Why You Should Buy Cheese At A Specialty Shop, Not The Grocery Store

When buying cheese, the supermarket is great for grabbing a container of cubed Colby-Jack for snacking or some pre-sliced Swiss for sandwiches. However, for treat-yourself moments, special events, or recipes that depend on quality dairy, it's time to drive to a specialty cheese shop instead.

Think of shopping for cheese in the way you would shop for wine, coffee, chocolate, or spices. To get the best of the best, you would go to a place where the person behind the counter knows their stuff. The staff at a cheese shop can guide you to choices you might like, answer questions, and open your eyes to new finds. Kathleen Serino, the Training and Curriculum Manager at Murray's Cheese, recommends seeking out these establishments for their diverse selection and attention to quality. "At a specialty cheese shop, I am looking for cheese that either I have never seen before, or that is hard to come by, but is always cut fresh for me," says Serino.

Most of what you find at a supermarket is also mass-produced, like pre-shredded mozzarella or vacuum-packed blocks of cheddar. You might find some specialty cheeses, but options are typically limited. Serino explains that the choices at a smaller shop are "rarer, imported, artisanal, and farmstead options that may not have as much representation in your average grocery store." Artisan cheeses are crafted by hand in small batches, and farmstead cheeses are made on the dairy farm where the milk itself comes from.

The knowledge of a specialty cheesemonger is irreplaceable

According to Kathleen Serino, one-on-one interaction with a cheesemonger is a must-do at a cheese shop, as they can tell you all about the production methods and tasting notes of their products. They also have insight into complementary cheese pairings, so they can offer tips for arranging better cheese boards or help you out with more daring combos, like types of seafood and cheeses that are meant to be together. The best part is that the staff's recommendations are almost always accompanied by samples. You can taste interesting riffs on classics or an off-beat new favorite right in the store, and ensure you love a cheese before you buy it. 

With all these benefits in mind, Serino acknowledges that this high-quality service comes at a price. The higher cost of products at a specialty store is reflective of the staff's skills and the quality of the items themselves. However, because cheese shops will cut your product to order, you only have to buy as much as you need, and you could even score fancy cheese on a budget by asking if the store sells "off-cuts." Some stores requires a minimum amount that customers must purchase, which is usually around a quarter of a pound. Even so, these shops make it easy to enjoy a smaller slice of heaven without breaking the bank. And if you don't have a local cheese shop around, you can buy top-quality curd online from companies like Murray's.