Steve Jenkins, author of the The Cheese Primer (for a long time the gold standard of cheese books in the US), comes out in defense of Cracker Barrel cheese. Yes, you read that right, Cracker Barrel cheese.
Steven Jenkins, author of “Cheese Primer,” was visiting his mother on the coast of Alabama recently when he discovered a package of Cracker Barrel Cheddar in her refrigerator.
Mr. Jenkins, a cheesemonger at Fairway Market who helped foster the artisanal cheese movement nationally, had never tried the brand, which is made by the Kraft Foods Group, best known for mild, child-friendly processed cheese products like Velveeta and Kraft Singles.
“It would have been a month of Sundays before I ever got myself in front of a chunk of Kraft Cracker Barrel,” said Mr. Jenkins.
Dubious, yet curious, he cut off a slice. “I was expecting it to be a waxy, sort of burned tasting, greasy, not very good Cheddar,” Mr. Jenkins said. “But what I tasted was a perfect piece of American idiom Cheddar.” With mock horror, Mr. Jenkins added, “I’m a traitor to my cause.”
Now Cracker Barrel, which has not advertised on television in more than a decade, is about to introduce an advertising campaign that hopes to persuade consumers who, like Mr. Jenkins, may have underestimated its offerings.
New advertisements highlight cheese competition awards that the brand has won, most notably first place honors for the best sharp Cheddar (aged six months to one year) category at the 2012 World Champion Cheese Contest, a biennial international competition held in Madison, Wis.One commercial opens on a cheese competition, in which judges (depicted by actors) in yellow blazers examine the entries meticulously, with a judge who is wearing a bow tie studying a wedge with a magnifying glass and another wearing an ascot chewing a piece like a rabbit.
“Connoisseurs of flavor, experts in aroma — they’re the world championship cheese judges,” says a voice-over. “And while they might seem kind of odd to you, like this guy” — a judge with two thermometers inserted into a wheel of cheese writes down its temperature — “we just love them.”
Not that Cracker Barrel has a chip on their shoulder or anything:
“We have won these awards and beaten these snooty cheeses, yet we’re in the dairy case and accessible for anyone to buy,” [Gwen Gray, senior director of dairy snacking at Kraft] said. The suggested retail price for all of the more than a dozen Cracker Barrel varieties, nearly all of them Cheddars, is $4.
Color me skeptical. I’m sure the cheese tastes good, for what it is, but there’s more than just flavor and aroma that goes into why it’s important to support artisanal, farmstead and small-scale cheese makers. Cracker Barrel can charge $4/Lb because it’s buying milk in astronomical quantities from CAFO dairy farms and producing it in massive factory production settings. Make no mistake, this isn’t like Cabot working with Jasper Hill to produce the Cabot Clothbound. Cabot has a long track record of supporting Vermont dairy farmers and doing good by the local community and has proven itself genuinely interested in working with master affineurs to produce a quality cheese. Whether the same holds true of Cracker Barrel remains to be seen.
Read the full piece here.
(photo ©2012 NYT and Cracker Barrel)
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