Let’s be honest, buying cheese can be daunting. With multiple brands, products, and sections to consider, it’s easy to get so overwhelmed that you stick to the same things. But some of the most popular brands aren’t making real cheese at all.
Foods labeled "cheese product" or "processed cheese" contain different ingredients than the natural stuff. As Delighted Cooking explains, fakes cheese are made with additional ingredients to make them more affordable, colorful, and long-lasting. You’ll find that some of your favorite American cheese slices, pre-grated bags of cheese, or bright orange blocks fall under this category. The problem is that additives found in these cheeses — like preservatives, oil, and artificial coloring — make eating them potentially unhealthy. Because of this, we recommend avoiding big brands or the corporations that make them. Additionally, the companies that make these fake dairy products are often some of the worst culprits when it comes to animal welfare (via The New York Times) and sustainability, per World Wildlife. That doesn’t make us want to buy from them.
Per Wine Enthusiast, real cheese is usually made only with cultures, salt, enzymes, and milk or cream. There are also more specific artisanal cheeses made by small businesses and cheese makers. Per Formaggio Kitchen, these cheeses are the best to buy due to their nutritional content, ethical farming practices, and amazing flavor. The downside is that these cheeses are typically more expensive and less accessible. But they’re worth it, in our eyes. Here are six cheese brands to buy and six to stay away from.
Buy: Jasper Hill
Jasper Hill Farm is an American company based in Northeast Vermont, from which it has established its reputation as one of the leading artisanal cheesemakers in the United States. Since 2003, it’s been awarded countless times for its cheeses, like the Harbison, Bayley Hazen Blue, Winnimere, and Cabot Clothbound. Jasper Hill Farm has been recognized in competitions such as the World Cheese Awards, the International Cheese & Dairy Awards, the American Cheese Society Awards, the New York International Cheese Competition, the Good Food Awards, and the World Championship Cheese Contest.
Although this artisanal cheese brand is considered top-notch, you can still find it in grocery stores such as Whole Foods. Per the store’s website, Jasper Hill Farm cheeses like the bloomy rind Harbison, Alpine-style Whitney, the ash-ripened bloomy rind Sherry Gray, and the washed rind-style Willoughby may be stocked at your local Whole Foods.
Customers of Jasper Hill Farm spoke highly of their experience buying from this cheese brand on the company’s Yelp. "I was impressed all around, both with the quality of their products, and the outstanding service for their customers," wrote one shopper. "All of the other cheeses we got were amazing. … Such wonderful complexity and texture — I cannot remember liking any American cheeses as much as these," said another pleased reviewer. Shopping for this cheese will likely not disappoint you.
Don’t Buy: Velveeta
If you want to buy real cheese, don’t buy Velveeta. While it’s clear to many that this grocery store item is not fresh cheese, the company is no longer allowed to make the claim that it is even partially made with real cheese. While this used to be part of the recipe, Velveeta today is made with milk and whey protein concentrates, instead (via Organic Authority). As a result, the FDA requires Kraft — the parent company of Velveeta — to label its product as a "pasteurized recipe cheese product," per CNN.
Per the Target website, Velveeta does use normal cheese ingredients such as milk, but then it’s filled with a laundry list of other items. These ingredients help to give Velveeta its iconic orange color, smooth texture, and strong taste, while allowing it to be shelf-stable at room temperature.
This highly processed cheese has been appreciated for its ability to melt smoothly and its affordable price tag, but there are plenty of ways to get a smooth cheese without it, such as by using sodium citrate. Remove its melted texture from the equation and there’s no reason to be eating it.
For one downside, Velveeta contains more lactose than regular cheese, making it more harmful to lactose-intolerant individuals. Beyond that, its taste and texture are not enjoyed by all people. On Reddit, one person said "it tastes like wax & plastic. …zero flavor." Another person added, "Velveeta cheese is disgusting and destroys everything it touches."
Buy: Cypress Grove
Cypress Grove is an artisanal American cheese brand based in Northern California’s Humboldt County. Since 1983, the brand has been known for its high-quality goat cheese, such as its Humboldt Fog. The Humboldt Fog, like other products made by Cypress Grove, has been recognized at cheese contests such as the American Cheese Society Awards, the California State Fair, the London International Cheese Competition, and many more. In addition to goat cheeses, Cypress Grove also makes cheddar cheese, sheep’s milk cheese, and aged products.
It’s not impossible to get your hands on some of this brand’s cheese. You can shop for it at your local independent cheese shop, gourmet foods store, Cypress Grove’s website, on GoldBelly, or even at the supermarket. According to Whole Foods, the chain stocks some of Cypress Grove’s cheeses, as well. The brand’s famous cheeses like Humboldt Fog, Midnight Moon, Lamb Chopper, and Purple Haze may be available in your nearby Whole Foods.
Cypress Grove customers rave about the company’s superior taste. On Influenster, buyers celebrated the company’s Humboldt Fog goat cheese. "Beautiful, bold cheese. So much flavor with a creamy finish," wrote one shopper. "This is creamy, has an incredible flavor, is really pretty, and is an awesome addition to a cheese board," said another fan of this brand’s items.
Don’t Buy: Kraft
Kraft is a cheese brand that you’re likely already familiar with, as the company makes several different kinds of cheese. These come in sliced, shredded, chunk, grated, string, stick, cubes, cracker cuts, and crumble varieties. That’s not to mention the popular Kraft singles. But no matter what shape they come in, Kraft’s cheeses are processed. They come with unnatural ingredients that help the cheese maintain its prepared forms and help extend its shelf life. But these ingredients also keep Kraft’s cheese from being completely natural dairy products.
For Kraft products like its famous American cheese slices, many people are already familiar with the quality they will get. They grow up eating processed cheeses like Kraft singles, thus developing a nostalgic fondness for the product. But when you forget about nostalgia, you see Kraft’s cheese for what it is: bad-tasting. "Fake and rubbery cheese slices. This is not real cheese," said one reviewer on the Walmart website. "The cheese is so floppy and slimy feeling," wrote another person. We recommend looking for cheeses made by brands other than Kraft.
Buy: Cowgirl Creamery
If you’re looking for a brand that makes natural, flavorful, "real" cheese, Cowgirl Creamery is another company to look at. The company began in 1997 intending to highlight sustainable agriculture’s skillful products and organic farming in the San Francisco Bay Area. It is best known for products like the bloomy rind, triple cream Mt. Tamand, and the washed rind, triple cream Red Hawk. It boasts that its cheeses are USDA Organic-certified, made with sustainable farming practices, and come from milk produced by pasture-raised cows. As The Guardian explains, not only are Cowgirl Creamery’s cheeses award-winning and highly lauded in the cheese scene, the company has made a lasting impact on the food world in general.
On the online retailer iGourmet, those who purchased Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam loved its taste. "I’ve never been a huge fan of soft cheeses but this is one I’d definitely buy again. The almost woodsy flavor really worked for me, and it went well with red and white wines," wrote one customer. "Mt. Tam Cheese is amazing! My whole family loved it and we have already bought more," said another person.
You can buy Mt. Tam and other Cowgirl Creamery cheeses directly through the brand’s website, local cheese shops, the website GoldBelly, and at some supermarkets. Grocery store chains such as Whole Foods and Wegmans are known for stocking the company’s cheeses, too.
Don’t Buy: Sargento
In your grocery store’s cheese aisle, you have probably come across the brand Sargento. We admit that some of Sargento’s cheeses are less processed than companies like Kraft. Products like Sargento’s Natural Sharp Cheddar Slices are made from milk, cheese cultures, salt, enzymes, and annatto — just like real or artisanal cheeses are, per The Cheese Wanker.
But with shredded cheeses sold by Sargento, even more undesirable ingredients are added to help the cheese maintain its form. These include controversial ingredients like Natamycin, a food additive that’s believed by some to have negative health effects. It’s banned by health-conscious stores like Whole Foods (except when its used in cheese rind wax), which is why you won’t see Sargento’s products at the grocery chain.
On top of all that, the company has been sued for labeling its products as free-from antibiotics. The group Beyond Pesticides sued Sargento in 2021 for mislabeling its cheeses as such. As a result, on Sargento’s website, you won’t see the "antibiotic-free" label on its cheeses anymore. This may seem obvious because Sargento’s cheeses are not USDA organic or non-GMO certified. Unfortunately, many people also complained of spoilage problems with Sargento’s cheese on Walmart’s website.
Buy: Old Chatham
Old Chatham Creamery is another popular cheese brand beloved for its artisanal cheeses and yogurts. Those who’ve purchased its products speak highly of Old Chatham online, such as on the website of the New York cheese shop Murray’s. "This is quite possibly the single best cheese that I have ever tasted. And that’s saying a lot. A bit bready, a bit mushroomy, a bit oystery, and very milky. … perfection," said one person of Old Chatham’s Hudson Valley Camembert. "My mother is French and she says that this is the way Camembert should taste," said another customer of the same cheese. Those are just a few of this cheese’s many outstanding recommendations.
As the name of its camembert implies, this American cheese company is based in New York state’s Hudson Valley area. The brand began to focus on products made from sheep’s milk in 1993. Since then, it’s expanded to also making products from goat and cow milk as well. The company’s many products are non-GMO-certified and made with less processing than your typical cheese maker.
Old Chatham produces several types of cheese, including goudas, goat chèvre, and bloomy rind sheep’s milk cheeses. Since Old Chatham’s cheeses are distributed through the gourmet foods company Baldor, you may be able to find these products in some grocery stores in the northeastern U.S. You can also purchase the company’s cheeses through its website.
Don’t Buy: Great Value
Great Value is Walmart’s brand of affordable products, and you can buy Great Value’s shredded cheddar, shredded mozzarella, American singles, a Velveeta-like product called "Melt’n Dip," sliced cheese, cream cheese, jarred queso, and other products at the superstore. While you might save a few dollars on each container of Great Value cheese compared to name brands, we would suggest buying from a different company.
While some of Great Value’s products have less processing than others, the only unnatural ingredient in some of its block cheeses is food coloring. More so, the brand’s healthfulness is only part of the problem. On Reddit, Walmart customers have complained that Great Value’s cheeses are so artificial that they are nearly impossible to melt. "Even pouring the grease over it wouldn’t melt it. … didn’t even know there was such a thing as fake cheese," said one person. Others noted that it was a common problem they experienced with processed, American cheese slices.
On Walmart’s website, the criticisms of its American cheese continued. "Oily, rubbery texture with almost no flavor. The greasy consistency is so bad that it sticks like glue to the wrapper," wrote another customer. "This product barely passes for food, much less cheese," said another reviewer.
Buy: Vermont Creamery
Vermont Creamery is a high-quality cheese brand you can find in several different grocery stores, per the company website, its products are sold at Stop & Shop, Foodtown, Whole Foods, and other chains. Like other artisanal cheeses, the best place to check for it may be at your local gourmet cheese shop or specialty foods store. If you don’t have one of those in your area, you can also order Vermont Creamery’s cheeses directly from their website.
This American brand has been around since 1984 when it began to increase awareness of goat cheese in the U.S. Over the years, it’s expanded its offerings to include butter, Crème Fraîche, sour cream, and mascarpone — as well as several different hard and soft cheeses. Vermont Creamery famously produces several plain (and flavored) fresh goat cheeses. Its popular aged goat cheeses are known by the names Bijou, Couple, and Bonne Bouche among others.
On the website of the NYC cheese store Murray’s, those who tried Vermont Creamery’s small goat log celebrated its taste. "Fantastic flavor and texture – really enjoyed it with the flatbread," said one person. "A moderate yet tangy flavor, a sweet, mild bouquet, and it quickly melts on a warm plate, becoming a beautiful, buttery mess," wrote another person of Vermont Creamery’s Bonne Bouche cheese.
Don’t Buy: Borden
If you’re trying to get your hands on the real thing – which we recommend — don’t purchase Borden cheese. The company makes a series of processed and prepared cheese products that are meant to be shelf-stable and affordable, but they won’t taste great. Even though there is real cheese used in some of its products, there are usually additional fillers in there that make Borden’s cheeses potentially harmful to your health. The artificial ingredients used in these products, such as anti-caking agents and mold inhibitors aren’t the best for your body (via The Alternative Daily). Although real cheese itself isn’t exactly a health food, it’s better than the prepared cheese products made by Borden.
It’s no secret that Borden’s cheese isn’t authentic. Certain items are labeled as "pasteurized prepared cheese product" on the packaging. But what’s lost on some of us is that processed cheese is going to have a milder, less complex flavor than the real thing. Some Walmart customers noted an off-taste in Borden’s products themselves. "Used for grilled cheese and it melts funny, not smooth, and has a very odd taste once melted," wrote one customer. Another person noted the flavor was mild, writing, "It also doesn’t taste very cheesy. It doesn’t taste bad, just not cheesy."
Buy: Good Culture
If you’re a fan of cottage cheese, try the brand Good Culture. Although it’s not an artisanal cheese brand, it’s an American dairy company with some admirable animal welfare and sustainability practices. It makes its various dairy products from pasture-raised cows and partners with farms that utilize regenerative agriculture. Good Culture is also a certified B Corporation, meaning the company strives to great a positive social and environmental impact while remaining a for-profit business. It, and other companies, receive the certification after being vetted by an organization called B Lab. Some shoppers like to see this verification because it signals to them that the company is in line with their personal values. Additionally, all of Good Culture’s cottage cheeses are made from USDA organic ingredients. Plus, Good Culture’s cows are not treated with rBST – a growth hormone sometimes used to genetically modify cows.
You can buy Good Culture’s cottage cheese at Target, Whole Foods, Walmart, Albertsons, Stop & Shop, and other grocery stores. People appreciated this brand for its lack of liquid compared to other cottage cheeses, according to Reddit. "Best tasting. … of any cottage cheese I’ve tried (and trust me, I’ve tried a lot). Excellent ingredients as well," said one person on the Target website. Per Good Culture, the only ingredients in its 2% Low-Fat Classic Cottage Cheese are skim milk, whole milk, cream, sea salt, and cultures.