This story is part ofCNET’s collection of practical tips for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.
By good cheese, we mean artisanal (not to be confused with kraft), artisanal cheese — the kind you can find more easily at a specialty cheese retailer, farmer’s market, or at least the high-end section of the grocery store — of course there’s a higher price than you’ll find in packaged blocks and packaged chunks in dairy products. “A lot of it is economies of scale,” says Zach Berg, cheese monger and owner of Detroit’s Mongers’ Provisions. “If you’re talking about working on a farm, you have to talk about the costs of raising and feeding the animals before you even get to the costs of making cheese in a very different way than doing a large industrial operation.”
Then buying artisanal cheese on a small scale will not only be tastier, but feelings better knowing your extra dollars are supporting smaller or more local operations. However, that doesn’t mean that all artisanal cheeses are the same in terms of price, and that there isn’t great value in the luxury cheese world, or that you can’t get good cheese for (relatively) cheap. To that end, Berg tells us about some professional strategies on how to save a little offspring of your cheddar… and gruyere, camembert, etc.
Talk to the cheesemonger
“Finding someone you can talk to is the first step,” says Berg. “I would think of it as finding an ally.” Like sommeliers, cheese mongers are equipped to help you get the most bang for your buck, wherever your buck stops. If you know you’re planning a cheese plate for a certain number of people and want to have a certain number of cheeses, the professionals are best equipped to help you get the most and best cheese for your budget.
“Going to places where there’s someone to talk to is always so important to maximizing your dollar,” says Berg. “Whileis amazing, it’s harder to get the best bang for your buck even though the prices are low.”
In my own experience, all cheese professionals have (metaphorically) pockets full of cheeses that they know customers will love and that consistently deliver more for their price. All you have to do is ask. A few that Berg likes include Milton Creamery’s Prairie Breeze, an American cheddar/gouda hybrid, Piave, an Italian Alpine-style melter, and Fromager d’Affinois: “that’s what people think of when they think of brie,” says Berg. The latter qualifies more as an industrial cheese than an artisanal one, but that’s another reason to talk to the pros. “You can still use some bigger players that have some of those economies of scale without selling your soul to the devil or eating bad cheese,” says Berg, who also cites Mitica/Forever Cheese and Hook’s as more large-scale dairy operations that can offer lower prices but still have high-quality products.
Ask about discounts, sales and promotions
Fine cheese is also sometimes sold. “We offer discounts when we rebuy to be completely transparent,” says Berg, another reason to befriend a cheesemonger today so he can direct you to what’s on sale.
“Every cheese has a shelf life” (note: it’s probably longer than you think), “and I’d rather you take something home and I not lose all my money than have it go in the trash,” says Berg. “Often there’s something that needs a home this weekend and we’ll offer it for 20% to 50% off, and frankly, it’s a fun way for our customers, especially the adventurous ones, to be introduced to new cheeses because it feels like it’s less of a risk.”
If there’s nothing on sale that day that interests you, ask about future cheese sales, deals and promotions that may be on the horizon.
Ask for good cheese, bad cuts
Speaking of less financial risk, “we have a ‘good cheese, bad bits’ container that we always try to maintain,” says Berg. “It’s always a really good cheese,” he says, which may have just gotten a weird cut or come from a small, leftover piece at the end of a larger wheel. These chunks aren’t the fancy wedges you might want to put on an Instagram-worthy cheese board, but in terms of trying out new cheeses for yourself or putting together a great combination of chunks for grilled cheese, mac and cheese, or fondue , these odd little pieces can be a huge value.
Even larger retailers like Whole Foods or Murray’s counters at Kroger stores often carry a selection of smaller or awkward cuts. You can also look for or ask about a discount basket of small pieces at your local grocery store.
Find out the cheese metrics
“I think most consumers don’t usually think about weights and measures when it comes to cheese,” says Berg, especially when they’re used to buying industrial cheese by the package rather than by the pound. At artisanal cheese counters, prices are often given in pounds (or parts thereof), which can lead to sticker shock if you’re not used to thinking about how much of that $30-a-pound cheese you can actually buy. (However, I have seen several retailers combat this by displaying their prices per quarter pound.)
Industrial blocks of cheese—the packaged cheddars and flask jacks in your dairy aisle—typically come in 8-ounce or half-pound portions, so unless you’re planning on curdling cheese for a weekend or making a cheese plate for a particularly large gathering , a normal piece of artisan cheese for most households is between a quarter and a half kilo. So when you look at these prices per pound, start splitting and save your crowns.
On the other hand, since the cheese is already in a suspended state of controlled decay, it has a shelf life, so if discounts are offered by buying more at once, know that there’s no reason to expect to have to throw any of it away because causes spoilage if stored properly.
In-store loyalty and subscription programs
Many cheese retailers offer loyalty or subscription programs, or both, which are also ways to save some money on your luxury cheese needs. If you sign up with Mongers’ Provisions, for example, you get 2% back on in-store purchases. “It’s a way for us to stay more connected with our customers,” says Berg, “and let them know that it really means something that everyone is spending their money with us.”
Cheeseboxes from your local grocery store or bakery may seem like a luxury, but they can also save not only money, but time as well. “For people who are further from the store or don’t like going into the store every time, our subscription boxes can include discounts and the more you buy, the cheaper the items get.”
Buy local cheese
No matter how much you spend on artisan cheese, and even if you don’t buy directly from a cheesemaker or cheesemonger, shopping local by getting to know the local brands in your area can bring value, if not necessarily savings. “There’s great value in buying local brands,” says Berg, “because you get great food, your money stays in the local economy and has a bigger impact there.”
On a related note, the little crunchy bits you often find in aged cheeses are called tyrosine crystals, which are chemically not that far off from dopamine. This means that when you buy local, artisanal cheese, the cheese can feel good for more than one reason.
Looking for more useful onesand ways to save money this year? We found it and calculated .