Grocery

The Most Underrated Section at Trader Joe's

Grocery-store whisperer Katie Workman here, reporting for duty.

December 23, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

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:


Best Trader Joe’s Cheese

1. Brie

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).

Recipes: Baked Brie en Croute With Raspberry Jam, Pasta Shells in a Creamy, Cheesy Sauce, Air Fryer Grilled Cheese Sandwiches

2. Camembert

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).

Recipes: Best Parmesan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts, Parmesan Mashed Potatoes, Creamed Kale With Parmesan, Green Salad With Pears, Parmesan & Puff Pastry Croutons

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.

6. Gruyère

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.

Recipes: Scalloped Sweet Potatoes, Classic Swiss Fondue

7. Manchego

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.

Recipe: Spanish Lamb Burgers With Manchego

8. Cheddar

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?).

Recipes: Cheesy Beef & Hash Brown Casserole, Pimento Cheese Spread, Stovetop Macaroni & 4 Cheeses

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).

10. Mascarpone

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.

Recipes: Smoked Salmon & Crème Fraiche Puff Pastry Tartlets, Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

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.

Recipes: Bistro Salad With Warm Goat Cheese, Leek, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Quiche, Creamy Goat Cheese & Spinach Linguine

13. Gouda

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.

Recipes: Blue Cheese Dip, Roasted Winter Vegetables With Blue Cheese, Prosciutto, Asian Pear & Blue Cheese Crostini

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.

What's your favorite thing to buy in the Trader Joe's cheese section? Let us know in the comments below.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ED
    ED
  • Debbie S Myers
    Debbie S Myers
  • cosmiccook
    cosmiccook
  • Deb Kleinen
    Deb Kleinen
  • Patricia Cross
    Patricia Cross
Author of The Mom 100 Cookbook and themom100.com blog. A New Yorker, cook, and mom, I don't sit still very much.

55 Comments

ED February 22, 2020
I think they have a great cheese dept. The problem is they have the cheese for a month and then it never reappears again such as Morbier, Tomme de Savoir and many others.
Also they have discontinued horseraddish and the jars of Hot and Sweet Cherry Peppers. It seems every time I find a product that I love, It is discontinued
 
Debbie S. February 3, 2020
I have a soft spot for Trader Joe's, having grown up in an area where their 2nd store was installed. This wonderful store is part of my DNA, it's always been quirky wonderful shopping experience. Wine and cheese was really a cornerstone of these stores, Joe saw an opportunity in the 60's-70's where American tastes were changing due to people travelling more Internationally and being interested in these types of products. They were not overpriced or elitist. "Cheese, the most under-rated section" - I think not, that's how their business was built.
 
cosmiccook February 3, 2020
WOW--TJ's sells Marscapone by the POUND?? Ours only sells 8 oz. Creme Fraiche as well--$3.69 for 8 oz. Ours also doesn't carry the Jasper Hill either. I wish all TJ's were created equal--ours in Louisiana (Metairie)!
 
Deb K. February 2, 2020
I'm a huge fan of Tillamook co-op cheeses and ice cream but I thought the Tillamook cheddar sold at TJ's is rather bland.
 
Patricia C. January 31, 2020
I am not a fan of Trade Joe’s. Going back to the 1970’s. Have read well researched articles and references in books on their sourcing. May not apply to their Cheese sourcing but certainly on all their canned and processed foods. Their success is based on clever advertising and promotions.
 
Anna January 30, 2020
I am in love with Cave De Templars Roquefort from France. Absolutely delicious!
 
Toddie January 30, 2020
The cheese board pictured at the top seems to have Humboldt Fog. Has anyone ever seen that at TJs? That is one of the best cheeses I've ever had. I love Harbison. I'll have to see if my TJs carries it. Always happy to add both Unexpected Cheddar and Cambozola to my cheese board.
 
cosmiccook February 3, 2020
The one in New Orleans (Metairie actually) does.
 
Pam January 30, 2020
Unexpected Cheddar. A delicious melding of white cheddar and Parmesan.
 
M S. January 30, 2020
You forgot Roquefort. A real bargain if you are a fan. On a Thomas English Muffin for breakfast.
 
BBonamici January 30, 2020
Another TJ find is the English Coastal Cheddar at $7.99/lb.
 
Debby S. January 30, 2020
Also, how about their wonderful Mascarpone?
 
cdesousa5 January 30, 2020
She did mention Mascarpone.
 
Debby S. January 30, 2020
Thank you Trader Joe's for the Tillamook Kosher cheddar. We Love the Kosher and vegetarian cheeses!
 
Debbie S. February 3, 2020
I've noticed that good sharp cheeses like the Black label Tillamook always contains rennet. My guess is that since it's rennet free, it would affect the flavor profile and make it bland.
 
AnnV January 30, 2020
Not underrated by me! Love their cheese.
 
Dyane S. January 30, 2020
Agreed. I never underrated it, either. And it's my best cheese source since i don't live in NYC, where there are amazing cheesemongers who don't have inflated prices
 
allisonjenner January 30, 2020
This article is so stupid it makes me angry. The cheese section is literally the only good reason to go to Trader Joe’s (aside from soy chorizo). The produce is abysmal, the prepackaged foods are disgusting. The bread sucks. The frozen foods are for people who have the palate of a baby. But this “article”really angers me because it is is missing the *best* cheese from TJs - GOAT GOUDA!!
 
Author Comment
Katie W. January 30, 2020
Wow. So sorry my article was so stupid it made you that angry. Biting.
 
cdesousa5 January 30, 2020
Wow what a poor way to share a thought. I think you may have some anger issues that don't involve cheese. Remember the golden rule... If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all! Or didn't your mom teach you that one?
 
M S. January 30, 2020
Since you are so caustic it shouldn't bother you that IMO you have no taste, no sense of adventure and are arrogant to boot. I am sure that you regard restaurants that charge anything less than $100 a person close to White Castle( which BTW isn't such a bad thing). You have my deepest sympathies as you are missing more than you are capable of understanding or you have a whole lot more money than I do and are caught up in "keeping up with the Joneses."
 
M S. January 30, 2020
You are totally lacking in any sense of adventure, are arrogant beyond belief and have no understanding of that can make not only a good appetizer or a good meal. IMO you would only be satisfied with a meal that would cost $100 a person and are infused with keeping up with the Joneses. Remember, no matter what the cost, the end result is always a burp and a flush. It might just be that you spend much of your time in the bathroom ruing the dollars spent. Sarcastically, you have my deepest sympathies.
 
Elaine R. January 30, 2020
Maybe you should try anger management!! If you don't like Trader Joes's maybe you should shop for your cheese elsewhere, and stop ranting and raving. Have a wonderful day.
 
AnnV January 30, 2020
I love the goat Gouda but the level of anger is baffling.
 
Brenda January 30, 2020
Why be angry? It's only one person's view.
 
Patricia C. January 31, 2020
Thank you! They have hoodwinked the general public.
 
Nan G. January 30, 2020
We can get the same Roquefort as TJs has elsewhere, but not at the same LOW price!
We love that cheese, along with several of their other regulars.
 
NancyK January 30, 2020
The cheese department is the main reason I go to Trader Joes.
 
HalfPint January 30, 2020
Years ago, TJ's carried a parmesan from Australia that tasted almost as good a Parm Reg. Then they stopped carrying it (dang it!). I don't get too attached to products there, but selection, price, and variety cannot be beat for the cheeses at Trader Joe's. My favorite is their goat milk cream cheese.
 
cosmiccook February 3, 2020
OH, goat milk cream cheese! Now that's one I have to check--I don't recall seeing. But I just came across several SAVORY rugeluch recipes and I imagine this would really amp it up!
 
ellemmbee January 30, 2020
I disagree that the cheese section is overlooked. I and others I know, rely on it for a wide variety of fresh and delicious cheeses. Some are standbys, others are delightful seasonal surprises. It’s well curated and not at all overpriced. My latest delightful find is the Saint Illtyd cheddar from The Abergavenny Creamery in the U.K. So tasty! Can’t beat TJs price on plain old Boursin either.
 
Dyane S. January 30, 2020
If you're lucky enough to see Delice de Bourgogne , grab it. You'd pay 3 times the price up the road at whole foods, but it's an exceptional triple creme with a complex sourness . Very special cheese.
 
cosmiccook February 3, 2020
COSTCO does sell the Delice as well but you wind up buying a WHOLE lot more--I think the Costco pric is a bit cheaper--but its in 1 lb. amounts or more. I LOVE TJ's cheese section!
For those commenting on TJ's sourcing, I can't help but wonder WHAT Whole Foods does not that they're in bed w Amazon. T J's enables me to buy organic products. We don't have other options in New Orleans.
 
jeff J. January 30, 2020
I fully appreciate TJ's, but they erred badly when they canceled the French Roast coffee, no longer available--we bought it by the case. And when considering cheese selection, Whole Foods and Wegman's both top TJ's by a mile. I once bought $220 of cheese at Wegman's it looked so delicious. and when they didn't have montasio for fricos, they dashed me a pound of bleu!
 
Dyane S. January 30, 2020
They have a better selection but their prices are so inflated. For coffee, but suggest La Colombe. I quit coffee but this brought me back. Excellent subscription service
 
cosmiccook February 3, 2020
We just bought some--I think its a bit bitter though my husband likes it.