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In praise of cheap cheese


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Today for lunch I had a cheese sandwich: cheap supermarket deli counter sliced so-called Muenster cheese on peasant bread with lettuce and mayo.

It was delicious.

It seems to me that in the foodie rush to celebrate the ever increasing quality of available cheeses, especially in the US, we may sometimes lose sight of the utility of cheap old-school supermarket cheese: those big rectangular blocks of Swiss, Muenster, American, etc., cheeses, thrown on to a deli slicer and sold by the pound.

No, they're not the world's best cheeses. But on a sandwich, they serve a purpose. The mild flavor and basic creamy texture are just what some sandwiches need. They also tend to have excellent melting properties, so they're great as grilled cheese, or in an omelette. They're also good entry-level cheeses for kids -- our 17-month-old son turns up his nose at cave aged gruyere, but wolfed down three slices of supermarket Muenster today.

I think in order for these cheeses to be good, for the most part you have to get them from the deli counter. The little packets they sell in the dairy aisle, where the slices are separated by pieces of paper, seem to be inferior.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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As a little kid I always liked Munster and Colby (particularly the wax coated cylinders)... while clearly different, both are wonderfully buttery and delicious. No complexity, and not worth any premium, but yummy. If the supermarket tries to get $9.99 a pound for them (and they have), I'll avoid them in favor of real, complex cheese... but at a nice price, they're pleasant.

So, I'll say that when they're cheap, they're good stuff... but they have to be viewed as a high mark-up item around here, because they're often not cheap. Often I can get good wacky european stuff at Zabar's for less than my supermarkets want for their Munster.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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I've got two problems -- an 11-yr-old daughter who eats nothing but the cellophane-wrapped cheese slices and the occasional slice of cheddar, and a 7-yr-old daughter who demands feta, goat cheese, asiago, roquefort, stilton...it's hard to keep them all in cheese, as well as my own appetites. Fortunately, our local grocery is starting to stock some smaller blocks of strange and interesting cheeses by the deli counter, so we're trying those out, while keeping my older daughter stocked with her plain, vanilla (style, not flavor) cheese. We're working on her slowly - we did get her to eat a smoked goat cheese from the Netherlands the other day.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

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I love the Stella Kasseri that one finds in the deli section of the supermarket.

And there is a smoked provolone that one buys sliced-to-order and I like it very thin, in the service deli at Albertson's that is very, very tasty.

I like string cheese too.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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I used to work at various deli counters, and out of boredom and an adventerous spirit, I've sampled at least a slice or two of every cheese available.

I'm fond of Land O Lakes American. It's comforting, and for that genuine cheese feel, with a hint of sharpness and no plastic quality. I also like a nice soft provolone, Cabot slicing cheddar, and the cheddar with pepperoni, just to eat out of hand. The Alpine Lace swiss blows the socks off of any fancy ass gourmet swiss, to me. Probably because I'm not a big fan of swiss.

So, yeah, I love me some grocery store cheese. My favorite way to eat it is plain, on a split grocery store hard roll, or torpedo roll. Just cheese on roll. Maybe with a glass of milk. Comfort food, at its simplest, for me.

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Let's not forget every mother's best friend: the big ass bag of grated cheese from Costco. We rather favour the "Mexican" blend (a combo of jack, medium cheddar, queso quesadilla and asadero cheese). Saves knuckles, wear and tear on the grater, and just plain keeping the kitchen floor clean.

The teenage daughter and I hide the good stuff for splurgues.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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My and my family's favorite in this genre is Cooper's Sharp American Cheese available at fine deli counters. It is quite tasty as is and wonderful melted over fried eggs for a breakfast sandwich (had one this morning with bacon on a baguette) as well is in an omelette or with scrambled eggs. It's also great for grilled cheese.

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I think in order for these cheeses to be good, for the most part you have to get them from the deli counter. The little packets they sell in the dairy aisle, where the slices are separated by pieces of paper, seem to be inferior.

I'll have to disagree with you. I do the majority of my grocery shopping across the border in Michigan. Cheese is just too darn expensive in Ontario. I recently discovered some new flavors from Sargento. They now make sliced aged white cheddar and a really pungent pepper jack. They're already sliced and paper separated. We really enjoy them. I've noticed though that the new "premium" offerings from Sargento are packaged in 7oz, while the regular old swiss or cheddar is 8oz.

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I bought a 2lb block of Kraft medium cheddar on sale and left it unopened in the fridge for over a year. I finally opened it and found it was now sharp, dry, and crumbly, just what I need for mac and cheese, omelets or a souffle. The sharp flavour is similar to Kraft's MacLaren Imperial tubs, so maybe they do something similar.

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I bought a 2lb block of Kraft medium cheddar on sale and left it unopened in the fridge for over a year. I finally opened it and found it was now sharp, dry, and crumbly, just what I need for mac and cheese, omelets or a souffle. The sharp flavour is similar to Kraft's MacLaren Imperial tubs, so maybe they do something similar.

makes sense to me--the difference between medium and sharp cheddar is aging, after all, isn't it?

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A friend once made this sandwich for me:

on whole wheat bread with mayo,

lettuce

chili pepper monterey jack, sliced 1/4" thick

thinly sliced cucumber, tomato, and avocado (not too much)

& a generous clump of alfalfa sprouts

So simple and so delicious. This is still one of my favorite sandwiches.

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When we were juniors in college my friend Bob and I would take turns bringing lunch to school. Bob was a master of the cheese sandwich, and he worked part-time at a bakery so he always had interesting breads around. This being Vermont, we had access to a lot of pretty good, cheap cheddar. Many of his sandwiches were variants of what you're describing, for example thick sliced multigrain bread, a big slab of cheddar, mayo, lettuce, sprouts, cucumber slices. My primary contribution to the venture was to try to convince Bob each morning, "No, I think today is your day to bring lunch."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Since becoming the proud owner of a Bradley Smoker, I've been experimenting with cold-smoking various cheeses. I have two things to contribute here. First, avoid the swiss cheeses -- Emmenthaler, Gruyere and the like. If you can imagine a slab of fatty, moist cardboard, you're closely approximating the result. Second, and more on-topic, milder, less expensive cheeses seem to do best. The store-brand block of yellow cheddar was much tastier than an expensive aged white.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Since becoming the proud owner of a Bradley Smoker, I've been experimenting with cold-smoking various cheeses. I have two things to contribute here. First, avoid the swiss cheeses -- Emmenthaler, Gruyere and the like. If you can imagine a slab of fatty, moist cardboard, you're closely approximating the result. Second, and more on-topic, milder, less expensive cheeses seem to do best. The store-brand block of yellow cheddar was much tastier than an expensive aged white.

I buy a smoked swiss in the local store and it is fine. It has a nutty note at the finish but a creamy texture. Maybe a cheaper brand would work better?

Living hard will take its toll...
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I must say, I ADORE Huntsman cheddar, aged blue, Switzerland swiss, etc, et all.

However, having said that, the grocery that gets my business has a deli that sells the most rich, melty inviting american cheese... perfection for grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, and my favorite lunch of all in the summer, a whole wheat pita covered in butter, thin sliced tomatos and american cheese, microwaved to a melted perfection.

If something tastes good, it just does. I see no point in being snobby.

Oh, and it's also the only cheese I eat on a burger. ever.

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Most of the cheese I buy are the varieties that are considered "cheap" by most foodies. In the volume in which my children devour cheese, I'd soon go broke if I bought the really good stuff, and yes, my kids WOULD eat the good stuff. My 1 year old son is quite fond of sharp cheese, my 9 year old will eat any cheese but that processed American cheese garbage.

The only truly vile and nasty cheese in my fridge is my daughter's soy cheese. Since she's been milk allergic all of her life, she doesn't realize what she's missing.

I love grilled cheese sandwiches, and I generally use something like Tillamook Medium Cheddar for them, along either tomato and dill pickle slices, or a good deli turkey.

Cheryl

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I recently had a craving for that red waxed, bright orange "Gouda" that they used to sell in the dairy counter. You know, the one that tastes just like the "Edam?" I couldn't find it so I bought a mesh bag of little Babybels. Well, THOSE were certainly tasty. Smushy.

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I recently  had a craving for that red waxed,  bright orange "Gouda" that they used to sell in the dairy counter.  You know,  the one that tastes just like the "Edam?"  I couldn't find it so I bought a mesh bag of little Babybels.  Well,  THOSE were certainly tasty.  Smushy.

Oh man, I can't even keep those little Babybels in the house, I eat them like potato chips. Last time, in a fit of PMS cravings, I bought a huge bag of them at Costco...they were gone in 2 days. I found myself standing in front of the fridge, peeling, eating, peeling, eating, till I felt ill, and had a huge handful of balled up red wax.

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