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Trader Joes cheese VS. Grocery store cheese

  • m

Okay, I'm a cheese nut. I love almost every kind I've tasted-- my favorites are a young raw milk gouda with cumin, and perhaps a nutty madrigal swiss.

I do almost all my cheese shopping at Trader Joe's, simply because both their selection and prices are far superior to Ralphs or Vons.

But here's my question... how would "off the shelf" Trader Joe's cheeses match up to a taste test of higher end national brands? For example, TJ's young cheddar VS. a comparable national brand cheese found in regular old grocery stores (like Tillamook or Cracker Barrel).

And while Trader Joe's certainly can not compete with a specialty cheese shop (except perhaps in terms of price for some of the more exotic types), what is your opinion of the selection available at most stores?

Mr. Taster

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  1. Don't know where you are but the Whole Foods chain in this area has much greater selection than TJ... numerous raw cheeses, aged and fresh chevre imports.

    1 Reply
    1. re: applehome

      At our Whole Foods the selection is awesome, but many times the same exact cheese or similiar can be found for a dollar or two a pound less at the Joe's across the street.

    2. For the most part I haven't found TJ's cheeses to be much to write home about. Better than a poorly stocked grocery store, maybe, but not better than a well stocked one.

      1. Cost aside, I have not had very good luck buying cheese at the Trader Joes near me (suburban Philadelphia). In fact, twice I have bought chunks of cheese and then tossed them out at home because the quality was so poor. (They are, however, very nice about refunds.) The only cheese I buy there regularly is the goat brie: very flavorful and cheap!

        1. b
          Boris Carlitov

          I agree that trader joes sometimes has quality problems with their cheeses, but nobody seems to have addressed the original question: How do they compare to national brand cheeses in price? quality?

          It's been quite awhile since I've had "national brand" cheeses so I can't really address this issue.

          I've found that if you examine the cheese carefully before you buy it (look for extraneous mold, moisture etc.) you can find a good deal on a medium quality cheese at trader joes.

          Boris

          2 Replies
          1. re: Boris Carlitov

            I don't know what kind of an answer you expect to get for the original question. I don't recall what Tillamook tastes like, but Cracker Barrel is pretty icky. Something like Cabot is clearly a couple of notches better. Almost anything that's made in an identifiable place is better than the mass-produced crap. But my local supermarket has almost as much pretty-good cheese as TJs does. The big difference is that there are some very good deals at TJs.

            I don't buy a lot of dairy products at TJ anyway, except for Total yogurt, and that's because they're the only local store that carries it. I find the handling of dairy foods at my TJs to be way under par. Things I get there have a high chance of going off quickly.

            1. re: bibi rose
              b
              Boris Carlitov

              I agree with your general dairy comments. Acutally - I buy my organic milk there because it's the cheapest around - but when i make cappacino at home it won't foam up like fresh milk.

              oh well.

              Boris

          2. I find Cabot extra sharp cheddar, for example, to be one of the best semi-widely-available cheddars. TJ has it for the cheap.

            On the whole I've also found TJ's cheeses generally to be in the "middle of the road". Better than generic supermarket brands and most of the "cracker barrel" or mass-marketed brands, but with mass-produced cheeses like Saga Blue and others you won't find great stuff like in a well-stocked cheese or gourmet shop. No aged "Crotin de chavignol" or "Ossau-Irity" or other exotics.

            -=$>Dave<$=-

            3 Replies
            1. re: JugglerDave

              The cheeses you can get at TJ's vary tremendously by store. The TJ's nearest me in Alameda has a small and boring cheese selection, but I occasionally stop by the San Mateo store and their cheese selection is much bigger and more interesting. This last time I had to restrain myself from buying more than three different sheep's milk cheeses (I have before me, for example, an English sheep's milk cheese, aged one year, $7.99/lb.). I love sheep's milk cheeses, and except for cheap Romano, the average supermarket doesn't carry them. I can (and usually do) get wonderful artisan cheeses at my local cheesemonger, but they cost two or three times as much, which makes buying them a serious investment, rather than a fun little experiment.

              As for Trader Joe's cheese vs. "national brand" cheese, I'm not sure I understand the question. No cheese that's a "national brand" is going to be more than just average. "National brand" is not an indicator of quality when it comes to cheese: excellent cheese is not mass market commodity. Of the brands mentioned, TJ's carries Cabot (and often their higher end Cabot cheeses grocery stores don't carry); I have a vague recollection that they carry Tillamook as well (at least here on the West Coast).

              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                To clarify my question:

                Example: do you feel that a TJ's mild cheddar is comparable or superior in quality to grocery store mild cheddar (like a Tillamook)

                Mr. Taster

                1. re: Mr. Taster

                  I guess I'd have to do a taste test, since I've been getting Cabot for the longest time.

                  But, it sounds like you're talking about the non-branded "TJ's Cheddar" for example, right? Because while Tillabrook is a brand, at my local ShopRite they have non-branded "house" cheddar at $4.39 / lb which I used to buy all the time. Tastes generic, melts nicely on pizza bagels, but not really a very good cheddar. Cabot extra sharp is infinitely better at the exact same price at TJ.

                  Next time I go (sometime this weekend I'll pick up the TJ brand and do an A/B comparison. I probably won't be buying supermarket brand for awhile though.

                  -=$>Dave<$=-

            2. l
              LikestoEatout

              I have had spotty luck with TJ's cheese, they carry a blue that is awesome but you have to look at it close to make sure it's firm, I've had some that wound up being watery, maybe something in their shipping methods? Whole Foods has an amazing selection of cheeses from around the world but that is a major journey away so TJ's still is heads above my local markets that carry only Kraft or Sargento.

              1. Pretty much in agreement with most posters. The thing about the TJ cheese section that, at a minimum, always draws me back to at least give it a once-over, is they occasionally stock real bargains. My local TJ's carried St. Andre for a couple months--the same St. Andre I could pay $2-3 dollars/lb. more for in a cheese shop. But then, for some reason, it disappeared. Same with a good manchego they had for a while. Unfortunately, it has been replaced with a manchego that, IMO, is quite a bit less flavorful.

                1. I'm a fan of Trader Joe's in general, but I've generally been quite disappointed with their cheeses. For example, they carry one of the worst Brie I've had, their Chevalier brand which advertises on the package that it's "Imported", but it turns out to be from Canada not France.

                  Similarly, the Roquefort they carry is not good at all, the Societe or Papillon brands you find in other grocery stores are much better. Of course, you can do even better in specialty stores (like the Cheeseboard in Berkeley), which sometimes carry smaller producers that are better yet than the main brands.

                  And I think the selection of cheeses at TJ is really disappointing, they carry very few interesting cheeses beyond the very popular mainstream hard cheeses. Here in the SF Bay Area, there are quite a grocery stores that carry a much more complete selection. Not just the high end stores like Whole Foods and Draeger's, but most of the middle level stores like Mollie Stone's, Andronico's and Lunardi's.

                  Some cheeses I do buy at TJ include their grated cheeses, as I find them superior to the national (Kraft and Sargento) and store (Lucerne, Ralph's, etc) brands. I particularly like their shredded parmesan, it's quite good and keeps a lot longer than most. I also buy their TJ branded Sonoma fresh goat cheese, it's a nice and inexpensive cheese for making warm goat cheese toast.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Malik

                    Uhh , of course we do " Import " things from Canada , it is another country .

                  2. I like the Dubliner Cheddar, which is not mild, but a bit sharp. And their fresh mozzarella (bocconcini in the tubs with water) ROCKS. But don't get the packaged 'Caprese' mozz or the smoked mozz, which was disgusting.

                    1. The respondents seem to have lost sight of the fact that TJ's buying philosophy is VALUE. They pretty much only offer what they can deliver at an exceptional price. They are not trying to out-foofy anyone, and it's pointless to make the kinds of comparisons people seem to want to make.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Gary Soup
                        m
                        Ms. Plaza Street

                        That is a good point about the original post.

                        With that in mind, I'll say that I like Trader Joe's muenster cheese that I buy in New York - good flavor and texture, always fresh. In general a good value compared to national brands.

                      2. Do remember that the East Coast and Midwest TJ's stores source differently than the West Coast stores. A lot of the good stuff that I could get in California and Nevada TJ stores are not available in Chicago.

                        For cheese, I hit Woodman's which sources most of its cheeses from small Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan cooperatives. Outstanding selection at reasonable prices.

                        1. Having patronized TJ's on both coasts, I agree that the cheese selection varies with location. Most recent visit (to CT store) saw Cabot cheddar (passed up since I still had some in the fridge), but got some goat cheese, Iberico (Spanish cow/sheep/goat) both ok, and "Trader Jacques" Petit cream (quite good). Though better than our local supermarket, TJ's selection was nowhere near as good as our local cheese shop.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: DonShirer

                            Forgot to say their Cambazola is pretty good, too.

                          2. I just tried Trader Joes Wisconsin extra sharp cheddar. It is not at all sharp. Compared to Tillamook extra sharp, TJ's is clearly inferior. TJ's has some excellent cheese, Wisconsin extra sharp is not one of these.

                            1 Reply
                            1. I understand what your saying but does trader joes have puff cheese a cheese that is puffed and airy