From grass fed beef to raw, organic milk – I’ve had several requests to share my current real food grocery budget priorities. While I’m working on a comprehensive post that breaks it all down, I’ve discovered some important items to note.
First, I shared that I rarely buy Sucanat any more. I explained all my reasons and shared what we’re doing instead here.
Next, I will let you know that I’ve made some changes in the cheese department.
My extensive research tells me that dairy is best when it is:
- hormone free
- full fat
Our family continues to drink raw, organic milk because we have a fabulous source close-by for just $5.00/gallon. It is affordable and our family generally doesn’t drink much milk. But cheese? In this house, the people like their cheese. We eat it in many of our casseroles, on our pizza, in our tacos and quesadillas, and on our scrambled eggs. Plus, the boys like to eat it plain as a snack.
Solving My Cheese Dilemma
For years, I bought a case of Landmark Raw White Cheddar every couple of months from Azure Standard. I love everything about it – except for the price. It’s not at all unreasonable for its quality. But at $5.59/pound, I’ve recently stopped buying it. We eat at least twice as much as we used to, so this is one of the food choices that I compromise on now.
You know what this means right? This means that our cheese isn’t white anymore. Why manufacturers have decided to change the actual color of cheese is beyond me.
While it might be considered a compromise, I am okay with it because cheese is still real food. This kind isn’t organic. It isn’t raw. But the ingredient label doesn’t make me gag at the store (which I have been known to do on occasion while reading various labels) – so we’re going to stick with this for now. I pick it up in bulk when I find a good price-match. Cheese freezes well, so my freezer door is full-o-cheese.
If you’d like to read more about our Houseful of Teenage Boys Grocery Budget, you’ll find it here. It’s also worth mentioning that we have a son in college and are about to add a second teenage male driver to our monthly car insurance premium (I can’t talk about it). Good food is worth the investment, no doubt! I’m not trading home-cooked meals made with real food ingredients for boxes of poptarts. I’m simply switching some of our pricier real food choices for less expensive real food choices.
The moral of my cheese story:
Just because something works for you now doesn’t mean it will work for you always. Be willing to re-evaluate your family’s situation and needs. But if at all possible, keep your food real. Some things just aren’t worth the compromise.
Tell me about your cheese preferences. Are you forking it over for the good stuff? Or sitting happy with the less-than-perfect-but-still-real-food cheese?
It may encourage you to know that most cheeses are colored with annatto, which is a natural coloring (not a chemical created in a lab). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annatto
Even though annatto is considered “natural”–it is still a high level allergen. I personally cannot eat anything with annatto (which is in a LOT of food, not just cheese), so for that reason, I stick to the white cheeses only for me. My family does enjoy colby/jack so I get that for them, I also stay away from cheddars (white and yellow) as they give me terrible headaches within 15-30 minutes of eating them. As a displaced Cheesehead (living in the Pacific Northwet now) I love my cheese.
Laura–thank you for keeping it real and for giving us permission to use common sense in providing food for our families. Best wishes on the car insurance woes. (I have two 12 years olds. The thought of adding two of them at one time is daunting even now!)
I am very hesitant to give my kids cheese that’s not at least organic. Toxins( pesticides, added hormones, etc) are stored in the fatty meat parts and milk of animals. It’s so important for these things to be kept out of growing kids bodies. So rather than compromise on quality, I choose to skip it or use less.
I live in northern New England and we’re very lucky to have both excellent small, craft cheesemakers nearby and a larger commercial dairy farmer cooperative, Cabot, which makes some amazing cheeses. We always buy the white cheese. :) And their Seriously Sharp Cheddar contains pasteurized milk, cheese cultures, salt and enzymes. That’s real food in my book. I like knowing that I’m supporting local farmers, even if I can’t get to the farmer’s market!
Forgot this -> https://www.cabotcheese.coop/
Love Cabot cheese. Our local Walmart carries the White Cheddar for under $10 a 2 pound block. I wish they would carry some of their other cheeses.
Amy O. says
My last purchase was $8.86 for 2 pounds at Wal-mart.
I buy tons of Cabot cheeses! Living in Vermont it is one of my local must buys, but I also buy lots of Crystal Farms cheeses as it is slightly cheaper than Cabot but still REAL cheese. I buy Great Lakes sliced cheese because I can get 3 pounds for under $10 and it doesn’t have that Kraft taste/texture/what-the-hell-am-I-eating?! thing going on!
Aldi has white cheddar and various other white cheeses and is very affordable!
We buy the brightly colored but still real food cheese. We just go through too much to pay more.
I wish you lived near a Costco. We love the Tillamook brand. I wish we could buy all organic dairy since you can’t wash dairy, but… we trust God. We’re all dying anyways. We, FIRST of all, trust HIM and then do what we can with what we have. LOVE your honesty. So many real food bloggers don’t share this kind of stuff even when I am SURE that they do it occasionally!
I live in Wisconsin and have access to lots of wonderful local cheese!
What I like to do is buy the better, more expensive cheeses for eating plain or in dishes where the cheese stands out. Then I use the less expensive stuff for everyday cooking.
Thanks for keeping it real, one reason why I enjoy your blog!!
I agree. We all have to make decisions, and our priorities are all different and often change with the seasons.
I used to buy “raw” organic cheese but it was so pricey that I switched to just organic unless the other stuff is on sale. I also limit us to three bricks of cheese a month, usually.
So proud of your courage to ,”keep it real” in sharing your food journey with all of us. It is so encouraging to those of us also trying to make wise food choices with tight budgets.
I don’t think I even WANT to know know how much a male teenage driver costs on insurance…. Shudder… Three coming up… Ignorance is bliss… Ignorance is bliss
I’ve been pouring over your website for dayyyyys now and just ADORE you!! I’ve already made my Menu Planner (squeal) and have replaced much of our food with real food. My table overflows with beautiful fruits and veggies. Thank you for your wonderful blog. You surely touch many people. And just think, when you touch one reader, that reader usually will rub off onto family and friends. I’ve already shared your blog with everyone I know. :)
Anyways, onto the cheese. For a long time I would just buy bags of shredded cheese for convenience but now I think I will be switching to blocked cheese. Glad to know Kraft is a decent brand. We don’t have the option for organic cheese (Except Horizon sliced) and my kids can just eat it as a snack.
Thanks so much for sharing!!
Love from Louisiana :)
Love your honesty .Real food is best and all have a budget to live on.
I buy the bulk raw cheddar cheese from Azure that comes in 5ish pound blocks. It is $4.45 a pound, which is actually less per pound than much of the more conventional cheese at the grocery store. I was buying less of the raw and supplementing with other cheese, but realized that wasn’t saving much because the price for the raw was actually quite reasonable! I am almost embarrassed to say that we go through about 15 pounds of cheese a month ????
You are so blessed to find raw milk for $5 a gal. Theres only 1 store within 50 miles of my home that sells raw milk. And its $15 a gallon. My 1yr old will never understand how much we must love her to buy that stinkin milk. We are blessed to be able to splurge, but I think a little piece of my frugal heart dies everytime we do.
I’m looking forward to your “How much we spend on our groceries–updated” post, Laura! Our family income is taking a major hit and we’re trying to figure out how to reduce every single budget line. Sigh. Did I mention 2 teen + preteen–all boys? Sigh again. I read these fantastic blogs: how to feed your family on $200/month and think maybe I’m missing something. Until I realize we’re talking about a couple and their toddler + preschooler. Yeah. Or another feeds their family of 10 on $400/month and their children are older, but they go hunting for all their meat/family supplies a side of beef/they don’t count the chicken feed but have “free” eggs.
We too, used to do Azure for cheese, but now we are looking more at cost than organic, because while organic is very important to me, so is having a full belly!
I buy Tillamook brand. I can get 2.5 pounds for under 9 dollars at SAMs and HEB carries it. I have tried grass fed white cheddar, too sharp and grainy for my liking. That goes for Cabot white cheddar too.. That is just my opinion. The one thing I try not to compromise on in my kitchen is products with high fructose corn syrup. When I eat something with it in there or drink a soda with it in there I don’t feel well. It is hard on the liver and I feel it. So that is my nemesis. No compromise there.
Well done Laura for the honesty. Trying to be completely and utterly “real food” is stressful. Our trust in God should come first especially when the budget doesn’t allow for raw milk at 9.00 a gallon.
Thankfully, a local grocery (Ingles) has an organic brand of cheese that I buy, but the only brand that I can find that is safe from cross contamination for my peanut and tree nut allergic daughter is Sargento. It is not organic, but none of us eat much dairy since we can’t tolerate much. My husband can’t eat it at all.
I’ve often wondered how much families with multiple teenage boys have to make to be able to feed them all organic, real food. I only have one teenage boy, but considering that he can eat a whole pizza by himself, makes organic, white cheese not a reasonable choice for us. You have to do the best you can with the rescources you have. Both my husband and I work and I sometimes I’am just to exhausted at the end of the day to cook, so we compromise about once a week and eat out. I also buy some convenience foods, but I try as much as possible to buy and make good, wholesome, real food most of the time.
I love you for your honesty! I have always used the yellow cheese. Raw local grass fed is $5 for 1/2 lb here. The azure pickup here isn’t at a good time for me. I choose to stick to my budget & keep my sanity. And trust God.
We go through SO much cheese (and milk) that there’s no way I could do organic. I usually get the Sam’s brand Colby jack but I’m 99% sure our Sam’s carries the cheese you showed in the picture for around $6-$7 for two lbs. My parents have a Costco membership so I go with them a few times a month and I know they have a lot of good quality cheeses for not a lot of money. I have two boys (one’s a pre-teen) that play soccer almost year round and are very good eaters so I feel your pain. Plus my husband is a runner and lifts weights several times a week. I am not looking forward to the driving years and their increased appetites! It scares me!
Kelly in Oregon says
I also was going to recommend Tillamook cheddar – but I see you have a couple of other dear readers who have recommended it already! I am fortunate to live less than 2 hours from Tillamook, so it’s easy to find for me, but Costcos around the country carry it and it’s only about $3.20/lb in 5 lb blocks. Maybe there is a store somewhere near you where you can find it, I have seen it in other stores nationally that aren’t Costco. I have never been willing to spend a gazillion dollars on cheese, and I have always found Tillamook to be a great compromise. And a bonus: it tastes GREAT!!!!!
BTW- LOVE Jaclyn’s comment!!!!!!!! We do the best with what we have and trust that God will take care of us!!!
We purchase Cabot’s white cheddar from WM(when they have it in stock????). It’s a decent price and isn’t colorful.
Laura, this is an excellent post. I feel I need to spend my money where it can do the most good, buy the best food my family can afford. Organic cheese is not a possibility at this time. Consequently, I buy on sale cheese with all natural ingredients, whenever I am shopping. As Christians, my family and I pray Grace at each meal. I know our meal Grace is not “magic”, but I do know to be grateful for what Our Good God has provided through the work of my husband. In the end, food is to nourish and allows us to gather to share our lives. If it’s organic, excellent. If it’s not organic, I am still grateful for what has been provided and prepared. I’ve spent many hours the past few months, reading “you MUST eat this to LIVE” or “you MUST not eat this or you will DIE” (okay, not that graphic!) posts. I don’t think eating–something that must be done with regularity pretty much every day and has been done by millions of folks before us–should be difficult. Your post is a breath of fresh air and a sanity booster for me. Thank you, have a great weekend, and God bless.
I live in Wisconsin and there’s lots of dairies in our area, in fact our daughter and son-in-law are dairy farmers. We don’t have access to organic dairies around here though, and the organic in the grocery stores is out of our price range. I have been buying some Graziers cheese from Azure Standard since it is from grass-fed cows and they don’t use growth hormones, and some regular cheese from our local dairy. There is a lady a mile from us who gives cheese making classes and one day I’m going to learn to make my own from my daughter and son’s milk.
kim t. says
Oooooohhhhh, Tillamook is definitely the way to go (if you have it in your area). So creamy and delicious, not rubbery, like some brands. Their milk is rbst (or whatever the hormone is) free (though, isn’t most milk that way, now?) You can often get most of their kinds except the sharp & extra sharp cheddars on sale for a decent price, too. Bonus, if you are ever in the area visiting, you can tour the factory and watch them make the cheese!
I live in Wisconsin where is considered blasphemy to dislike cheese. I buy store brands/Aldi cheese for mixing into things. But we have cheese makers ALL OVER here for specialty cheeses and higher quality cheese, including organics. We buy the “better” cheese for eating “straight up” and for dessert. (Yes, in Wisconsin, a cheese course is dessert!)
Wisconsin is also known for beer production – and beer cheese soup is a thing here. And it’s DELICIOUS.
I also wanted to add that if you buy “cheaper” cheeses, buy them by the brick & shred your own. Pre-shredded cheeses are often coated with a starch to keep the shreds from sticking to each other. Gross! (And something gluten intolerant folks may need to keep an eye out for).
I agree that some things are not worth the compromise. Example: Butter. I may not be paying for organic, local, raw butter from happy cows grazing on rolling green hills in January ; ) but I refuse to go cheap and buy margarine! Butter it is, even if it’s the store brand kind, and even if it’s way more than margarine. Real food is worth it, even if it isn’t “perfect”.
As for cheese, I do the same. I generally buy whatever is the best price. But I keep it at real cheese, too. I accidentally bought cheddar once with yellow dye. Yikes! Usually it’s colored with annatto. I’ve heard it has a negative effect on some people, though. I most often stick with white cheddar or monterey jack. Just as cheap and just as good without color.
Since cheese is the foundation of my picky toddlers’ food pyramid, we are a household that cannot last long without it. I prioritize finding cheese made from milk with no growth hormones (rBST, etc.) – which, sadly, rules out 3/4 of the regular brands in the grocery store.
I usually buy 2.5 lb. blocks of Tillamook at Costco for ~$9/each. I read somewhere that that brand is as close as you can get to grass-fed without forking over the money for the real thing. I have no way to verify this, but it sounds good, and we have been happy with it.
If I can’t make it to Costco, and we are reaching crisis levels, I get a few small blocks from Trader Joe’s (maybe Aldi has something, since those companies are related?? Still waiting for Aldi to open here in SoCal).
My cheese priorities are:
hormone-free (which Trader Joe’s has lots of,)
un-shredded, either in a block or slices (because like commenter Jill said above, shredded cheese has flour/cornstarch/additives that I don’t want.)
I bake with cheese 95% of the time, so I don’t worry about it not being raw. It’s no longer raw once it’s baked in a 425 degree oven!
I live in New Zealand and I have never seen orange cheese here anywhere, it’s always white! Sometimes I am a little jealous of the amazing range of products and affordable choice you have in America but we definitely score over here on the dairy front. We are blessed to have some of the purest dairy products in the world.
Real food is still real food. It’s the same with veggies, fruits, and cheeses. Organic or not. We just do what we can, some weeks it’s organic milk , other weeks not because my money doth run out !
Oh Laura, I just love your honesty! I cannot afford to do everything *right* and I am raising 6 kids (5 still at home~4 boys). Our food bill is by far the most expensive budget item. Right now, I am buying Cabot cheese at Wal-Mart. It is usually about the same price as Kraft (unless Kraft is on sale) but no added color. It comes in 2lb packages. Cheddar and Sharp cheddar are my only options. Sams club does carry a jalapeno and colby jack occasionally. Do you have this available to you? Thoughts on this product?
Half the time I have trouble even finding white cheddar at the grocery store, and I live in WI. I too usually cannot afford organic cheese, but thanks to Trader Joe’s I can afford BGH free cheese. BGH free dairy is something I try not to compromise on. I mostly buy white cheese except for the occasional block of Colby Jack for taco salads and of course blue cheese crumbles. Thanks for the dose of reality Laura.
It’s actually “funny” why they started coloring it orange. It was to cheat the customer to make them think it was good cheese because the grassfed/pastured cows milk cheese was not pure white, but a nice yellow color, and just like with butter, when you feed the cows cheap food it lacks that nice rich color! And it gradually became darker and darker until is was now orange instead of yellow. It’s been going on for a few hundred years, I think.