I'm grateful every day for the bold and eye-opening cheese shops we're blessed with in New York City. Want the funkiest fromage from the tiniest purveyor on a hillside in Switzerland? You can find it. Enjoy watching the cheese come together while eating the aged versions of said cheese? We've got that, too. Truly, we're blessed to have passionate cheesemongers and shop owners keeping us abreast of the latest—and oldest—dairy traditions.
But imagine it's late on a weeknight, the artisanal shop is closed and you're in need of something decadent to offset a difficult day. Or you live in an area where traveling to one of these shops is a day of work in itself. Or the price point of these trendy shops is (understandably) not part of your budget. Enter: the grocery store.
Megamarts don't get reputations as bastions of quality products, and even the ones that do sometimes falter. But by and large, the cheese cases at many grocery stores throughout the city are reasonably well-stocked with cheeses that aren't just the Sargento's and Krafts of the world.
Below, a few recommendations for scouring your local cheese case. These are starter options, to be sure, and there's more variety depending on where you look. But this should offer an easy point of direction for those wanting something creamy and delicious whenever they want at a price-point that's generally lower than the cheese shop.
CABOT Cabot's a classic, you literally cannot go wrong with Cabot. For people who like a nice bite, there are Extra Sharp and "Seriously" Sharp varieties, and for those with baby palates, nice Mild cheddar cheese. None of these cheeses—in either their yellow or white forms—would be out of place in a grilled cheese sandwich, but they're decent for slicing onto a Ritz Cracker, too.
For a nice, well-balanced cheddar, look for the Vermont Sharp, a nice middle-ground between extra sharp and mild. It's great however you want to use it, whether that's straight off the block or melted into a hot dish.
Fun fact: cheddar is not really a type of cheese, but rather describes the cheese-making method—the curds take an extra salting and draining step, which gives them that denser, dryer texture.
ST. ANDRE Whenever I see people buying those generic wedges of brie, part of my soul cries out. There are quality bries in the world, but the flavorless hunks available at most grocery stores are not the real thing and should generally be avoided. Instead, turn your attention to St. Andre, the butter-colored, triple-creme beauty nearby in the case.
"As dense as pure butter and with the richest of flavors, the tongue-pleasing salty tang derives from the ocean air blowing through the paturages of the Normandy coast," says its creator. Sounds heavenly—let's go.
Look for a wedge that's super soft and creamy at the edges and as far into the core as you can find. Once you get it home, let it sit on the counter for at least 30 minutes before serving, allowing all that butterfat to come to room temp and settle in. It's much more fully-flavored than a brie, so careful about pairings; the makers recommend IPAs and English-style bitter ales.
CHAVRIE As a young adult, I loved cracking open a pyramid of these creamy, tangy goat's cheeses. I've never understood people's aversion to goat's cheeses, in particular the chevre-style seen here. They're spreadable, making them great as cracker adornment or part of a sandwich. They have a bright, clean flavor that goes great with things like fresh fruit or even vegetables. And they're easier to digest than cow's milk for many humans, a win for people who run into trouble with dairy products.
You can find Chavrie in both pyramid and log versions in the cheese case, it's just a matter of personal preference. For me, the pyramid offers convenient storage or a fun shape if you can get it out whole, while the log is great for slicing if you're using for a salad or crusting with walnuts and pan-frying. Either way, the cheese tastes just about the same.
SAGA This is a great introductory cheese for folks who either have never tried or say they don't like blue cheese. It's blue, but not too blue, with much more creaminess than startling shots of blue mold that's a trademark of the style. One (presumably British) reviewer referred to it as "deliciously mouldy butter," which I'm realizing might be a turn off for some of you.
Put the cheese-making process out of your mind temporarily and focus on the texture: melt-in-your-mouth and rich. Or the flavor: notes of mushroom with the occasional salty zip of bitter blue. This is an excellent starter kit for developing a love for the genre.