In the Pacific Northwest, Tillamook is the quintessential “better than store brand” brand for many food items on your shopping list. The Tillamook County Creamery Association produces many dairy products, but are they are best known for their cheese.
I’ve noticed in recent years that the quality of store brand cheese has improved markedly. Could it possibly be competitive with Tillamook cheddar cheese? I bought an 8oz loaf of Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar and Kroger Extra Sharp Cheddar to find out.
Personally I prefer the “Extra Sharp” variety of cheddar cheese. It has the optimal amount of that tangy cheddar flavor to stand out in any dish. It’s perfect for cheeseburgers in particular. It’s less ideal for Mac and Cheese and similar sauce-based dishes: Medium Cheddar produces a smoother sauce. However you can still garnish your Mac with a sprinkle of the good stuff to get a kick of real cheddar flavor.
The Incumbent: Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar
In the rows and rows of cheese at my grocery store, the Tillamook Extra Sharp stands out from the pack. The black and gold packaging evokes feelings of classic race cars wearing the “John Player Special” livery. It takes me back to a time before antilock brakes, fuel injection, power steering, or airbags. I would happily buy this cheese for the attractive packaging alone.
The cheese inside really lives up to the packaging. It’s sharp but not too sharp, refined. The texture is on the firm side, but in a creamy sort of way. If you haven’t tried this stuff before, you should. It really is the standard by which I judge other cheddar cheese.
The Competition: Kroger Extra Sharp Cheddar
The packaging on the Kroger cheese is not nearly as nice looking. But does the cheese itself compare? I opened both packages and inspected the contents. The Kroger cheese is a slightly deeper color, and the surface isn’t quite as smooth. Both sliced nicely.
As far as the texture goes, the Kroger cheese is a bit softer than the Tillamook. I prefer the firmness of the Tillamook, although I concede that it would not be very significant when inside a burger or shredded.
Flavor-wise, the Kroger cheese actually seems a bit “sharper” than the Tillamook. But the sharpness is more in your face, not as refined and controlled as the Tillamook. You can tell unambiguously that the Tillamook cheese comes from a more mature process and fresher ingredients. I have to say that, despite recent improvements, the Tillamook cheese still tastes noticeably better than the store brand. However the gap is pretty small, and I’m happy to eat either one of them.
On the day that I bought these cheeses, there was a sale and they were both exactly the same price: $2.50 for an 8oz loaf. For the same price, I would always pick the Tillamook Extra Sharp Cheddar over the Kroger brand. However, the Kroger cheese goes on sale more often, and is sometimes available at a steep discount. And as always, check for coupons and sales before you stock up!