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Discussion

Cheese

Whole Foods and Formaggio Kitchen seem to have the best cheese in Boston/Cambridge. Two questions from you experts out there: 1. Am I right? Am I missing something? 2. Which of the two is generally a better value? Both are pretty darn expensive.

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Formaggio Kitchen
244 Huron Ave, Cambridge, MA 02138

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  1. you are right, but the wine and cheese cask - strange name - also offers a good cheese selection.

    No one would accuse either Formagio or Whole Foods as being bargains though Whole Foods does have sales.

    1. Can anyone chime on on the quality of cheese @ Russo's compared to the above two? I know that Russo's is cheaper than both the above.

      1. Russo's has an excellent selection and is generally less expensive. FK certainly knows how to age and handle cheeses better, depending on your palate. For a more plebian selection yet much better prices Trader Joes is decent.

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        Trader Joe's
        1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

        7 Replies
        1. re: trufflehound

          Russo's selection is very nice - similar to WF - but over time it seems to me that the prices have crept up to be not so different from what you would pay at WF. TJ's prices are generally a bit lower, but beware some of their less expensive stuff. For example, their cheap Brie is... well... cheese, but I would not compare it with even the lower priced Brie selections at Russo's or WF. OTOH, there are some great finds at TJ's, such as their Israeli feta. Yum!

          1. re: PinchOfSalt

            Trader Joe's 62% supreme French double cream Brie (look for the Supreme sticker on the cheese) is my "go to" Brie. It's a softer Brie (even more than their triple cream - which I didn't like), so it's easier to spread even just out of the fridge. At $9.29 a pound, it's not "cheap", but you can get a good size wedge for about $5. I pair it with their pita bite crackers, which have a great balance of salt/crunch to go with it without being overly "bready". They're a little salty on their own, so don't pair them with anything that's too salty to begin with.

            1. re: southie_chick

              i'm consistently underwhelmed by cheese at trader joe's, many are so bad as to be rubbery.

              in addition to whole paycheck and fk, i find very good cheeses at pace in the north end as well as harry's on blackstone st. his inventory varies moreso than the others, but the prices cannot be beat.

              1. re: hotoynoodle

                Thanks, all, for your helpful comments. Now it's a matter of how many stores I can get to before the guests arrive! Violent agreement about the tasting issue. A trip to the North End (forgot about that, thanks hotoynoodle, wish I had thought of that yesterday!) is clearly indicated for Italian cheeses, but for the biggest selection I will probably hit Whole Paycheck near Symphony and (loved that) and TJ's on Boylston for the Brie someone mentioned. TJ's also appeared to have a nice sheep's milk cheese from Spain that was NOT Manchego, very nice. Will see if Russo's fits into the geography.

                1. re: curiousfood

                  The cheese monger at Russo's worked for many years at Formaggio, if I remember his story correctly. He's really helpful and knows his stuff. Generous with the tastings, too.

              2. re: southie_chick

                I'm a fan of the goat's milk brie at TJ's, creamy and subtle. It comes as a small round for $2.50, a great value in my opinion.

                1. re: southie_chick

                  Trader Joe's also has real French Roquefort for a very reasonable price. I agree that some of the cheeses are underwhelming; just have to try what looks good. Comte there is also good and good value.

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                  Trader Joe's
                  1427 Massachusetts Ave, Arlington, MA 02476

            2. Formaggio is my favorite place to shop for cheese, but Central Bottle on Mass Ave near MIT also had a small but well chosen cheese selection. I don't recall the prices, but I don't think they were a bargain. Sherman Market in Union Square also has a very small be nice selection of cheeses. Not worth a trip, but worth stopping in if you are nearby.

              The prices on some of Formaggio's imported cheeses have come down a bit recently due to the weakening Euro, but they are still pretty pricey.

              I have to admit I've never been overly impressed by the cheese selection at WF (at least the one near Alewife) compared to Formaggio or other top cheese shops (Farmstead in Providence is another favorite).

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              Central Bottle
              196 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115

              1. A huge advantage of shopping at Formaggio is the ability to taste almost every cheese before buying it. The staff are knowledgeable and ask for feedback if you don't like what you've tasted so they can help you find something you do like. I know some of the staff have a heavy hand so be sure to stress what amount you'd like so you don't come home with more cheese than you intended to purchase.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Velda Mae

                  Actually, the advantage is that the cheese is out, all over the place, accessible to customers (which kind of makes me cringe, but I digress...) Most any cheese shop, and all of the Whole Foods, will let you sample anything you ask to try...The River St Whole Foods used to be my #1 in the chain for cheese, but I think the fresh Pond branch is actually starting to overtake them...

                  1. re: Velda Mae

                    Having worked as a cheesemonger, I can say that if you're shopping for decent cheese (i.e. something you'll be eating on its own rather than cooking with) you should *always* taste first, and any reputable cheese shop should let you try just about anything they're selling. Good cheese, even when handled perfectly, varies enormously from wheel to wheel and over the course of time - a cheese you might like at one time of year or at one point in its maturation process may be less to your taste at another time. I know WF and Formaggio will let you try anything, and I imagine Russo's would as well. Personally, I wouldn't buy higher-end cheese at a shop that wouldn't let me taste.

                    As for the Formaggio staff having a "heavy hand," I would suspect that any instances in which you've received a bigger piece of cheese than expected are due to the inherent uncertainty in measuring pieces to order by sight (trust me, it's hard!) rather than deliberate upselling. But again, a reputable shop like Formaggio will ask for your approval if the piece cut is significantly lighter or heavier than the order, and you can absolutely ask for another one if you see fit.

                    1. re: zach272

                      I rarely buy cheese at Whole Foods because the staff at the Newtonville store always give me a hard time when I ask for a smaller piece than is available in the case.

                      As for zach272's comment about slicing, I know it's an art and not a science but I've been shopping at Formaggio long enough to have noticed patterns among staffers, several of whom I know by name, and some seem to be very consistent at getting the portion just right and others are consistently on the heavy side.