7 Highest And 6 Lowest Quality Cheese Brands

Brand name cheeses
Brand name cheeses - Static Media / Shutterstock

The cult of cheese just sounds like a funny way to describe the dedication some cheese lovers display for their favorite food ... until you realize how devoted they are to this luxury that, for many, has become a necessity. Once you understand, you suddenly recognize that different qualities of cheese inspire different levels of appreciation. It all depends on how seriously you take your cheese, and what kind of cheese you should and shouldn't eat, based on your personal standards.

Some cheese brands are clearly in the upscale category, offering high-quality products for your delicious sandwiches and expertly crafted charcuterie boards. Others are obviously work-a-day selections — cheeses that serve their purpose but don't live up to the superior reputation of cheese in general. We put together a roadmap of sorts to walk you through the high- and low-quality cheeses of the supermarket landscape. Whether cheese serves as a necessary nosh or just a splash of variety in your lunchbox creations, knowing which brands are superior and which are just so-so is crucial for keeping your cheese purchases in check.

Read more: The Most Unique Chip Flavors Ever To Grace Store Shelves

Higher Quality: Tillamook

Tillamook Whole Milk Mozzarella cheese
Tillamook Whole Milk Mozzarella cheese - Tillamook

Tillamook is known as a top-level cheese producer thanks to its history of providing the Pacific Northwest with a dairy the region can be proud to call its own. After all, a company that invites the public to visit its creamery clearly has nothing to hide. This is true for what goes into its cheeses as well, namely a host of whole-food happiness that's bound to make cheese aficionados sit up and take notice.

Whether you go with shreds, slices, or blocks, your Tillamook options are all high-quality competitors. The company's limited recipe uses milk, salt, cultures, and enzymes in everything from its whole-milk mozzarella to its Colby Jack. When coloring is needed in creations like its sharp cheddar, you'll find annatto added to the mix rather than troubling dyes that strip the wholesome nature right out of the cheese. It's a collection that cries out for acclaim in the cheese section, with a memorable name that's become synonymous with exceptional cheese — and for good reason. If the request is, "High-quality cheese, please," then the answer just might be, "Take a look at Tillamook."

Lower Quality: Land O Lakes

Land O Lakes American cheese product
Land O Lakes American cheese product - Land O Lakes

You may know Land O Lakes for its butter and margarine products, but you may not know it for its cheeses. Considering the quality of these cheeses, though, that might be a good thing. No harm, no foul if you pick up a few packages on sale — they're perfectly edible and show nothing on the label that would compromise your health (other than the saturated fat and sodium content, which are always factors to watch carefully). But if your search for quality cheese leads you Lake-side, you might want to find another path to follow.

At first glance, everything appears to be hunky-dory with Land O Lakes' cheese line. The colors are natural, the labels are well-designed, and the name comes with a pedigree that shoppers readily recognize. But peel back the top layer and you'll find that these items are described as "cheese products" rather than full-fledged cheese.

For example, the ingredients in the company's White Deli American look innocuous enough, and there's nothing too alarming about the additives. But the concentration of additional ingredients that results in increased processing reduces the direct nature of the cheese, which results in this particular labeling. While not necessarily an extensively processed cheese (as opposed to a "real" cheese), this item is still of lesser quality than a cheese that sticks to the rules. It seems as though achieving high-quality cheese should be easier than Land O Lakes makes it.

Higher Quality: Kerrygold

Kerrygold Aged Cheddar sliced cheese
Kerrygold Aged Cheddar sliced cheese - Kerrygold

As a proprietor of authentic Irish dairy ingredients, Kerrygold holds a reputation for delicious grocery store butter you can count on for your baking and dining needs. So, it stands to reason that Kerrygold cheese carries forth the same level of quality and commitment as the company's churned spread selection. Dedication to purity in the dairy game gives the company an old-fashioned spirit that keeps things clean and simple, the perfect ethos for producing wholesome cheeses consumers can enjoy without worry.

How subdued can a food label possibly be? Kerrygold answers this rhetorical question with cheese labels that are a total snooze fest, as they only list a mere three ingredients: pasteurized milk, salt, and cheese cultures and enzymes. This may not make for the most compelling read if you're a food scientist in search of multi-syllabic additives you've never heard of before, but if you're looking for a high-quality cheese made of wholesome components with names you can recognize and pronounce, it's one of the most pleasing collections of words you'll come across in the cheese world. And that's really saying something.

Lower Quality: Borden Slices

Borden American Cheese product slices
Borden American Cheese product slices - Borden

For many, Borden is one of the more familiar dairy brands in the refrigerator case, with Elsie the Cow — one of the oldest food mascots out there — front and center on the label, smiling her flower-collared bovine head off for generations. Based on this packaging, it's clear that using a cow as a mascot and displaying an old-timey milk bottle alongside the proclamation that the brand uses real milk in its recipe is meant to indicate a high-quality cheese. The reality is that these are seemingly just visual cues that deceive you into thinking you're buying real cheese, while the fine print reveals that Borden is pushing this almost-cheese under the guise of a greater dairy creation. The nerve.

Three different thickeners — xanthan gum, locust bean gum, and guar gum — grace the label of Borden's American Processed Cheese Food slices, also described as a "reduced fat pasteurized prepared cheese product" on the label. Whew ... this company goes to a lot of trouble to point out that this cheese isn't exactly cheese, but it's pretty close. The ingredients and descriptions slide this brand into the realm of cheese-adjacent; real cheese is just called "cheese" and doesn't require extra stuff to thicken up the recipe. Though these gums may be food-safe, they're a sign of the lesser quality cheese-style product Borden is hawking in its grocery store portfolio.

Higher Quality: Cracker Barrel

Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Yellow Cheddar
Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Yellow Cheddar - Walmart

The legacy of Cracker Barrel cheeses has made charcuterie boards and deli trays happier occasions for decades. Next to Hickory Farms, it's one of the homiest versions of cheese on the market, combining old-fashioned quality with store-bought cheese that allows you to elevate your home cooking projects with ease. These cheeses comprise a collection you can proudly include in your finest recipes, your most decorative platters, and your supremely crucial dining moments when cheese quality can make all the difference (which, let's be honest, is pretty much all dining moments).

Classics like aged sharp cheddar and havarti from the Cracker Barrel bin provide a burst of flavorful cheese that tops gourmet crackers and makes a spry addition to pasta salad in cubes or shreds. And Cracker Barrel does it without thickening agents, ill-advised dyes, or unnecessary processing. A sleek arrangement of milk, salt, enzymes, and real-food flavorings like dill and jalapeño is all it takes to concoct wholesome cheeses that instill confidence in consumers — as much as cheese can do such a thing, anyway. Anyone in the market for a cheese that feels like a triumph should have Cracker Barrel on their higher-quality list.

Lower Quality: Kraft Singles

Kraft Singles cheese product
Kraft Singles cheese product - Memoriesarecaptured/Getty Images

There's no chance Kraft Singles could hop into the high-quality category of a cheese round-up, even with a front-facing label boasting the use of real dairy. No matter what the verbiage purports, the presentation of this vinyl-like cheese food makes it a second-rate choice for burgers, hot dogs, and sandwiches — instances in which cheese is just another layer instead of a featured player. Affirming this low-tier status is the phrase "pasteurized prepared cheese product" appearing directly below the dairy claim — not the most ringing endorsement a company can provide.

There's no doubt you've used these slices in your grilled cheese sandwiches thanks to their mix of affordability, availability, and enviable meltability. But if you peel back the cover and dig into the ingredients here, it's difficult to see why Kraft isn't filling its plastic strips with cheese instead of a cheese-like substance. It all stems from the Kraft company combining actual cheese with other elements to make past-date cheese into something ... different, yet still edible. The result is what we now know as Kraft Singles, one of the lower-quality cheeses on the market, and definitely not a hit on the singles chart when it comes to cheese with true substance.

Higher Quality: President

President Camembert cheese
President Camembert cheese - page frederique/Shutterstock

If you're fancy enough to think a fromagier (the fancy French word for "cheesemaker") is a necessary part of a high-quality cheese experience, then Président is precisely the brand to satisfy your swanky sensibilities. How could a brand named for the most elevated position in the halls of government — in other words, the Big Cheese — be anything less than supreme? Though the forms may borrow from the artisan cheese-making traditions of France, Greece, and the Mediterranean, many of the company's products are made in the U.S., providing a sense of global harmony flavorful enough to unite cheese lovers across the country.

Président doesn't offer the familiar sliced or cubed cheese to adorn your work-a-day sandwiches and inelegant deli platters. No — this brand is born and bred for a higher culinary purpose, presenting cheeses like Brie, feta, and Camembert in wheel, semi-soft, and spreadable forms that convey a more elegant way of enjoying dairy-based delights. The website displays fine wine and upscale food pairings for each cheese, guiding the novice gourmet in their pursuit of higher living. If that doesn't say "high-quality cheese," then the president doesn't live in the White House.

Lower Quality: Great Value Singles

Great Value American Cheese product
Great Value American Cheese product - Walmart

Great Value? Maybe. Great cheese? Not likely. Anything wrapped in individual cellophane strips is unlikely to be considered high-quality, and Great Value Singles are no exception to that philosophy. After all, they're a low-price replica of peel-able slices originating from better-known brands, complete with the lower-quality profile on the ingredients list and processing procedure. If that's the formula Walmart is following with its copycat cheese-like stuff, the substance beneath the wrapper is certain to match the original, curd for curd.

The ingredients proclaim the basic substance to be American cheese, made from largely recognizable elements like cheese culture and cream. The colorings used to achieve that cheesy orange hue are carotene and beta-carotene, plant-based additives that steer these slices away from chemical dyes; point goes to Walmart for making a solid choice here. Beyond that, there are natural flavors, which should be covered by the composition of the cheese itself. Without a clearer indication of what these natural flavors might be or what additives give rise to them, the suspicion that plagues low-quality cheese brands sneaks in to undermine the promising start of this pasteurized prepared cheese product. Actually, that's not entirely true; anything described as "prepared cheese product" doesn't start off with much promise at all.

Higher Quality: Kraft Natural Cheese

Block of Kraft Extra Sharp Cheddar
Block of Kraft Extra Sharp Cheddar - Kraft Natural Cheese

This is how Kraft should be doing cheese in all sectors of the grocery game. A definite deli vibe takes Kraft Natural Cheese in a preferable direction, thanks to a selection of premium ingredients that replicate a more natural iteration of block cheese. Think about this: If cheese is a food produced by the natural processing of whey with enzymes, why does the company have to label its higher-quality collection as Kraft Natural Cheese? Is it because it knows the contrast of some of its other products means there are low- and high-quality options in its lineup? The mind reels at the possibilities.

But don't let your mind reel too wildly. Instead, choose Kraft Natural Cheese and leave the foodstuff on the peg. You'll get cheese made using a straightforward formula, with a concentration of milk and cheese and a minimum of strange extras — great signs for cheese of a higher caliber. The description on the front of the package reflects this superior composition, too; on the brand's American cheese label, for example, the fine print specifies that the product is made with Colby and cream cheese. There's no mention of process or product on this line, which Kraft has clearly positioned for the cheese connoisseur to find and contrast to its line of processed slices. It's good to know Kraft can come through.

Lower Quality: Velveeta

Velveeta cheese product
Velveeta cheese product - Chase D'animulls/Shutterstock

Does anyone still consider Velveeta to be real cheese anymore? The ingredients include milk and enzymes but make no mention of actual cheese. Aside from the color, it doesn't look much like cheese, with its weird softness and unrefrigerated station on grocery store shelves. The fact that it comes wrapped in what amounts to a deflated Mylar balloon only reduces the prospect of finding a high-quality substance inside. And being able to purchase a solid pound for around $6 (depending on where you buy it) makes it clear that using highly processed Velveeta as an ingredient in your more thoughtful dishes may be one of the biggest mistakes you'll make when cooking with cheese.

There's no shame in using Velveeta as part of your tailgating traditions or to make homemade dishes smoother and creamier. After so many decades as an easy, go-to dinnertime ingredient, this squishy orange block is a regular visitor to many home cooks' kitchens. Just know that if you're gauging your cheese choices by ingredient quality rather than texture and availability, you have a whole dairy case of higher-quality possibilities to experiment with. Maybe that's why the words "cheese product" are included on the front of the package ... it's better not to draw a comparison between the brightly hued knock-off and the real deal.

Higher Quality: Sargento

Sargento Cheddar Cheese shreds
Sargento Cheddar Cheese shreds - Sargento

If you've shopped for premium cheeses, you've undoubtedly encountered packages of Sargento among the wilds of your supermarket's specialty section. The red label draws your eye toward a collection of thoughtful options steeped in true cheesemaking tradition. With a full line of flavors and forms, Sargento is a cheese lover's dream, especially for shoppers without access to a full-service grocery store where the deli counter doles out top cheeses upon request. Finding Sargento in the refrigerated case is the next-best thing to having a clerk provide slice-and-serve selections with plastic glove-level service.

Just how high-quality are Sargento cheeses? Well, their trim ingredient index is practically a tone poem dedicated to the simplicity this beloved food category can contain. With pasteurized milk, salt, enzymes, and cultures listed (plus a few natural colorants, depending on the type) it's clear that the smaller your shopping list, the purer your finished cheese. It's like an artist blending primary colors to create a universe of hues; when you have high-quality components, you don't need a bunch of extras in the mix — a cheese-making rule Sargento uses to delicious effect.

Lower Quality: Cheez Whiz

Jars of Cheez Whiz
Jars of Cheez Whiz - JHVEPhoto/Shutterstock

Odd spellings like "Cheez" Whiz are a warning sign that what you find in the jar may be an analog of cheese, but it's unlikely to be of the utmost quality. Sure, it's fantastic if you need an easy homemade queso and you just don't have the heart to cook one up from scratch using better ingredients. But in the competitive jungle of quality cheese, Cheez Whiz is a paper tiger, a cheese sauce mistake easily blown over by fiercer refrigerated cheeses that know how to spell their own name.

Make no mistake: It sure is fun and easy to pop a jar of Cheez Whiz into the microwave and douse your tortilla chips in the resulting goo. But even Kraft, the Cheez Whiz creators, call the product "cheese dip," skirting the issue of what's under the lid. Plus, the ingredients read like an experiment in culinary flavoring; these include thickeners, mustard flour, molasses, corn syrup, Worcestershire sauce, and — oh yes — cheese culture, appearing nearly at the end of the list. If you've ever wondered how to make a cheese-like substance without starting out with cheese, Cheez Whiz is the answer ... though it's no solution to your high-quality cheese conundrum.

How We Chose Our Cheese Brands And Products

Varieties of cheeses
Varieties of cheeses - Fcafotodigital/Getty Images

It's simple enough to spot the quality of cheeses, even without a ton of expertise in the subject. We looked for direct hits on the dairy scale — elements like real milk and enzymes that enhance the flavor through traditional processes rather than stabilizers and thickeners that hasten the cheese-making method for quick, high-volume production. The cheese sector offers an array of options with a wide range in quality, even within each brand's line.

There were obvious candidates for the higher-quality selections — brands that minimize ingredients to the basics needed for producing a finished cheese with full flavor and a wholesome personality overall. Clear contenders for the lower-quality selections were famously processed products like Velveeta, Cheez Whiz, and anything with a front-facing label description identifying the content as a "food product," which is real food with extra processing that, in our view, lessens the quality.

To be clear, every cheese on our list is safe for consumption. The distinction we're making is strictly based on the enjoyment and peace of mind shoppers may derive from knowing their cheese is made with minimal processing and as few artificial ingredients as possible.

Read the original article on Mashed.