European Cheese vs. American Cheese

The debate over European vs. American cheeses has raged for years in cheese circles.

European Cheese vs. American Cheese

Cheese specialists often praise the goodness of European cheeses, considering them to be of higher quality and flavor compared to their American counterparts.

But is this reputation deserved, or is it an unfair characterization of American cheeses?

A History Steeped in Tradition

Europe boasts a long tradition of cheesemaking spanning centuries. Cheese is deeply woven into the fabric and food culture of European countries like France, Italy, and Switzerland. Specific regions are renowned for signature cheeses that locals have made the exact same way for generations, upholding long-standing traditions.

American cheesemaking, by contrast, lacks this lengthy history and strong regional ties. Commercial cheese production ramped up rapidly in the late 1800s and focused heavily on mass production in factories. Consistency and shelf stability were prioritized over craftsmanship or small batch production.

This difference in origin stories impacts perceptions. Europe's rich history and proud traditions make their cheeses seem inherently superior. American cheeses were industrialized right out the gate, cementing an image of low quality.

But the tide has turned to some degree. While Europe still dominates when it comes to traditional cheesemaking, the U.S. now has a thriving artisan cheese industry churning out high quality, small batch cheeses that rival Europe's finest. However, shaking off that initial reputation has proved difficult.

Key Takeaway: Europe benefits from an ancient, storied tradition of cheesemaking deeply rooted in regional culture and customs. The US historically emphasized mass produced factory cheeses instead.

Flavor: Subtly Complex vs. Mildly Bland

When it comes to taste and texture, broad generalizations paint European cheeses as flavorfully complex while American cheeses taste relatively mild and bland.

Of course, with thousands of varieties across two continents, preferences run the gamut. But on the whole, American consumer tastes have skewed towards milder, less ripe cheeses. Specialty cheese shops bring in bolder European flavors, but the average grocery store stocks creamy, approachable blocks that appeal to widespread palates.

In contrast, even everyday European supermarket cheeses flaunt richer, tangier, more pronounced flavors than their American equivalents. Strong tastes have long defined quality across many European food cultures.

American cheeses frequently rely on blander base ingredients as well. Cow's milk makes up about 95% of U.S. cheese production, lending a milder canvas for cheesemakers. Goat and sheep milks constitute less than 5% combined but contribute to some of Europe's strongest tasting cheeses.

Europe also utilizes raw or unpasteurized milk far more prevalently. This showcases wider spectrum of flavors and aromas that pasteurization eliminates alongside harmful bacteria. U.S. regulations severely limit American cheesemakers' access to quality raw ingredients.

Of course, with thousands of cheeses available, flavor profiles run the gamut on both continents. Sweeping claims fail to capture the full diverse picture. Not all European cheeses are ripely potent, nor all American cheeses blandly dull.

Fantastic strong and funky American cheeses exist, although tracking them down can prove tricky compared to Europe. And even everyday European supermarket cheeses flaunt bolder, more tangy flavors than equivalent American products.

Regulation and processing differences restrict American cheese potential in some regards, but artisan producers constantly push boundaries and improve quality. America now makes truly great cheeses, although shaking an unfairly lackluster reputation remains an uphill battle.

Key Takeaway: Generalizations paint European cheeses as more complex and flavorful while American cheeses trend milder and less nuanced. Consumer tastes and ingredient differences factor into this.

Manufacturing Methods: Traditional Techniques vs. Modern Automation

When envisioning European cheesemaking, many imagine an intimate small workshop filled with copper vats and aging wheels crafted meticulously by hand just as they have been for hundreds of years. And for some cheeses, that imagery still holds true.

Europe retains numerous traditional cheese producers upholding time-honored techniques generation after generation. From family-owned Alpine creameries to French monks handcrafting aged raw milk wheels, these small operations embrace custom and continuity.

America historically industrialized cheese production rapidly, prioritizing efficiency, productivity, and distribution. Rather than nurture smaller regional cheesemaking traditions, the late 1800s saw rapid proliferation of processed cheese from mass manufacturing plants.

The quality gap this difference implies does have some truth behind it. Small batch cheeses made meticulously by hand frequently offer finer attention to detail than mass manufactured products focused predominantly on volume.

And Europe's revered cheeses came about through patient refinement over centuries, not overnight in processing plants. Their legacies instill an inherent expectation of quality.

However, the line between Old World craftsmanship and modern American automation blurs more each year. A new guard of American farmstead operations focus on handcrafting cheeses slowly with artisan techniques. They let flavors develop gradually, sometimes even embracing traditional European methods.

Conversely, Europe has seen larger companies modernize processes to improve efficiency and production capacity. Some renown cheeses now rely partially on mechanization for tasks like milling and curd cutting. This enables maintaining quality standards at higher volumes.

So while generalizations depict European cheeses as traditionally handcrafted goods and American cheeses as mass manufactured products, reality sees a convergence towards the middle from both directions. There remains truth to tradition's role in prestige, but excellent cheeses utilizing modern technique exist on both continents now.

Key Takeaway: Many iconic European cheeses still rely on small scale, traditional production methods that American companies abandoned in favor of highly automated factories.

Regulations: Protected Designations vs. Mass Market

Another key differentiator lies in production regulations and labeling enforcement on either side of the Atlantic. Several facets of protected food regulations in Europe work to enforce quality standards and regional uniqueness for many cheeses.

Foremost is the protected designation of origin (PDO) framework spanning European Union countries. This geographic indication system legally reserves names of cheeses tied intrinsically to specific regions, like Parmigiano-Reggiano or Roquefort.

To receive PDO status, cheeses must follow meticulous protocols dictating ingredients, processes, aging, and other factors. This prevents larger companies from mass producing copycat versions on the cheap to undermine quality and legacy. Only producers within rigidly defined areas can use protected cheese names.

No such regulated designation process exists in the U.S. As a result, some originally American cheese names like cheddar, provolone, or asiago got repurposed for mass market pale imitations. This dilutes their substance for many cheese advocates.

Raw milk regulation also impacts potential. As mentioned before, U.S. requirements severely restrict using raw milk in cheese production, necessitating pasteurization for the majority. Europe sets raw milk standards while permitting its use more freely in aged cheeses. This provides competitive edges to some artisans.

Of course, not every fine European cheese boasts PDO status or utilizes raw ingredients. But between the two regulatory approaches, Europe offers structural advantages towards maintaining cheese legacies. Rich histories formed the foundation, but rules and oversight prevent dilution. The U.S. places no guardrails on branding or production shortcuts.

Key Takeaway: Europe's protected designation of origin regulations preserve rigorously defined production standards for many regional cheeses against imitation. No equivalent system exists in America.

Rising Recognition for American Cheesemaking

Despite reputation disadvantages, American cheesemaking constantly evolves and improves against prior stereotypes of factory mass production. Scores of devoted artisans now craft world class cheeses that can stand toe to toe with Europe's finest.

Farmstead creameries utilize high quality milk from their own small herds to make cheese on site. This hands-on approach allows personal attention through every step. They increasingly adopt sustainable practices as well given smaller capacities.

American palates and accessibility broaden over time too. Specialty cheeseshops thrive in more cities, assisted by groups like the American Cheese Society promoting small scale cheesemakers. These help expand consumer cheese IQ's beyond mild grocery store blocks through expert staff picks.

Influential cheese competitions like the World Cheese Awards also endorse great American cheeses, awarding more medals and honors each year. Top finishes for US entries chip away at any lingering doubts over quality. Despite facing European cheeses on home turf, American cheesemakers now consistently hold their own.

This rise within the upper echelon pushes a halo effect benefiting the broader American cheese industry. Savvy consumers realize that beyond modest grocery options lie incredibly diverse and delectable cheeses from small regional creameries across America.

European cheeses deserve esteemed praise as paragons in many regards. Their legacies shine brightly, and constraints rightly demand respect. But excellent cheesemaking now occurs across America at all scales. Artisan producers in particular erase any qualitative judgements against US cheeses.

Reputations simply need time to evolve perspective. But having won over experts like cheesemongers and competition judges, outstanding American cheeses appear poised to do the same with global consumers given opportunities.


What aspects make some European cheeses seem superior to American cheeses?

A few key advantages uplift European cheeses in popular conceptions:

  • Centuries of cheesemaking tradition and regional specialties
  • Prominent utilization of raw milk with bolder flavors
  • Prevalence of small scale, manual production methods
  • Protected designations enforcing rigor for some cheese varieties
  • Bolder, more complex flavors preferred by European palates

Do regulations restrict American cheese quality and variety?

U.S. regulations impose a few restrictions that limit American cheese diversity:

  • Raw milk cheese must be aged >60 days, limiting soft styles
  • No protected designations prevent larger companies from appropriating some famous cheese names
  • Mass market cheeses trend towards milder flavors suited for broader appeal

But artisan producers increasingly craft more robust and unique American cheeses within regulatory confines.

What American cheese varieties stand out currently?

Some American cheeses winning particular acclaim include:

  • Rogue River Blue (raw sheep milk blue from Oregon)
  • Jasper Hill Farm cheeses (raw cow/goat milk varieties from Vermont)
  • Sally Jackson Sheep Cheese (ewe milk cheeses from Washington)
  • Cato Corner Farm (washed rind raw cow milk cheeses from Connecticut)

Are high quality European-style cheeses widely accessible across the U.S.?

Yes and no. Specialty cheese shops thrive in a growing number of cities, providing excellent European options. But higher costs and smaller production volumes prevent artisan American cheeses from broadly infiltrating many mainstream grocery settings thus far.


Comparisons between European and American cheeses have long favored Europe for comprehensible reasons like history, tradition, and regulations that elevate expectations and integrity around cheesemaking there.

But notions that American cheeses lag considerably behind in quality and variety ignore tremendous recent advances thanks to dedicated artisan producers. Tremendous cheeses that now rival Europe's finest come from small regional creameries across America.

While European cheese standards steer broader industry norms and consumer palates, room remains for differing preferences. American palates not accustomed to very strong cheeses still find endless perfectly pleasant options domestically or imported.

Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀
Cheese Lover Chloe 🧀

I'm a total cheese fanatic! When I'm not busy studying to be a cheesemaker, you can find me scouring local farmers markets and specialty shops for new and exciting cheeses to try. Brie is my all-time fave, but I also love exploring aged goudas, funky blues, and rich creamy camemberts. Looking forward to sharing lots of melty, gooey cheese pics and reviews!