Why Is Cheese So Expensive?
There are two kinds of cheeses in America: there are the inexpensive, industrially produced cheeses like the cheddar at the supermarket, and then there are the more expensive, artisan cheese at fancier cheese counters. For a long time the industrial stuff dominated our cheese scene, but recently we Americans have set their sights on the sexy artisan stuff. The people have spoken, and they want good cheese.
There are cheeses out there that are both quality and affordable, and I’ve detailed those below for you, but first let’s discuss why the good stuff costs so much in the first place. It’s all about basic economics: artisan cheesemaking requires a lot more resources and it produces a lot less product. Here’s a breakdown of what you’re paying for when you buy the good shit:
1. You are promoting animal welfare.
Good milk comes from happy animals, and that requires a lot of resources and small herds that produce small quantities of milk.
2. You are paying the cheese producer themselves.
Making artisan cheese means long hours, back-breaking work, and lots of inconsistency. They have to account for bad weather, crops, and batches.
3. You’re paying for premium transportation.
Artisan cheese is delicate and needs to be transported carefully. Smaller quantities of product also mean higher per-mile transportation costs.
4. And you’re supporting your local cheese shop.
Unlike supermarkets, cheese shops cost a lot to operate, including massive overhead for labor, product, and rent. And yet they still need to make a profit, too.
So that’s why good cheese can be so expensive. And even though we all know that the good shit is well worth the price, sometimes we just can’t afford the splurge. Don’t worry—there are still plenty of sexy, affordable to pleasure yourself with even if it’s rent week. Here are some of the inexpensive cheeses for us cheap asses.
Double & Triple Cream Bries
These guys are total crowd pleasers, and there are a lot of French brands making affordable wheels. Look for Fromage d’Affinois or get yourself a piece of Delice de Bourgogne from Trader Joe’s. Serve them with apple slices and honey.
When it comes to cheddar, look for one that promotes its state and farm: the more a company reveals about itself, the better. A couple of my favorites include Face Rock Creamery from Oregon; Hook’s and Widmer’s from Wisconsin; and Grafton, Shelburne Farms, and Plymouth Artisan Cheese from Vermont. Serve with pickles and Ritz.
Any cheese that says “DOP” on the label is guaranteed to be DOPe. They’re all government protected cheeses from Europe, and can mostly survive mass-production without losing quality. Look for Gruyère, Comté, Manchego, and Pecorino. You can even find some good ones at Costco and Trader Joe’s. Note that AOP and PDO mean the same thing.
Fresh cheeses are generally cheaper than those that spend time in the aging room. Because they’re more affordable, you can treat yourself to something small-batch and local without breaking the bank. Or just get some feta from Trader Joe’s and marinate it.
Cheese from Sartori and Beehive
Beehive Cheese and Sartori are two creameries that make affordable and consistently delicious wedges. Some are even rubbed down in kinky flavors. Look for Sartori’s Black Pepper BellaVitano or Beehive’s Barely Buzzed, coated in espresso and lavender. If you want something straight up naked, try my gateway cheese, SarVecchio.
At almost every cheese counter, there is a wonderful little bin of what I call “cheese orphans,” or odds and ends that are looking for a home. You can usually find a crazy variety of cheeses for just a couple dollars. Just make sure they look lively and were cut within the past week.