Why is some of my cheese weird?
May 2, 2012 6:07 PM   Subscribe

Food puzzler: I frequently buy the same kind of factory-packaged Tillamook cheese from the grocery store in ~8 ounce plastic wrappers. Oddly, the same product is not always the same - each package has one of two very dissimilar textures, either dry/crisp or oily/plasticky. Last week I bought two packages from the same store sitting in the same row - and one has the texture I like, one has the plasticky texture. Any idea why?

The textures are markedly different. I'd say I get the normal texture in 2/3 of my purchases and the oily texture in 1/3 of my purchases, so the oily texture isn't that abnormal. I have been curious about this for YEARS and thought - who better than metafilter to explain what is up with my cheese?!

The normal texture is dry, slightly even crumbly, and easy to cut thin slices with a sharp knife. The slices cut off from the loaf almost like carving shavings from a piece of wood. The cheese is firm and dry and doesn't leave an oily aftertaste.

The plasticky texture is greasy and plasticky, and is difficult to cut. My sharp knife kind of hangs up on the cheese, resulting in uneven, thicker slices. The cheese is moist looking even a little greasy in appearance. It leaves an oily aftertaste, almost like the feeling you get when you've eaten too much of something.

The cheese is stocked by a lot of different supermarket chains, and it doesn't seem to matter if I buy it at Safeway, Ralphs, or Whole Foods - I still get the texture variation. It doesn't seem to have anything to do with what I do with the cheese - it always goes straight into the fridge after coming home from the store. The cheeses look the same uncut.

This has always puzzled me. Anyone have any idea why this happens?
posted by arnicae to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have no answer for you, but, anecdotally, my father likes to freeze cheese in blocks to achieve a dry, crumbly texture. Worth a try on those oily blocks?
posted by stray at 6:12 PM on May 2, 2012

I've noticed that some of the Tillamook colby-jack loaves I've bought have been soft and difficult to cut, while others have been firmer.

I don't know whether this is caused by variations in production, age, storage conditions, or what. But I do always squeeze a couple and choose the firmer one when shopping.
posted by aubilenon at 6:24 PM on May 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would bet that some of the cheese is being allowed to warm up during shipping, and that's what is changing the texture. If you write to the Tillamook Creamery, I'm sure they'd be able to tell you more, and would be very glad to hear about the problem. I'm sure they want to deliver a consistent product.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:12 PM on May 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

No explanation, but I've noticed this in other brands too. It looks stupid, but I always squeeze cheese packages to make sure I'm getting one of the firm/dry ones.

(Thank you for asking this, I am also curious!)
posted by ella wren at 7:39 PM on May 2, 2012

I know when I let some cheeses (cheddar is definitely one of them) sit in a warm kitchen for too long, it "sweats" oil and definitely changes texture a bit. I agree that a temperature variation in shipping is probably what's going on here.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:01 PM on May 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

I bet they have two suppliers.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:30 PM on May 2, 2012


From Wikipedia:

A second cheese-making facility, Columbia River Processing, Inc., was built in Boardman, Oregon in September 2001. Its production capacity doubled TCCA’s cheesemaking capabilities.[4]

I'd look at the code on the cheese and note the codes of the different cheeses. Then just avoid the code from the bad creamery.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:33 PM on May 2, 2012

Temperature variation is probably the answer but anecdotally (as a native Oregonian) I noticed that when Tillamook cheese changed some when Tillamook bought the Bandon Cheese Co. The cheese from the Bandon factory always had texture and taste problems, even before Tillamook bought them, so I figure that the evil cheese has invaded Tillamook.

(on preview, that Ironmouth says)
posted by fiercekitten at 9:36 PM on May 2, 2012

This also happens to my Cabot cheese, so I would suspect it's not the brand itself..
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 9:43 PM on May 2, 2012

Yup, this happens with my cheapo store brand cheese too. Not only is the texture different, it just tastes bad.
posted by tilde at 7:34 AM on May 3, 2012

Which cheese is it? A sharp(er) cheddar? I had similar experiences, and I live in Oregon, so I feel like it should be relatively fresh.

In one case I determined it was because the display the Albertson's kept their cheese in was one of those large open centerpiece coolers that never seemed very cool and quite possibly turned off and maybe covered at night. Cheese on the outside would kind of "sweat," and I occasionally found some moldy ones.

So it seems like temperature variation is indeed the answer.
posted by MonsieurBon at 8:50 AM on May 3, 2012

I e-mailed Tillamook a copy of your question (on behalf of "an acquaintance of mine") and got this response:
Thank you for contacting Tillamook County Creamery Association. We appreciate that you have taken the time to make us aware of this situation.

As cheddar cheese ages, it becomes sharper, harder, and more crumbly. An aged cheese that crumbles when sliced represents a cheese that has aged exceptionally well.

I am not sure what might be causing your cheese to be oily. I have forwarded your comments to our Quality Assurance team, who is very concerned with the quality of our cheese and the satisfaction of our customers.

If you would like to provide your mailing address, I would be happy to send a replacement coupon for your most recent purchase of Tillamook Cheese.


Consumer Loyalty Specialist
I am not taking them up on the coupon. If you really want to get to the bottom of this, I would start logging the manufacturer's codes for both good and bad cheese and write them again.
posted by grouse at 4:12 PM on May 3, 2012

Ok, thanks for the advice guys. I'm creating a cheese spreadsheet.
posted by arnicae at 4:41 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

Update (since people are apparently still looking at this Ask): I'm six cheese blocks into the spreadsheet and sadly so far there is no clear trend to the weird vs. wonderful cheese specimens. I'll update again once I have a more representative sample.
posted by arnicae at 6:07 PM on July 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

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