Grocery stores don't exactly have the best reputation when it comes to yummy, interesting cheeses. There's the deli counter and the dairy aisle, and if you're lucky, a cooler filled with a few bricks of "special" cheddar.
So when it comes time to assemble the finest cheese board your book club has ever seen, you probably think that your best bet is to head to the closest specialty store, where you have to shell out the big bucks for their finest cheese. To that, we say think again! We asked a few cheese experts, who definitely know their way around the block, to give us their grocery store cheese recommendations. You might be surprised at their picks!
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1. Sartori Black Pepper BellaVitano, $26 for four 5.3-ounce blocks
"I am a big fan of Sartori cheeses. The company is actually based in Plymouth, Wisconsin, and they worked with master cheesemongers and food scientists to develop really great Italian-style cheeses. They have some interesting flavor combos that work really great together. One of my favorites is coated in black pepper, and I'm starting to see it at grocery stores across the country. It's very versatile and great grated over salad, on crackers, or even just by itself. It's not artisan cheese, but definitely a step above average grocery store options. Another grocery store cheese I'll pick up is Sargento Mexican 4 Cheese Blend. I think it's a nice quality cheese to use in tacos and other Mexican dishes." — Ken Monteleone, Owner of Fromagination in Madison, Wisconsin
2. Cambozola Black Label, $20 per pound
"As a cheesemonger, I'm surrounded by fancy artisan cheeses all the time, but sometimes bourgeois cheese gets old. When I'm feeling a little more basic, you can find me in the grocery store dairy aisle, feverishly searching for individually wrapped string cheese or big yellow bricks of extra-sharp cheddar. But if I was headed to a dinner party and had to choose one cheese to bring, I would probably grab a Cambozola Black Label. It's a very chill combination of camembert and gorgonzola and the result is basically a blue cheese ice cream. It's hyper creamy, salty with a light tang, and highly dank. It's also snarfable and a very party-pleasing introductory blue cheese available at many large grocery chains." — Cody Reiss, a cheesemonger at Murray's in New York City
3. Tillamook Sharp Cheddar, $9 for eight ounces
"This cheese is hands-down my go-to grocery store cheese. Growing up this was a staple in our fridge — if there was no Tillamook cheddar, I wouldn't know what to eat. I put this cheese on EVERYTHING: eggs, pasta, sandos, steak, chicken, toast, and for a while I even put it in my morning oatmeal. Later in life, when I was a penniless bread baker, this loaf of cheese was the star of countless cheese sandwiches. Now that I live on the east coast, I rarely see it. But every time I go home it's the first cheese I eat." — Lauren Mosness, a cheesemonger at Saxelby's in New York City
4. Vermont Creamery Classic Chevre, $6 for 4 ounces
"My favorite grocery store cheese is Vermont Creamery's Goat Chevre because it's extremely versatile and great this time of year paired with fresh garden veggies." — Erin Fay, the head cheesemonger at Grafton Village Cheese in Vermont
5. Mini Babybel Cheese Original, $5 for 10
"The choice is clear: Babybel. Plump little disks of Edam-like cheese dipped in crimson wax and swaddled in festive plasticky material. They are mellow, milky sweet, and downright cheese-like. They are, as far as I can tell, actually cheese. At night, at the supermarket, when the lights are dimmed and the crowds have thinned, I grab a red, netted bag or two, and run. If I get caught, I say they're for my kids. I have no kids. But usually I send my wife in while I hide behind some shrubbery. My membership in the Guilde des Fromagers would be imperiled, after all, should I be caught." — Matthew Rubiner, Owner of Rubiner's Cheesemongers & Grocers in Massachusetts
What about you? What's your favorite grocery store cheese?