We've written many a Trader Joe's love letter here at Food52. The freezer aisle has all of the best goodies, and don't get me started on the snack selection (!). But there's one part of the store people underestimate and don't laud enough: the cheese section.
Trader Joe’s has a fairly compact, but thoughtful, selection of excellent cheeses. So while the choices might not be as varied as those of a cheese shop, you can be assured that they’ve done a lot of the thinking and culling for you.
Not to mention their prices are quite reasonable if you’re a quality cheese lover (and know that good cheeses can quickly soar to $20 or $30 per pound, even higher). But at Trader Joe's? Low prices, high quality. This quality is ensured not least because TJ’s inventory turnover is so high—which means that what you’re getting is fresh or ripe or aptly aged, depending on which cheese we’re talking about.
So the next time you're at Trader Joe's, consider my picks for the most underrated aisle:
You just can’t go wrong with Brie: It’s a mild-tasting classic and everyone loves it. You can choose the Trader Joe’s Double Cream, or the richer (higher-butterfat) Triple Creme version from France ($7.89 a pound). If you like yours by the slice, pick up a pack of their block-shaped Brie. For a less traditional option, go for the Triple Creme German Brie with Wild Mushrooms for $10.49 a pound, or the goat’s milk Brie (only $2.99 for a little 4.4-ounce round).
I had an uncle who loved this cheese so much, we called him Uncle Camembert. The slightly funkier cousin of Brie you can get at TJ’s for $7.99 a pound, or if you’re a fan of the cute, archetypal little wooden container it comes in, the Le Rustique variety for $10.99 a pound.
3. Port Salut
Also from France, this semi-soft cheese is very delicate in flavor (so a good mild offering for the less cheese-curious in your life), and available at Trader Joe’s under their own label for $9.99 a pound.
4. Parmesan Reggiano
The Crown Jewel of cheeses, for a few reasons: TJ’s hawks it for $12.99 a pound, which is a darn good price for real Italian Parm (and there are a lot of cheeses labeled Parmesan out there, which are not the real deal). Parmesan is DOP/PDO classified, which means it can only be called Parm if it comes from Italy, from a particular type of cow, grazing solely on grass and hay, made using specific practices. Looking for Parm shavings? You can get them for $17.57; they’re pricier but irresistible additions to salads and pastas (not to mention terrific for snacking while you are cooking).
5. Grana Padano
Another hard, crumbly raw cow’s milk cheese that you can add to a cheese board in chunks, or use in cooking much the way you would use Parmesan. Grana comes from Latin for “grain” and Padano indicates it is “of the Po River.” It has a nuttiness, butteriness, and salty-sweetness to it, with a dense, granular texture. Like Parmesan, it’s DOP/PDO-classified—though more affordable.
Yet another raw milk cheese, Gruyère is from Switzerland and probably one of the most famous cheeses from one of the most famous cheese-producing countries. It’s nutty and firm, but not as hard or crumbly as Parmesan or Grana Padano, and AOC-protected (another type of government protection for individual foods produced in specific ways in specific places). Trader Joe’s carries a few varieties which start at $13.99 a pound, which is really reasonable. Not all Gruyères are created equal (the producer and the age of the cheese affect price), but I have seen it sold at near $30 a pound.
A DOP Spanish sheep’s milk cheese, aged for 6 months, Manchego is another crowd-pleaser and cheese-plate favorite. TJ’s sells it at $9.99 a pound (again, a great price, as I’ve seen 6-month Manchego selling for way north of $20). The flavor is nutty, grassy, sheepy, and kind of caramelized. It’s hard yet still creamy and holds together when you slice it.
A classic you’re sure to be acquainted with. Trader Joe’s has lots of cheddars, but one special pick is the Tillamook Kosher Cheddar for $7.58 a pound. Tillamook Creamery makes some terrific cheeses out of Oregon, and this is a super solid cheese with all of the flavor and texture you look for in a “good” cheddar. It’s vegetarian as well (did you know that lots of cheeses contain rennet, which is not a vegetarian ingredient?).
9. Harbison Cave-Aged Cheese
This cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont has become a cult-favorite amongst cheese lovers. It’s wrapped in a spruce band that ages and flavors the cheese in a particular way; it was also named 2018’s Best of Show by the American Cheese Society. TJ’s sells the 9-ounce round for $12.99 (but it sells for $20 elsewhere).
Spoonable (with a texture like sour cream), silky, sweet, buttery, and slightly tangy, mascarpone features in many dessert preparations, perhaps most famously tiramisu. You can get it for a very attractive $5.98 a pound at TJ’s.
11. Crème Fraîche
The French cousin of Italian Mascarpone, crème fraîche is a tangy, velvety mixture of heavy cream and buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt. You can use it to garnish savory foods like soups, but it also appears often on desserts as a richer version of whipped cream, sometimes sweetened with a bit of honey or sugar. It’s nicely priced at $8.09 a pound.
12. Goat Cheese
Trader Joe’s carries many choices of goat cheese, many clearly geared for a festive cheese board twist. I’m more of a classicist and head for the plainer variety, but if you’re game for something different, you can try the fig, blueberry, and cranberry versions, all around $4.49 for an 8-ounce log. Or there are 5-ounce plain, honey goat’s milk, or fine herb-crusted logs for $2.99. They also carry Silver Goat Chèvre for $4.99 for an 11-ounce log, which is a steal.
They have a couple of versions of this rich, tangy, creamy-but-firm cheese, made in the Netherlands (the home of Gouda). One is aged for 1,000 days ($11.99 a pound) and is briny and sharp (like a cheddar, but amped up); another is an interesting double cream version ($7.99 a pound). Fun fact: Gouda apparently accounts for about half of the cheese eaten in the world today!
14. Blue Cheeses
Trader Joe’s carries Stilton, one of the most loved blue cheeses of them all, selling at $11.99 a pound (compared to $22 or more at other shops). You can also pick up a 60-day cave-aged blue at a really affordable $6.99 a pound, or a 90-day aged crumbly cow and sheep milk–blend gorgonzola (another core blue cheese) for a delightful $5.99 a pound. Or how about white Stilton with cranberries or apricots for a serious dose of holiday cheesiness? Both are from England, for $9.99 and $10.99 a pound, respectively.
15. Truffle Cheeses
When it comes to adding truffle flavor, there are a few choices! Pick up an Italian Truffle Cheese, a cow’s milk cheese speckled with black truffles for a layer for added earthy flavor. It’s $11.99 a pound, which is quite good for something that has the word “truffle” attached. There is also a cute little hexagonal Brie with truffles for $15.04 a pound and a hard sheep’s milk cheese with truffles, Moliterno al Tartufo—which won some prestigious World Cheese Awards—for $22.99 a pound.