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The Price of Cheese

DiningDiva Jun 26, 2007 07:23 AM

I just paid $5.49 for 12 oz of cotija cheese, which would make it $7.32 a pound. Wow! I know cheese prices have been going up, but $7+ for a pound of bulk cheese, and not very good cheese at that, seems more than a bit excessive. Talk about sticker shock.

My purchase was made at a full-service, independent grocery store in San Diego, CA. What are cheese prices like in your neck of the woods.

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  1. yumcha Jun 26, 2007 07:46 AM

    I live in Albany, NY. I think that it may have been a bit pricey for your cheese, but nothing too bad, especially if it were from an independent grocer.
    We have a great cheese selection at our local co-op with pre-cut pieces of cheese. These cheeses run from about $3+ per lb to $12 per lb. However, I don't mind buying them, since they're very flavorful and almost never sell 1# blocks of cheese, which means I can get a taste of this and that. They have a fresh mozz section as well.
    The local supermarkets basic cheddars, colby, provolone and stuff for around $3-6 per lb.

    3 Replies
    1. re: yumcha
      p
      pitterpatter Jun 26, 2007 07:55 AM

      The decreasing value of the dollar and the rise in fuel oil prices have both contributed to the rise in cheese prices. It is not unusual to spend $13-18 on imported cheese.

      1. re: pitterpatter
        Ruth Lafler Jun 26, 2007 11:41 AM

        Ha! I wish I only spent $13-18 (a pound) feeding my imported cheese habit. My faves are usually in the $20-$25 range, and some are even more (my favorite blue cheese is $36/lb., and it's not even imported!). That sounds like I lot, but then, I'm eating small amounts "straight" not melting a pound into mac and cheese.

        1. re: Ruth Lafler
          p
          pitterpatter Jun 27, 2007 05:07 AM

          Yes, Fourme d'Ambert with Sautures and certain handmade Roqueforts cost $36/lb. The price on Roquefort is due to export tax, going back to when Clinton was in office and placed a tarrif in response to the French not buying our hormonally laced beef. But there are good and very interesting cheeses to be found for less that this : Blue de Gex, Stilton, Blue d'Avernge (probably the cheapest and not bad) and Dolce Gorgonozla are all great, and much less expensive. Domestic cheeses often cost more as our labor costs and agricultural prices exceed France, Italy and Britain. All cheese suppliers simply double their wholesale prices -- no 10x gouging going on there.

    2. yayadave Jun 26, 2007 08:07 AM

      St Andre (triple cream) $8.39 / #
      Comte $9.79 / #
      St Nectaire $ 7.49 / #
      At a well known specialty store in the strip district of Pittsburgh. I don't know enough about it to know if these are great cheeses or what. I wanted something from France and I liked these. The store is the kind of place where they know what I'm talkin' about even when I don't. And you get individualized service and samples. "How big a piece of this do you want, Dear Heart?"

      1. p
        Pampatz Jun 26, 2007 08:10 AM

        From what I've read it is corn that is driving the rise in food prices. More corn is going into the production of ethanol for gasoline and less for human food and animal feed. Higher prices for animal feed would make for higher prices for animal/dairy products.
        The real answer is probably a combination of a lot of market factors, such as corn, high gas prices, labor and processing costs, etc.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Pampatz
          r
          renov8r Jun 26, 2007 11:53 AM

          I think that those are all true. I suspect you may have overlooked something else. When there are artisanal cheeses selling for lobster& cavair prices that has to factor in the pricing of bulk cheese too. Afterall if somebody is selling milk to Kraft to make singles and they can get 10x that for artisanal cheese it has to cause somebody to rethink things...

          1. re: renov8r
            Ruth Lafler Jun 26, 2007 02:07 PM

            I'm guessing it's more profitable to sell to Kraft. After all, it takes many pounds of milk to make a pound of cheese, and then there's labor, the equipment, the expense of storing and aging cheese, etc.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler
              r
              renov8r Jun 26, 2007 02:27 PM

              I did not mean to suggest that farmer X can sell milk to Kraft for some price and just turn right around and get 10x that selling to artisanal cheese maker Z, but that the prices that are commanded for fine cheeses are probably influencing some dairy farmers choices. As in "I could have abig herd and all the equipment to milk them in a factory style operation OR I could have a small organic herd, make cheese in the artisinal fashion and have a different impact". I think that IS a legitimate result of the success of organic farming/slow food/artisanal producers. And it will make regualr cheese more expensive too...

            2. re: renov8r
              Morton the Mousse Jun 26, 2007 02:47 PM

              I'd like to believe that cheese artisans are buying their milk from a different supplier than the dairies that sell to Kraft. After all, what's the point of putting lots of time and effort in to making a great cheese, when the milk you're working with tastes like rotten mold?

              1. re: renov8r
                DiningDiva Jun 26, 2007 03:38 PM

                Milk prices are regulated and are allowed to "float" only every 2 months. The objective isn't the milk or the milk solids but to remove excess butter fat from the market. Dairy cows also don't produce the same volume of milk all the time, nor is it of the same quality all the time. Sesaonal variations in prices and production are normal, but the jumps we've seen in the last few months are not normal. Dairy farmers may be reaping some profits right now, but they're also paying off some big debts incurred over the past few lean years.

                Everyone's jumping on the ethanol band wagon. Another factor I've not seen mentioned too much is the loss of milk products, mostly in the form of dried milk and solids, from Australia and New Zealand. The dried milk and solids were used to augment the fluid dairy shortfalls, with that now off the market manufacturers are scrambling to replace it with fluid milk. Additionally, the brutally harsh winter had an affect on beef cattle in the plains states and dairy cattle that were at the end of their milk producting life have been sent to slaughter to help meet the demand for beef.

                Agriculture is an integrated system, proving once again that you can't really fool Mother Nature. Cheese prices for regular old cheese are going up and the end is not in sight.

                1. re: DiningDiva
                  coll Jun 26, 2007 06:44 PM

                  I'm too tired to reseach this fully right now, but all cheese prices in the US are set in Chicago at some kind of stock market for cheese (that's how I imagine it, I know there's an official name): they raise and lower the price by so many cents at a time, by the block and by the barrel, and announce it in advance. Last week I think everything went up around 15
                  cents.
                  http://www.pizzamarketplace.com/artic...

                  OK so I woke up for a minute, here's more info

              2. re: Pampatz
                Morton the Mousse Jun 26, 2007 02:45 PM

                Corn prices do impact the price of bulk milk powder and Kraft cheese, but great cheese comes from animals fed a diverse diet, including lots of forage and very little actual corn. Of course, in the case of no-name bulk cojita, corn may be a factor.

                1. re: Morton the Mousse
                  katiepie Jun 26, 2007 02:54 PM

                  Mmmmm.... cheese. Worth every inflated penny. :)

              3. Veggo Jun 26, 2007 02:59 PM

                With milk prices about to zoom past $3/gallon, $7/ lb. for your cotija and our quesadilla and Oaxaca will be a new baseline for bulk mexican cheeses. $8-9 will get you the flavors of havarti, gouda, and Jarlsberg. Soft ripened will settle in the $9-13 range. Unpasteurized ripened, $18-22 (Epoisses, St. Marcellin and equivalent). Ruth must have a favorite blue that eclipses Maytag, which is about $25. The bargain is Cabot cheddar at $4-5. Grafton 6 year is $16, but stops me in my tracks.

                Ruth, what is your $36 ambrosia?

                13 Replies
                1. re: Veggo
                  Sam Fujisaka Jun 26, 2007 03:04 PM

                  Veggo, the prices of the cheeses you mentioned are all about twice as much here in Colombia. Milk costs about $4.00/gallon.

                  1. re: Veggo
                    Ruth Lafler Jun 26, 2007 03:12 PM

                    Rogue River Blue -- wrapped in Syrah and Merlot grape leaves previously macerated in Clear Creek pear brandy. Simply amazing (and hard to get, as it's seasonal and limited production -- they should be releasing this year's batch in a few weeks).

                    http://www.roguecreamery.com/pilot.as...

                    I notice the site says "to place your order for the 2008 release ...." Looks like they're sold out on pre-orders for this year. Fortunately, my local cheesemonger is good about ordering it (and telling me when it comes in).

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      Veggo Jun 26, 2007 03:36 PM

                      Ruth, this cheese mouse just blew the moths out of mouse wallet and ordered a half wheel of the Crater Lake Blue, while I wait for next year's Rogue River. Thanks for the info! (Crater Lake is priced like Maytag -$65/ 2.5 lbs)

                      1. re: Veggo
                        Ruth Lafler Jun 26, 2007 04:40 PM

                        2.5 pounds! Hope you like it! I can't vouch for any of their blues except the Rogue River, but they do have a good reputation.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          t
                          Texchef Jun 26, 2007 04:44 PM

                          Not that I'm swimming in money... but I don't even look at the price of cheese when I buy it. Granted I shop most of the time at a place called Fiesta, which has great variety at awesome prices. But, my point is, cheese is as necessary in my life as gas is in my gas tank.

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler
                            Veggo Jun 26, 2007 05:47 PM

                            Ruth, with apologies to Will Rogers, I never met a cheese I didn't like. But Tony Soprano may have disliked a few ...

                          2. re: Veggo
                            yayadave Jun 26, 2007 06:37 PM

                            How in the world are you going to keep 2.5 pounds good for a year??

                            1. re: yayadave
                              Veggo Jun 26, 2007 07:19 PM

                              I will freeze one pound. The remainder, on blue-cheese burgers, Cobb salads, crackers, deviled eggs, baked figs with honey, and with a nice porto and cigar, will last about 2 months. The frozen will then take me through September, at which time I will grovel shamelessly for the fall issue of '07 Rogue River to which I have no entitlement at all. A year? I'm still optimistic about THIS year!

                              1. re: Veggo
                                Ruth Lafler Jun 26, 2007 07:36 PM

                                Where do you live? You might have better luck getting some from a local cheesemonger. It's also possible that some online specialty retailers might have it. A quick google search shows that Artisenal has it.

                              2. re: yayadave
                                Sam Fujisaka Jun 26, 2007 09:09 PM

                                y dave--I keep good cheeses in the ref for years, Can't afford to throw them out. They age well. I'm waiting to finish some Pecorino Reggiano from the Pleistocene from Rome so I can get started on the new 1/2 kg that my friend sent me from Italy some three-four months ago.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                  Veggo Jun 26, 2007 09:33 PM

                                  But they don't age equally - not long ago I broke out a crock of St. Marcellin with high expectations of the usual creamy smooth goodness and it looked perfect but it tasted like an underripe crabapple. YYeeeeccchhh. I should have kept it frozen. As Sam indicates, some last great lengths with refrigeration (and no touching), others require more care, and others simply need to be eaten soon.

                                  1. re: Veggo
                                    Sam Fujisaka Jun 26, 2007 09:43 PM

                                    Obviously, my cactus chewing donkey. Soft cheeses have to be eaten today.

                                    But for other cheeses like our local "mozarella," I leave them in waxed paper in the self-defrosting ref, allowing them to go from soft and bland to a beautiful hard, cured cheese in a couple of weeks, Such ref cured cheeses will then last for decades--getting harder and harder until you need a wood rasp to top your dish--but so worth it!!

                            2. re: Ruth Lafler
                              maria lorraine Jun 26, 2007 04:51 PM

                              The Rogue River Blue was one of the best cheeses I've ever tasted anywhere in all my travels. I believe it won the award for Best Blue Cheese in the World two years ago. Not much of it around however. The two men who run Rogue River Creamery have done an excellent job.

                          3. maria lorraine Jun 26, 2007 04:47 PM

                            Talked to a scholarly cheesemonger in Northern California with a wide understanding of the stores and markets in this area, and he says that that gas/transportation add $5 a pound to the price of high-end cheeses.

                            1. pikawicca Jun 26, 2007 04:51 PM

                              Excellent cheese is worth whatever the price. I've never bought an artisanal that I thought was over-priced. Very expensive, yes.. overpriced? No. The ouchiest was Roquefort a couple of years ago (during the banana wars) at $38/lb.

                              1. Eat_Nopal Jun 26, 2007 05:09 PM

                                If it helps... Costco sometimes sells two 16oz wheels of Cotija for about $8. Mexican markets usually have non mass produced Cotija for about $4.50 a lb.

                                My local Michocanian owned market sometimes has cheese imported (snuck in?) from Cotija for about $7 a lb... it is clearly superior to other products on the market.

                                Good luck finding some!

                                9 Replies
                                1. re: Eat_Nopal
                                  DiningDiva Jun 26, 2007 09:52 PM

                                  EN, I can find decent cotija, but I have to travel to neighborhoods that are not conveniently located on my route home from work. Hence, I made the pit-stop at the local store up the street from my house for it. FWIW, I purcahsed Cacique Cotija, certainly not a bottom of the barrel brand. It was, however, excessively salty.

                                  1. re: DiningDiva
                                    Sam Fujisaka Jun 26, 2007 09:55 PM

                                    EN & DD, is a cotija a queso campesino--soft and uncured, rustic?

                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                      DiningDiva Jun 26, 2007 10:46 PM

                                      Sam, soft, uncured and rustic sounds more like queso fresco, or possible quesillo from Oaxaca. Cotija is harder, crumbly, with a salty tang. It's kind of like a cross between romano and feta. It's the white crumbly cheese you often see on top of beans and some tacos. Not only was the cheese I purchased yesterday way too salty, I think it was also had a little too much moisture.

                                      To clarify what I am terming quesillo, I had the chance to take a class at Susana Trilling's cooking school in Etla just outside of Oaxaca. The first thing she demonstrated was how cheese was made. A local woman brought in several gallons of milk that were literally fresh out of the cow. Unpasteurized, uncultured, un-anything other than very fresh. A piece of stomach lining was added, instead of rennet, to begin the curd process. From start to finish teh process took maybe 15-20 minutes. Then the woman and Susana demonstrated how to pull and wrap the cheese to form balls for sale. Susana gave us each a hunk of the fresh cheese to play with and try stretching, wrapping and rolling. Of course none of us were very good at making balls of cheese, but there was really something special about working with it. The tactile experience alone was amazing, the cheese had a certain amount of fluidity and really felt alive. And I have to say it was absolutely, hands down, some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. Because it is unpasteurized it can not be imported into the U.S. Such a pity. The indigenous woman that brought the milk and did the demonstration referred to the cheese as quesillo, I've also seen it labeled as Mexican string cheese. It has about as much resemblance to string cheese as I do to Paris Hilton...which is to say none ;-)

                                      1. re: DiningDiva
                                        Sam Fujisaka Jun 27, 2007 08:16 AM

                                        DD, thank you, brilliant, great experience. 15-20 minutes is amazing!

                                        Most cheeses I sample in the open markets in Latin America are too salty for my use; although the Nicaraguan smoked cheeses are good in small quantities.

                                        I always bring Oaxaca cheese back with me from Mexico.

                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                          DiningDiva Jun 27, 2007 08:53 AM

                                          I am continually thrilled and amazed at what can be done with food. I love fine dining and alta cocina but, da*n, the simplest stuff is often the most fascinating and satisfying. There was something very palapable in that fresh cheese we worked with.

                                        2. re: DiningDiva
                                          Eat_Nopal Jun 27, 2007 10:15 AM

                                          Quesillo as you found out is an extremely young cheese... but is different than Queso Oaxaca which is more legitimately like a stringy mozarella. I am no sure how Oaxaca is produced... but the stuff marketed as Oaxaca is definitely different than Quesillo.

                                          Finally.... just because it can't be legally important doesn't mean you can't find it *wink, wink.

                                      2. re: DiningDiva
                                        Veggo Jun 26, 2007 10:02 PM

                                        DD, I equate Cacique with Venezuela; de donde es este queso?

                                        1. re: Veggo
                                          DiningDiva Jun 26, 2007 10:52 PM

                                          Cacique is the well known brand name of a line of Mexican cheeses here on the West Coast. El Mexicano is probably the other most common brand of Mexican cheese. Both have a fairly extensive lines of cheese including fresco, asadero, panela, cotija, and oaxacan as well as crema in various styles i.e. salted, unsalted, Mexicano, Salvadoreno, etc.

                                          1. re: DiningDiva
                                            toodie jane Jun 28, 2007 11:09 AM

                                            DD--El Mexicano Queso Frecsa Casero is on my regular-buy list. Not nearly as salty as cotija, it melts but doesn't "ooze," with a fresh milky taste. We use it now on burgers, pizza, quesadillas, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc. You can crumble it into samll bits, but not powdery, like cotija.

                                            Made in San Jose, California.

                                            Last purchase about 1 week ago, $3.89/12 oz mini-wheel. The price is roughly the same at my local independant United Grocer affiliate, Spencer's, and the local hispanic grocery, La Guadalajara. Sounds though, like it will be going up.

                                    2. a
                                      Alan408 Jun 27, 2007 07:36 AM

                                      Cojita Cheese at a local (Sunnyvale CA) Mexican supermarket is on special this week, $2.99/lb, regular price is $3.99/lb.

                                      1. mrbozo Jun 27, 2007 02:24 PM

                                        In Montréal's Atwater Market there are a couple of cheese stores that offer Québec/French cheeses at 3 for $13 CDN. Roughly a pound and half of premier cheese. Long drive, I know, but I guess it depends on supply and demand, customer savvy, milk production, local cheesemakers, and government subsidies and regulations.

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