Rob’s Lesson 3: Dairy Dupes

Hey all, here’s another post from Chef Rob.  Good stuff, and I can add that any truly “free range” eggs are probably laid in trees or other hidden nooks that are very hard to find… I have wondered if any commercial farmer really keeps free range birds!


Welcome to another installment of Rob’s Supermarket Secrets. You can find my first and second lessons here at Yaygoodies. Today I’d like to talk to you about the most cunning and depraved section of the supermarket: the dairy aisle. I know what you’re thinking. But Rob, I love my moo-juice, and it loves me. It would never try to cheat me. Well, you’re wrong. It can. It has. It will. That brings us to our third lesson.

Lesson 3: Don’t get duped in the dairy section.

I hold this truth to be self-evident: that all factory made, machine processed cheese is created equal. Don’t believe me? I challenge you to tell me the difference between Cracker Barrel, Cabot, Velveeta, and Kraft in a blind taste test. Lesson 1 still applies. Don’t get suckered into buying a middle of the road brand because you recognize the name. If you’re going to spend extra money on cheese, buy better types of cheese, or buy small batch, handmade cheese.

The same goes for milk. You cannot taste the difference between manufacturers. Don’t get suckered by buzz words like organic. Milk is an organic compound, and the adjective, when applied to milk, is meaningless. If you want to pay extra to ensure that the cow in question got to live a good life and actually walk around a farm, that’s your prerogative. If that’s your prerogative, you should take the five minutes on the internet to make sure that your favorite brand isn’t just a fancy label and an empty promise. Keep this urge within reason. Hormone free milk is fine, but never drink raw milk. Raw milk is for making cheese. If it hasn’t been pasteurized, drinking it could kill you.

Just like with meat, you pay an extra markup for additional processing. It stands to reason that shredded cheese should cost more. And why not? It saves you from spending time with the box grater, the most feared and hated piece of equipment in your kitchen. However, there’s an additional hidden fee that happens when you buy your cheese pre-shredded. Suddenly, you’re buying cheese and you’re paying for air. Any good chef knows his conversion rates. “A pint is a pound, the world around,” as Alton Brown likes to remind us. You may not immediately be able to tell me that there’s 3 teaspoons in a tablespoon, or that a gallon weighs eight pounds, but you should know that 8oz is a single cup. But not so when it comes to shredded cheese. Here the manufacturer proudly proclaims 2 cups on every 8oz portion. This staggering bit of double think has a single purpose: separating you from your hard earned money. The next time you’re in the store, compare the whole blocks of cheese with the shredded packages, you’ll find that you’re paying more than double for similar weights of cheese.

Finally, learn the lay of your supermarket. Many supermarkets have taken a page from the Whole Foods playbook and now have a lovely little cheese shop nestled somewhere near the deli. Here you’ll find all of the high end brands and fancy cheeses arrayed for your perusal. Unfortunately, this gives many machine processed brands a chance to seem gourmet by association. This strategy capitalizes on the laziness of shoppers. If you’re looking for feta cheese, you’ll definitely find it here, but you probably don’t know that the store brand feta is over on the other side of the store on the top shelf of the dairy aisle for half the price. The same is true for mozzarella.

That about wraps up today’s lesson. Your supermarket can try to yank the cheesecloth over your eyes, but with a little time and conscientious shopping, you’ll see through the marketing and the misdirection. Your wallet will thank you, and your taste buds will never know the difference.

One thought on “Rob’s Lesson 3: Dairy Dupes

  1. Pingback: With a little help from my friends… | Yay, Goodies.

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