If I could give my tongue a nickname, it’d be Evel Knievel. When it comes to flavors, I tend to go for the extremes: super sour candies, peppers so hot they burn a hole in my stomach, and most importantly, cheeses as sharp as a knife. Because of this, I often have pretty high standards for sharp cheddar cheeses. If the label says extra sharp, I expect my tongue to be coated in a flavor so bright that it feels like someone is shining a flashlight inside my mouth. I want my chair to go sliding back against the wall and my toes to curl. If it says sharp, I want sharp.
For my taste test, I went with four of the heaviest hitters of the supermarket sharp cheddar world: Cabot Creamery, Cracker Barrel, Westminster, and finally the Stop and Shop brand. Cheeses were critiqued on presentation, taste, and price point. For this taste test specifically, I was looking for a sharp, nutty flavor, a crumbly yet creamy texture, and an appealing presentation. So without further ado, it’s time to decide which of these four brands is at the top of the cheddar food chain.
Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Up first was Cabot’s Sharp Cheddar. For those of us who hail from the Northeast, Cabot is somewhat of a household name when it comes to cheese. Owned by “1,200 Dairy Farm families throughout New York and New England,” Cabot prides itself on holding on to the integrity of its products by keeping their processes as local as possible. While the packaging wasn’t anything to shake a stick at, Cabot’s presentation had the strongest sense of craftsmanship out of all of the contenders. This pale-yellow cheddar was comforting in its abundance of craters and irregularities, standing out from the crowd of perfectly shaped rectangles that seemed to be cut with a lightsaber. This cheese came out swinging with bright notes of sharpness right off the bat, finishing off with a mellow sweetness. The texture was definitely the most pleasing of the four, dancing the line between creamy and crumbly with tight precision. While there was definitely room for a nuttier flavor, the cheese was absolutely worth the four bucks I was charged.
Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Next up was a familiar face: good old Cracker Barrel. Often mistakenly connected to the southern chain restaurant, Cracker Barrel was introduced by Kraft in 1954 as a brand dedicated to creating “deliciously different” cheddar cheeses. Cracker Barrel’s frequently viewed as a good fall-back cheese, so I went into this tasting expecting great things. Great things I did not receive. Negative #1: the presentation. Although the red label added a nice pop of color, there was barely any part of the actual cheese visible through the plastic. The orangey-hue of the cheese was a bit shocking at first, going a step too far outside of the acceptable range of coloring for me to feel comfortable. I understand that it’s completely normal for some companies to color their cheddars with annato extracts to achieve a deeper orange coloring, but this thing looked like the bottom third of a candy corn. Negative #2: texture. The first thing I noticed when I put the slice of cheese in my mouth was the odd texture. When I look for a good sharp cheddar, I don’t necessarily want it to melt in my mouth. I want a cheese with a little bit of give and snap to it to help break the sharpness up throughout my mouth. For me, the Cracker Barrel was way too creamy and needed some body. Negative #3: taste. While the sharpness of this cheese was definitely there, it took a while to build up, manifesting most of the flavoring in its aftertaste. Overall it was fairly mellow for a sharp cheddar in more ways than one, but nothing about it was OFFENSIVE. Since the price point was fairly reasonable and the flavors were pretty average, I ended up giving it a pass.
Westminster Sharp English Cheddar Cheese
Up to bat next was the heavy hitter of the tasting, Westminster Sharp Cheddar. Aged over six months, this cheese was the only English cheddar of the tasting, aged in a permeable cheesecloth rather than encased in wax or plastic. Having picked up this cheese from the fancier section of the supermarket, I expected a lot. The wax packaging was a nice touch, setting it apart from the other contenders with a quaint, crafterly presentation. Just as with the Cabot, this cheese had nice cracks and irregularities running throughout its pale yellow complexion. However, unlike many of the other cheeses, Westminster had a nice robust smell to it that resembled a nice, crusty yeast bread. The flavor was good, although a bit underwhelming for all I had expected. Yes there was sharpness and yes there was nuttiness, but for a $9.00 cheese I wanted to be knocked out of my seat with a strong cheddar flavor. Instead, all I got was an overwhelming taste of boxed White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! In fact it would have been a great thing if it was a bit sharper, but instead I found it was a tad bit too subtle, especially for what I was paying for it.
Stop and Shop Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese
Last up was the Stop and Shop store brand. With the lowest price point of the four cheeses, I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe it’s the emerging cheese snob in me, but I have a hard time believing that a sharp cheddar priced just below $2 can be anything outside of inhumanely awful. But I so badly wanted to be proved wrong. In fact, I was practically begging for it, because if there’s one thing in this world I like to root for, it’s an underdog. Much to my dismay, the Stop and Shop cheddar cheese was a complete and utter train wreck. First off, this thing looks like a dislodged piece of the yellow brick road. Secondly, the label looked like it belonged on a bar of soap. And most importantly, the flavor was just bad. I mean this thing tasted like the head chefs over at Stop and Shop tried to culture this cheese with ;a bottle of shampoo. The chemical taste was so beyond overpowering, to the point where after I swallowed it I felt like I had brushed my teeth. This was definitely the sharpest of all the cheeses, but in a way where it didn’t taste like anything other than sharpness. In fact, I was surprised they were able to call this thing cheese, since any smidgen of dairy flavor was undetectable. Not good S&S, not good.
So there you have it folks—the winner of Supermarket Showdown: Sharp Cheddar Edition is… Cabot Cheddar! This really was a tight race, being that both Cabot and Westminster were really tasty cheeses. What it came down to, however, was the price. While both were delicious, I’d have a hard time advising anyone to go ahead and spend an extra six dollars to buy Westminster over Cabot when they’re really pretty comparable. So hold your head high, Cabot. It was a close one, but you deserve it.