese, a processed mix of Swiss, provolone and cheddar. This fixation makes sense, considering the cheese got its start in the city; in fact, outside River City, it must be sold under the name “St. Louis-style cheese.”
Provel is the key ingredient in the beloved “St. Louis-style pizza,” pictured here, that's sold at Imo’s Pizza (and other pizzerias in town that have followed suit). Imo’s actually has locations throughout the Midwest, but the original outpost in the heart of St. Louis is the best place to go to try this regional classic.
Annual U.S. production: 5.2 billion pounds
Ok, so this is a little confusing: Processed cheeses like Kraft and Velveeta are often called American cheeses. But when the USDA uses this classification, it’s talking about non-processed cheeses made in the U.S., most prominently cheddar, Colby and Jack.
Not surprisingly, cheddar dominates in this category, with consumption hitting about 11.07 pounds per capita, with the other American cheeses reaching about 3.99 pounds combined. Ranging from mild to extra sharp, cheddar often comes out on top in surveys asking Americans to pick their favorite cheese (because it’s perfection, obviously).
Colby is pretty similar to cheddar, including in color, but is softer and milder. And Monterey jack cheese (often shortened to just "jack") is a white variety that originated with Mexican Franciscan friars in Monterey, California that’s known for its mellow flavor — though those looking for a kick can turn to its spicy cousin of pepper Jack.
All are fantastically popular for a reason.
Best Cheddar-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
The majority of cheddar is produced in Wisconsin, and the state is a must-visit for aficionados of this glorious cheese. There are cheese shops galore if you want to try different cheddars on their own, or you can hit up one (or more!) of several restaurants and cafes serving cheddar-starring dishes, including grilled-cheese sandwiches at places like Uber Tap Room & Cheese Bar in Milwaukee and Alchemy in Madison, and cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese at restaurants including Macs in Wisconsin Dells.
Want to go wild? Try Appleton Beer Factory in Appleton, which serves a Beer and Bacon Mac & Cheese Sandwich (yes, you read that right) or Ian’s Pizza, where the cheddar Mac N Cheese pizza, pictured here, is over-the-top perfection. Ian’s has locations not only in Madison and Milwaukee but also in Seattle and Denver.
All that said, there are other destinations in the U.S. that will proudly claim they actually make the best cheddar. In Vermont, locally loved white cheddar forgoes annatto-based food coloring and can be found on menus across the state. Oregon, home to world-renowned Tillamook cheese, is a strong contender as well.
Best Jack-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
California, where Jack cheese was born, is your best bet for this mellow cheese, with the regular and pepper versions found on burgers and in grilled-cheese sandwiches across the state. (Though this cheese is, obviously, found pretty much everywhere.)
To try something more unusual, head to Northern California to try dry Jack cheese, a sweet and nutty varietal that is only made in this region. You’ll often find it on salads, including kale offerings at Grand Lake Kitchen in Oakland and Za’s Lakefront in Tahoe City, and a Ceasars salad with anchovies at the Mendocino Hotel Restaurant, pictured here.
Annual U.S. production: 5.6 billion pounds
When it was announced that Italian cheeses had dethroned American cheeses as the most popular in the country, it made headline news. But really, is it that big of a surprise?
Consider the list of exemplary cheeses one finds in this category, starting with the ubiquitous mozzarella. Whether supermarket mozzarella, trendy burrata or mozzarella di bufala, this versatile cheese is a true staple in the U.S., not to mention worldwide (it was first made, of course, in Italy). Today, Americans consume about 11.57 pounds of mozzarella per capita per year, with the popularity of American pizza playing a big role in these numbers.
And that’s to say nothing of the other major cheeses that help make up this category: ricotta, provolone and parmesan. Sounds like a winning mix of cheeses to us.
Best Mozzarella-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
Obviously, mozzarella is a key ingredient in just about any type of pizza — from your 99-cent New York slice to the more artisanal wood-oven variety found in trendy cities across the country. Paired with sliced tomatoes, basil, olive oil and salt, it’s also a crucial part of the classic caprese salad.
You can find both dishes in basically every corner of the U.S., though your best bet is to head to an authentic restaurant in one of the country’s history-rich Italian-American neighborhoods (Boston, Baltimore, San Diego, San Francisco and Cleveland have particularly thriving “Little Italy” communities).
You’ll also find restaurants thinking outside the box with mozzarella. The recently opened Mozzarella Store, Pizza and Cafe in Chicago, for example, serves the cheese not just in pizza, but in a caprese panini, pictured here, and (yes) gelato.
This restaurant is also one of many across the country to spotlight burrata, a type of mozzarella made with cream, on its menu.
Best Ricotta-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
The most famous dish starring ricotta, known for its mellow and slightly sweet flavor, is lasagna (this dish also features mozzarella and parmesan, making it your best option for trying a bunch of Italian cheeses at once!).
For this, too, you can’t go wrong in any of the country’s Italian-American neighborhoods, where lasagna recipes have been passed down through the generations. But for the most critically acclaimed lasagna, head to Domenica in New Orleans, which makes what the Food Network has named the country’s most superb version of the meal. The differentiating factors here? Parsley-infused pasta sheets and a dash of red wine for flavoring.
When stuffed inside sugar-dusted rolls of fried pastry dough, ricotta cream is also what makes the Italian dessert of cannoli sing. Try the best cannoli of your life at Mike’s Pastry in Boston’s North End Italian-American neighborhood (nearby Modern Pastry makes a killer version too).
An indulgent version at Mike’s made with chocolate ricotta and chocolate chips is pictured here.
Best Provolone-Cheese Dishes in the U.S.
The gentle smokiness of provolone makes it a wonderful option on sandwiches, and you can find it in the glass case at most sandwich shops in the country, from big-box chains like Subway to small mom-and-pop delis.
But for our money, the ideal way to eat this cheese is in chicken parmesan. This classic Italian dish, featuring breaded chicken topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese, often features mozzarella, but pairs especially well with provolone. (Either way, parmesan cheese of course makes an appearance too!)
To try a sublime provolone-based chicken parm, check out the historic Dante NYC in New York City. Pictured here, the restaurant’s take on the meal features baked wine-marinated chicken and Tuscan kale, and comes topped with sourdough breadcrumbs.