The tradition of cheesemaking dates back at least 7,000 years, which we know from chemical analysis of clay pottery found in Poland and Croatia that suggests the pots were used to make cheese. However, some believe that the tradition may have started even 1,000 years earlier, as certain holed pots found in Switzerland from that time period are hypothesized to be cheese-strainers. Whenever the practice of turning milk into cheese began, it’s certainly been going on for a long time.
Some believe that cheese was invented during a beautifully serendipitous and accidental event when a traveler was carrying milk in the stomach of a ruminant animal. Rennet, an enzyme which is found in these animals’ stomachs, may have caused the milk to coagulate and separate into whey and curds. And then, for whatever reason, this specific traveler decided that it was a good idea to eat these curds, and discovered that they were savory and delicious. Thus, people began intentionally adding rennet to milk to create curds, and the tradition of cheesemaking was born.
Cheesemaking has definitely taken on some primitive forms throughout its long history. However, as with all creative endeavors that humans partake in, cheesemaking has developed into a full-blown form of high art. Cheesemakers all over the world experiment with different recipes and methods for creating different varieties of cheese, so much so that by some estimates there are over 1,800 different kinds of cheese in existence today.
We all know a few varieties of cheese: cheddar, swiss, mozzarella, feta, ricotta. Maybe you’re even familiar with more ostentatious kinds like brie or camembert or roquefort. However, even these fancy cheeses can’t compare to the prestige held by the most expensive cheese in the world. People have come to appreciate the artform of cheesemaking to such a degree that they’re willing to pay astronomical prices to get a taste of some of the rarest cheeses in the world.
Here are the most expensive cheeses in the world today:
Pule is largely considered to be the most expensive variety of cheese in the world thanks to the fact that only around 50 to 70 kilograms of the stuff is produced every year, and only about a third of that ever makes it to the open market.
The cheese is produced on a small nature preserve in Zasavica, Serbia founded by Slobodon Simic, and the same method has been used to produce Pule since the 1700s. The milk comes from a rare breed of Balkan donkeys that live on the preserve, and there are only 130 jennies in the entire herd. Donkey milk contains about 60 times more vitamin C than cow’s milk, but less than 1% of the total fat content, which is what gives Pule its extremely unique flavor. Donkey milk is renowned for its health benefits, and Cleopatra is believed to have enjoyed bathing in it.
The donkeys on the preserve are milked three times a day, but each milking yields little milk, and each pound of cheese produced requires at least three gallons of milk. That is why the preserve is only able to produce a small amount of Pule. Pule cheese is also illegal to buy in certain parts of the world because it’s made with unpasteurized milk, which is considered a health hazard by many countries. The flavor has been compared to Spanish manchego or gruyere, but even more interesting and refined.
The price of Pule is currently around $600 per pound, but can go up as high as $1,300 per pound on the open market.
The Elk House (Europeans call moose “elks”) in Bjurholm, Sweden is the only producer of this extremely creamy and savory variety of cheese. They make four different kinds of cheese from the milk of three sister moose named Gullan, Juno, and Haelga. These moose lactate once a year from May through September, and are milked once a day yielding about three liters per moose per day.
Moose can be rather dangerous animals if they’re not dealt with correctly and stressing these moose out can cause their milk supplies to dry up, so the Johanssons, the owners of The Elk House, must deal with these three moose sisters very carefully. Thus, The Elk House is the only farm that produces cheese from moose milk in the entire world. Their annual yield of cheese is around 650 pounds.
From the moose milk, which is extremely high in protein and has a fat content of about 12%, they make four different varieties of cheese: a white-mold cheese that can be compared to camembert, a creamy blue cheese, a dry blue cheese, and feta. Their cheese is sold commercially to individuals and restaurants in Sweden and Russia.
You can also visit The Elk House and take a tour of the farm and even meet the three moose sisters. They also have a gift shop and a restaurant where you can order delicious options like a raspberry and cream parfait made with moose milk feta.
Moose milk feta cheese is the best-selling product for The Elk House, and some of their cheese will sell for as much as $500 per pound.
White Stilton Gold
If you were wondering from the name, yes, this cheese has real gold in it. Made by only six dairies in the United Kingdom, this cheese is made from the already-expensive white Stilton variety, but is pumped full of edible gold leaf and real gold-cinnamon schnapps. Essentially, it’s white Stilton that’s been infused with Goldschlager.
The designation of Stilton is already protected by the U.K. government, meaning that no cheese produced outside of the counties of Derbyshire, Leicestershire, and Nottinghamshire in the United Kingdom are allowed to be called Stilton. And within those counties, only six creameries are licensed to produce White Stilton Gold.
The milk used for the cheese is local pasteurized cow’s milk. It is never pressed and forms its own crust. It has a cylindrical shape and rich and mellow taste with a pungent aftertaste similar to normal Stilton, with the added element of the gold-cinnamon schnapps infusion.
White Stilton Gold sells for over $400 per pound. However, this cheese is so exclusive that it’s only sold to the United Kingdom’s elite.
Bitto Storico is only produced by 12 different cheesemakers in the Valtellina Valley of Italy. It’s made from the milk of cows that graze in the Bitto River Valley and from 10% to 20% Orobica goat’s milk from the Bergamo Alps.
The cows are given no extra food, they eat entirely off the land, and there are no additives whatsoever in the cheese. The production process can only take place from the beginning of June to the end of September due to the climate, and it begins with the milk being heated in copper cauldrons over wood fires which are set on the mountainside. The season in which the milk was collected for Bitto Storico can have a profound effect on the flavor, since the cows graze on different kinds of foliage at different times of the year.
The cheese must be aged for at least 70 days, but is more often stored for around 10 years. Wheels of Bitto Storico have sold after aging for as long as 18 years, making them the oldest edible cheese in the world. The length for which Bitto Storico was aged can also affect the flavor quite a bit.
The older wheels of Bitto Storico can sell for as much as $150 per pound. If you want to try this elusive cheese, your best bet is to travel to the small village of Gerolo Alta in the Bergamo Alps and visit the Centro del Bitto Storico, which is a restaurant, museum, and cheese-aging cellar all wrapped into one.