What Makes Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese Unique?

Introduced back in 2011, Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese has been a fan favorite from the beginning. It has been voted best cheese by fans in Trader Joe's annual survey seven times over the past 12 years and is so beloved that it was inducted into its Hall of Fame. It's even gotten its own mini-line of spinoff products, including a broccoli cheddar soup and a newly popular cheese spread. What's so indescribable, and popular, about Unexpected Cheddar is its unusually complex combination of flavors that leaves first-time eaters guessing as to what type of cheese it really is. But what makes it so unique?

The true "unexpected" aspect of Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar Cheese sets in as the taste develops. While the first bite is clearly in line with the cheddar we know and love, the cheese changes, both in flavor and texture, as it melts in your mouth.

What does Unexpected Cheddar taste like?

The first half of Unexpected Cheddar is reminiscent of many good aged cheddar cheeses. It's got the clear tangy punch of sharp cheddar, mixed with a buttery richness. Despite being sharp, it's not too overwhelming and maintains an earthiness that keeps everything in balance. What makes Unexpected Cheddar so hard to categorize is that some of the aged cheddar flavors blend into the realm of Italian cheeses even before the parmesan half hits. It already has some saltiness to it and though it's smoother to start, it still has a relatively hard texture that helps mask the subtle shift to granular parmesan.

The clearest comparisons as you move beyond the cheddar are cheeses like pecorino, parmesan, and grana padano. While Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar is not as hard as parmesan, it's more crumbly than normal cheddar, landing between granular and melty. Trader Joe's itself notes that some of its cheesemakers hail from Northeast Italy, which likely plays a part in how they created this special cheese. Asiago and grana padano in particular are both made throughout northern Italy and you can sense their presence in Unexpected Cheddar. The saltiness becomes more pronounced and you get the more distinct nuttiness that many of those cheeses have in common. Maybe the most welcome addition the change in flavors brings is the umami character of parmesan, which adds an extra layer of depth to the cheese that plays a big part in elevating it.

What to eat with Trader Joe's Unexpected Cheddar

Unexpected Cheddar's wide range of tastes means it's a versatile cheese that can work almost anywhere you can imagine. It's an obvious choice for any charcuterie board, where it will go great with crackers, olives, jam, and salami. Its strong yet balanced flavor also makes it a perfect snacking cheese, particularly with fresh fruit like apples and grapes. If you're looking for an alcoholic beverage to enjoy alongside it, try a pale ale or a crisp pilsner. There aren't too many wines that wouldn't be welcome as an accompaniment, but a light-bodied red wine like Pinot Noir, or a slightly more robust Bordeaux would be ideal.

We would also heartily recommend trying some of your favorite cheesy recipes with Unexpected Cheddar. While it's on the crumbly side overall, the cheddar shines through in how well it melts, so you know you have to try it as a grilled cheese and blended into the mixture of creamy mac and cheese. Its extra saltiness also means it would be great shredded over soups that need a little cheese boost, like a smooth potato soup or French onion.