The 7 best cheese to buy at Trader Joe's, according to a cheese expert

IMG_1150Tami Brehse/Business Insider

  • Trader Joe's stocks its shelves with almost entirely name-brand products.
  • Some of those name brand products are imported cheeses it sells at a price that is much better than regular grocery stores.
  • Cheese expert Liz Thorpe told Business Insider that at least seven of the cheeses are must-buys.

Americans love cheese.

Per capita consumption of the dairy product grew from 14.3 pounds a year in 1975 to 36.9 pounds in 2017 - a 158% increase.

At the same time, the nation's palate has expanded far beyond the rubbery yellow singles that are synonymous with American cheese. According to the 2019 U.S. Food Market Outlook from market research firm Packaged Foods, retail sales of natural and specialty cheeses - aka non-processed cheeses - reached $16 billion in 2018. That number is expected to exceed $18 billion by 2023.

Despite the growing market for it, artisanal cheese can be overwhelming for consumers. To help sort through the many varieties, we tapped Liz Thorpe, a cheese consultant, to pinpoint the cheeses with the best flavor at the most affordable price.

Thorpe told us when it comes to accessible, high-quality cheeses, Trader Joe's is hard to beat.

"Trader Joe's is a curator," Thorpe said. "They differ from a traditional supermarket in that they're not worried about having everything. Instead, they focus on the best performers with the best flavor profile. This translates into great value on items that tend to be more expensive or rarer in other mainstream retailers."

Here are Thorpe's top picks at Trader Joe's.

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The Mini Basque is an ideal introduction to the world of sheep’s milk cheese.

The Mini Basque is an ideal introduction to the world of sheep’s milk cheese.

Thorpe was quick to sing the praises of Trader Joe's sheep's milk cheese selection.

Sheep produce rich, fatty milk for a shorter period of time than cows or goats, which makes their milk — and the nutty, delicious cheese that comes from it — more expensive. Thorpe said consumers can get the most bang for their buck buying sheep's milk cheese at Trader Joe's.

"Because they do such high volume on a more limited selection, they are able to offer much more competitive prices," she said.

Try the Mini Basque, a firm, buttery cheese made in the French Pyrenees that Thorpe said is a universal favorite at an unbeatable price.

"It would be hard to find this in your local supermarket, and if you did it would probably be $25 per pound. At [Trader Joe's] it's usually between $12 and $14 per pound," she said.

Real feta cheese is never made from cow’s milk. Trader Joe's Authentic Greek Feta passes the test.

Real feta cheese is never made from cow’s milk. Trader Joe's Authentic Greek Feta passes the test.

There's a key difference between authentic feta cheese from Greece and American-made feta: the authentic kind is made exclusively with sheep or goat milk. Thorpe said most of the feta we buy in America comes from cow milk and is radically different than the real thing.

Trader Joe's Authentic Greek Feta is made from sheep's milk and packed in brine.

"It's the real deal and it's so much better than cow's milk feta," Thorpe said. "The price is comparable to most supermarket feta or maybe $1 more per unit."

The Triple Crème Délice de Bourgogne is velvety smooth.

The Triple Crème Délice de Bourgogne is velvety smooth.

Break out this decadent brie-like cheese at your next party and watch it quickly disappear. Added cream gives it a rich, buttery texture that pairs perfectly with crusty bread or crackers.

For snacking, remove this cheese from the fridge ahead of time to allow it to soften.

For an upgrade from your basic dairy aisle block of cheese, try the Unexpected Cheddar.

For an upgrade from your basic dairy aisle block of cheese, try the Unexpected Cheddar.

Everyone knows the cheese staples like cheddar, mozzarella, and parmesan. Thorpe said Trader Joe's excels at helping customers take the next step up from these supermarket basics — a concept she calls "Cheese 201."

The Unexpected Cheddar is a perfect example. It's smooth and creamy like aged cheddar, but with a sweet-and-salty, nutty bite. Trader Joe's shoppers have ranked it their favorite cheese in the store for the past five years in a row, the company said.

Thorpe said the price tag is equally impressive.

"It's great for a dinner party spread, but you can also put it in your kid's lunch and you're not going to break the bank," she said.

Fans of swiss cheese will love the Gruyere.

Fans of swiss cheese will love the Gruyere.

Gruyere is a cheese from Switzerland that's name protected, similar to the denomination of champagne for sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. It's aged with a different process than the Swiss you pick up at the deli counter, and usually aged for six months or longer.

Thorpe said this is another example of the 'Cheese 201' category where Trader Joe's shines.

"If you're new to the world of cheese, you may not know the difference between, say, your standard block of Swiss cheese and Gruyere," she said. "Trader Joe's does a good job representing these fundamentals."

The 1,000 Day Gouda pairs well with just about everything.

The 1,000 Day Gouda pairs well with just about everything.

Most cheese lovers are familiar with young gouda, the mild, semi-soft cheese that typically has a red wax coating. You might not be as familiar with aged gouda.

Produced in the Netherlands, Trader Joe's 1,000 Day Gouda is similar in makeup to parmesan, with a crunchy crystalline texture and a butterscotch-like flavor.

"You can grate it like parmesan, pair it with big red wines, and it's awesome on a cheese board," Thorpe said.

It will set you back around $12 or $13 per pound.

Don't let the prices per pound give you sticker shock. Thorpe said if they seem high to you, it's probably because you're not used to seeing cheese priced by the pound. If you typically pay around $5.99 for a block of cheese from the grocery aisle (which is usually 8 ounces), that's the same as paying $12 per pound.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is well worth it.

If you’re willing to spend a bit more, authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is well worth it.

"I always, always have Parmigiano-Reggiano in my refrigerator," Thorpe said.

Flavorful, complex, and great for snacking, Parmigiano-Reggiano is made exclusively in Italy. This isn't your supermarket parmesan. In fact, the European Union's highest court has laid out strict requirements for how this cheese can be made and labeled in countries within the EU.

Characterized by its granular texture and lengthy aging process, Parmigiano-Reggiano is best enjoyed in freshly grated form over pasta dishes or as a standalone snack. Trader Joe's stocks a version that retails for about $15 per pound.

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