The One Expensive Mistake You’re Making When Buying Cheese

published Apr 13, 2018
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Buying pre-sliced cheese means you’ll shave off a few seconds from the time it takes to make your lunch. But that’s seconds, not minutes. And in return you’ll pay several dollars more per pound. That’s dollars, not cents.

Seriously, pre-sliced cheese — whether it’s sold packaged in the refrigerated case or sliced by the pros behind the deli counter — is far more expensive than buying it by the block and doing the slicing yourself (which, let’s be honest, doesn’t require much skill at all).

Of course, if pre-sliced cheese is one of life’s little luxuries you don’t mind paying extra for, by all means indulge. Or maybe the specialty cheeses you crave, like smoked Gruyère or chipotle Gouda, are only available from the deli case? Again, go for it.

But if you’re looking for ways to save money on basic cheeses like cheddar, Swiss, Jack, and provolone, get the cheese by the block. To make future sandwiches easier, you can slice it yourself all in one go, using the slicing blade on a food processor, a mandoline, a cheese slicer, or just a sharp knife and a sharp eye. Tuck a square of parchment between each slice so they don’t stick together and store in a zip-top bag in the warmest part of your fridge.

(Image credit: Tiillamook)

A Price Comparison: Sliced Cheeses

I visited several grocery stores to determine the average prices for block cheese versus pre-sliced, both in packages and at the deli. No matter which store I visited, or which type of cheese I compared, it was always cheaper to buy the cheese unsliced. I won’t bore you with all the prices, but here’s a prime example from the cheapest store I visited, based on a basic cheddar that’s ubiquitous in my neck of the woods.

Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Cheese

  • Deli counter: $8.99 per pound
  • Pre-sliced package: $5.79 for 12 ounces ($7.68 per pound)
  • One-pound block: $5.09 per pound

And keep in mind, the thinner the slices, the more you’ll pay.

  • Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Thick Sliced: $5.79 for 12 ounces ($0.48 per ounce)
  • Tillamook Sharp Cheddar Deli-Sliced: $3.99 for eight ounces ($0.50 per ounce)
  • Tillamook Medium Cheddar “Really Thin” Slices: $4.59 for 7.2 ounces ($0.64 per ounce)

I also found a big difference depending on where in the store you shop. If the cheese is offered both at the gourmet cheese section and the refrigerated dairy case, buy it in the dairy case.

Tillamook Special Reserve Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese

  • An 8-ounce wedge at the cheese counter: $5.50
  • An 8-ounce block in the dairy case: $4.29