The culinary alchemy of cheese has enchanted humans for millennia. There's just something about fermentation that drives our taste buds wild. It's also a volatile and fascinating process to observe firsthand, especially for the food-obsessed traveler (or really anyone) looking to plot a rural escape amidst farms and green fields. While cheesemaking evolved as a means of preserving milk for later consumption, the most sought-after cheeses are rather fragile and ephemeral, especially once they reach their peak. They don't tend to travel well and are hard to store properly -- which is why paying the small-scale dairies that produce them a personal visit can be so rewarding. Add to this the fact that those creating top-notch hand-crafted products often struggle just to keep up with local demand, much less that of foodies in faraway places. A final inducement: Tasting a cheese on its home turf (preferably within earshot of tinkling cowbells) allows you to support the local economy and experience the flavor in the context of the local cuisine, the accompanying alcoholic beverage of choice, and, best of all, the people who produced it.
It should come as no surprise that the kinds of rural communities that support the painstaking endeavor of perfecting the liquid-to-solid cheese miracle also tend to be beautiful unspoiled places to visit. Rural travel of this kind is booming in Europe and has taken off in the U.S. over the past 10 years, as well. This slideshow is just a little taste.