The Affordable Cheese That Tastes Like A Splurge, According To An Expert

Fancy cheese can be expensive. We're talking everything from pule, the expensive Serbian cheese that's made with donkey milk, to the French Classic Cheese Collection at Williams Sonoma that will set you back 50 bucks. Luckily, there are a few diamonds in the rough that are still incredibly delicious, and won't make you cringe when looking at the price tag. To get the lowdown on which type of cheese to turn to when you want something affordable that tastes like a splurge, we sought out an expert's opinion. According to Matthew Rose, ACS CCP, CCSE, and partner at the Fairfield Greenwich Cheese Company, Gruyere AOP is the one to look for.

"No matter where you live or what size retailer you are shopping at, you can dependably find a piece of Gruyere AOP," the cheesemonger explained. The one caveat? Per Rose, "It has to say AOP." While this exact cheese may sound unattainable to the novice, Rose's advice holds true. You can find Gruyere AOP at major grocery chains like Vons, Ralphs, and Walmart. A package containing around 6 ounces will typically cost under $10 at these retailers, which will give you the biggest bang for your buck when it comes to high-quality fromage.

Ballin' on a budget

What is it that makes Gruyere AOP more special than your average package of American-made gruyere? This type of cheese claims Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, meaning cheesemongers have to adhere to a strict set of requirements to produce it. AOP is the acronym for Appellation d'Origine Protégée, the French interpretation of PDO. The full document outlining the regulations is 22 pages long, and it specifies where the cheese comes from, for how long it's been aged, and the weight and diameter of its wheel, among other qualifications. Suffice it to say that when you buy Gruyere AOP, you can trust that a lot of extra TLC has gone into producing that block. If you need further proof, a type of Swiss Gruyere AOP was actually crowned the world's best cheese in 2022.

Matthew Rose highlights another key reason you'll want to look for the AOP acronym on the label: American cheesemakers can use the generic term "gruyere" without adhering to the high standards. "[A U.S. appeals court] recently, in 2023, ruled that America would not recognize Gruyere AOP, thus allowing domestic producers to use the gruyere name even though it is not subject to the same rigorous production standards of the true Gruyere AOP made in Switzerland," he said. This can make it confusing to tell what you're actually getting, so if you're looking for the highest-quality cheese, make sure you see the letters AOP.