Maybe it's our proximity to Wisconsin, our proclivities for overflowing pizza slices, or the (generally) rough winters that draw us to stick-to-the-ribs gooeyness three months a year. Whatever the reason, there's no way around it: Chicagoans love cheese.
While we often get creative, dusting it onto Garrett's popcorn or letting it moonlight as a hot dog topping, we definitely appreciate cheese in its purest form, and have plenty of restaurants and vendors to prove it.
Whether they're celebrating the holiday with a special -- such as BIN 36's Cheese Happy Hour -- or doling out top-notch dairy as usual in honor of National Cheese Day on Monday, these cheeseries in the greater Chicago area can scratch any type of fan's itch, from the gourmet to the undiscriminating mac-eater.
Check out some of our favorite places to cheese out, and tell us about your go-tos in the comments:
For the open-air shopper
Love high-end cheeses but hate veering off your market-centric shopping trips to hit up a specialty shop? Luckily, the fine folks at <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stamper-Cheese-Company/212254005468303" target="_hplink">Stamper Cheese Market</a> round up the best, then take it on tour each week to a host of Chicago's farmer's markets. This summer they'll be shilling their wares at markets at Federal Plaza, Pritzker Plaza, Division Street, in Logan Square, New Lenox and more. <br> <em>Locations vary</em> <br> Photo by Sarah Hanchett via <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=244858472207856&set=a.244858402207863.80876.212254005468303&type=3&theater" target="_hplink">Stamper Facebook</a>
For the experimental eater
Yelp reviewers seem to agree--whether it's an obscure, odd or particularly odorous cheese you're looking for, <a href="http://www.wisconcorp.com/caputocheese.html" target="_hplink">Caputo Cheese Market</a> has got you covered. The Melrose Park cheese shop has an insane selection of local and imported cheeses, and the staff is just as willing to recommend something wild as they are eager to help you track down that one specific French goat cheese whose name you can't quite remember. <br> <em>1931 N. 15th Ave., Melrose Park</em> <br> Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caputo-Cheese-Market/114578331937092" target="_hplink">Caputo's Cheese Market Facebook</a>
For the sample-lover
When it comes to cheese, do you prefer to bite before you buy? Let your tastebuds be your guide at <a href="http://provenancefoodandwine.com/index.php" target="_hplink">Provenance Food & Wine</a>, where the staff is willing to hold your hand while you hunt for the perfect cheese. A novice cheese-eater with guests on the way? Let these fine folks pre-assemble a platter based on your tastes. Their emphasis on locally-produced goods will ease your conscience even more than your hunger. <em>2528 N. California Ave. <br> 2312 W. Leland Ave.</em> <br> Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150828879978519&set=a.156345418518.115114.56657233518&type=3&theater" target="_hplink">Provenance Facebook</a>
For a cheese-centric excursion..
For those who truly revere cheese, Giles Schnierle is more like a museum curator an artesianal gatherer. His <a href="http://www.greatamericancheese.com/warehouse.php" target="_hplink">Great American Cheese Collection </a>represents more than 65 co-op and family producers from across the country, and is the single largest source for American-made specialty cheeses. His Chicago-based warehouse opens to the public for tastings between 11:00 am to 2:00 pm on the first Saturday of every month, where visitors lucky enough to get in the door can taste the experts, and go home with enough lactose finery to pass for one the next time guests stop by. <br> <em>4727 S. Talman</em> <br> Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=109498069134530&set=a.109498065801197.19287.107666699317667&type=3&theater" target="_hplink">The Great American Cheese Collection's Facebook</a>
For you fancy types
Just because something is slathered in delicious dairy doesn't mean it has to take on a certain Kraft single classlessness. <strong><a href="http://pastoralartisan.com/" target="_hplink">Pastoral</a></strong> -- an artisan shop specializing in cheeses, breads and wine -- is a European-inspired neighborhood shop offering cut-to-order cheeses, both domestic and international, as well as fantastic, fresh breads. Their sandwiches, paired with one of their many wine offerings, are also fantastic. And despite their classy atmosphere, a trip to the store won't leave you too light-walleted: Quality cheeses, wines and breads are available at a variety of price points. <br> <em>Pastoral, 2945 N. Broadway; 53 E. Lake; 131 N. Clinton</em> <br> Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/danebrian/1935808617/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">dane brian</a> (Flickr)
For the carb-aholics
If there was only one way to make a grilled cheese sandwich even better, it would be combining it with macaroni and cheese in some sort of Frankenstein-like carbfest. The recently-expanded <strong><a href="http://www.cheesieschicago.com/" target="_hplink">Cheesie's Pub & Grub</a></strong>, opened in 2011, offers exactly this gluttonous concoction: Delicious, Velveeta-y macaroni and cheese smacked between two hearty pieces of butter-slathered Texas Toast. Sound a bit excessive? Their jalapeno popper and mozzerella-and-basil varieties are also tasty alternatives. <br> <em>Cheesie's Pub & Grub, 958 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago </em> <br> Photo: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/cheesiespubgrub" target="_hplink">Cheesie's Facebook</a>
For cheese-lovers with wanderlust..
Want to get your cheese-on while also escaping the city? Look no further than <strong><a href="http://www.marscheese.com/" target="_hplink">Mars' Cheese Castle</a></strong>, home to no less than 300 cheese that allow you "travel the world of cheese while standing in one room," as the shop's website describes. In operating for going on five decades, this shop is an icon, located between Milwaukee and Chicago, directly off Highway 94. While in the area, <strong><a href="http://www.bratstop.com/" target="_hplink">The Brat Stop</a></strong>'s cheese mart nearby also offers an obscene variety of cheese curds -- not to mention Wisconsin brews, some of which can't legally be sold outside of the state. Be sure to grab a six pack of <strong><a href="http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/" target="_hplink">New Glarus</a></strong> before you pass back through the Cheddar Curtain. <br> <em>Mars' Cheese Castle, 2800 West Frontage Road, Kenosha <br> The Brat Stop, 12304 75th Street, Kenosha </em> <br> Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/sbrookss/2508228733/sizes/o/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">20 Letters</a> (Flickr)
For your vegan friends..
Just because your friend might be following a vegan diet (or is lactose intolerant or otherwise dairyphobic) doesn't mean they have to miss out on the fun: <a href="http://www.veggiediner.com" target="_hplink">The <strong>Chicago Diner</strong></a> offers incredibly deceptive non-dairy takes on cheese-centric, comforting classics that could even pull one over on the most sophisticated of fromagephiles. If the cozy diner is too crowded (as is often the case), <strong><a href="http://www.nativefoods.com" target="_hplink">Native Foods</a></strong> -- now in three locations citywide -- also offer some fantastic dairy-free dishes, including chili "cheese" fries that will surely satisfy. <br> <em>Chicago Diner, 3411 N. Halsted <br> Native Foods, 1484 N. Milwaukee; 1023 W. Belmont; 218 S. Clark</em> <br> Photo: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/zol87/4051104256/sizes/l/in/photostream/" target="_hplink">Zol87</a> (Flickr)