Trader Joe’s NEW ZEALAND GRASS FED SHARP CHEDDAR CHEESE


This is a Trader Joe’s STAFF PICK favorite and I completely agree. TJ’s New Zealand Grass Fed Cheddar is an excellent cheese, a sharp cheddar aged from 6-12 months. This cheese is one of my favorite cheeses that TJ’s carries, and I buy this almost every time I go to Trader Joe’s as it goes rather quickly in our house. This cheddar has just the right amount of tang if you are a fan of a sharp cheddar, good for both adults and kids. The other standout cheddars at TJ’s are the CABOT VERMONT EXTRA SHARP and of course UNEXPECTED CHEDDAR. You can not go wrong with any of these cheddar cheeses but I do like the fact that this New Zealand cheese is “grass fed” meaning from milk from those contended Kiwi cows munching away on grass if they anything like the ones in this picture! This cheese is great by itself, on a cracker, in a sandwich, with fruit, and it’s superb melted. Grilled cheese sandwich, omelets, in a pizza, tacos… it’s especially fantastic melted. You can just give me a Granny Smith apple, a hunk of this cheese and a knife and I will be almost as contented as one of the Kiwi cows.

Update: It used to be 5.99 / lb but unfortunately the price has gone up 50 cents to $6.49 / lb (April 2022)

Trader Joe’s ORGANIC POLENTA


Trader Joe’s ORGANIC POLENTA; cooked; ready to heat and serve. Gluten Free.

Ingredients: Water, Organic Corn Meal, Salt

Just in case you are not familiar with Polenta, it’s simple – and delicious. Polenta is just cooked coarsely ground corn meal. This Organic version from Trader Joe’s comes in a tube pre-cooked. Slice the polenta into 1/2″ slices which you grill up into crispy fried polenta. Delicious – and cheap! This is why polenta has been a staple of Italian “cucina povera” for centuries, very similar of course to “grits” here. Polenta is inexpensive, healthy, gluten free, and vegetarian.

TJ’s tube of cooked polenta is convenient, shelf stable, and only $1.99. One tube can easily make a dinner for two people. We love it as an alternative to pasta. I like to pan fry it and recommend that as the best way to serve this. The package also says you can bake it. However please don’t even think about microwaving as it also says on the package; it has to be crispy, as crispy as possible. If cooked till crispy fried polenta gets a really nice chewy “meaty” texture.

As shown in the first picture is how I made the polenta into dinner recently for us. I sautéed the slices in olive oil plus a little butter to help it brown better, for maybe 10 minutes a side – note, this is double the recommended time of 4-5 minutes on the package. Trust me, you want this very crispy, golden brown and delicious. I flipped the first side over and put a bit of mozzarella on top of the slices, which melted as the other side cooked. When it was ready to serve, I plated it and spooned over tomato sauce, in this case TJ’s Roasted Garlic Marinara sauce which is quite good by the way. I grated some extra cheese, Asiago all over. This made for a delicious Italian dinner along with a little salad and crusty bread. Dinner for two for about $4 bucks.

I always like to keep one of these shelf stable packages of TJ’s polenta in the pantry as it can make an easy, fast dinner for those times when you have “nothing” to eat in the house. A tube of this and a jar of sauce and you have dinner in 10 minutes. Not to mention Polenta’s perfect for Meatless Monday’s. Would I but this again? Yes I buy this regularly, its an excellent cheap TJ product and a great staple to have in your pantry.

https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/fried-polenta-5535085

PS DIY PAN FRIED GRITS – might be worth the little extra effort (cook the grits, let cool, cut into slices) not to mention even cheaper

TJ’s VAULT No. 5 CAVE AGED CHEESE


If you love finding great new cheeses I think you will find this new cheese Trader Joe’s started carrying as outstanding as I did. It’s called “Vault No. 5 Cave Aged” cheese from the “Cellars at Jasper Hills”. You can probably tell just by looking at that funky rind, this is a “serious” farm produced cheese like cheese you might find in a “fromagerie” in Paris. The moment I tasted this cheese I fell in love with it. To me, it’s another Wow Trader Joe’s item, just amazingly good. If you blindfolded me I would have sworn it was some European cheese, maybe an aged Comté or Gruyere or Emmenthaler with those types of complex, nutty flavors present in those cheeses. Well guess what, “Vault No. 5” is not from France or Switzerland but comes from the Green Mountains of VERMONT from Jasper Hill Farms . It’s cave aged by them for 12 months as it undergoes affinage in their cellars underground.

It has a natural (and funky looking!) rind which looks like that because it is loaded with (friendly) bacteria and cultures. Vault No. 5 has an edible rind (I ate some) but of course you can cut it off as my wife insisted before she would eat some. In fact, she first said the cheese is spoiled (ha!) but I told her no its just aged in some cave in Vermont for a year.

“Vault No. 5” tastes terrific on its own, on a cracker or with some good bread. How is it with fruit? When I paired it with an apple it was seemed to taste even better, in fact I couldn’t stop eating them. They say this cheese matches well with red wine and ales. Now when you melt it, it’s out of this world. Grilled cheese? Yes please. I can only imagine a grilled cheese made with this and some Unexpected Cheddar (note to self; try that) Trader Joe’s is selling Vault No. 5 for $10.99 a pound, a not a bad deal considering it’s high quality. In a top cheese shop in NYC I know premium farm cheeses like this go for at least $20 a pound or more. If you love TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar, you will probably love this one too so check it out folks, this is a keeper and I hope TJ’s continues to sell it forever.

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/jasper-hill-vault-no-5-cave-aged-cheese-062684

TRADER JOE’S SAYS:

What happens when you marry old world cultures and cave-aged technique with quality milk production in the Green Mountains of Vermont? The cheese mongers at Jasper Hill did exactly that, and came up with Vault No. 5 Cave Aged Cheese.

Toasty and aromatic, Jasper Hill Vault No. 5 Cave Aged Cheese was inspired by Swiss and Italian mountain cheeses—delightfully creamy, toasty and savory, with subtle earthy notes. It’s cave aged for a minimum of one year, a process that allows a natural rind to form around its golden, straw colored paste. In short, it’s the stuff cheesy dreams are made of.

https://www.jasperhillfarm.com/cellars

TJ’s TORTELLINI with pesto filling (dried pasta)


RANT

Trader Joe’s “Italian Tortellini with Pesto Filling” (in the pasta section)

I tried these Trader Joe’s “Authentic Italian” Tortellini with Pesto Filling pasta. I was quite disappointed it’s very mediocre. Think about it. Is there really some way to take a fresh stuffed pasta, dry it out, then have the filling return to the way it was before? Nope, and this proves it. Another thing the pasta here and its dried filling basically need different cooking times. When you cook this according to the directions the pasta is overcooked while the filling seems to need another few minutes to be done. The package states cook 18 minutes. 18 minutes? That’s a really long time to cook pasta. Taste-wise, its really meh and I basically detected no taste of pesto. Fresh basil and dried basil are completely different animals, fresh basil leaves being extremely fragrant while dried basil has much less flavor (this is made with dried basil even to start with). I don’t find these tortellini worth the $2.99 they go for, which is more than most of the dried pasta TJ sells. I would not buy them again. Honestly Trader Joe’s carries so many other excellent pasta’s that you will do better with. If you buy almost any pasta (I recommend the Organic Artisan ones) plus a $3 jar of TJ’s green or red pesto, you will come out with something far superior to this stuff and just as easy to make. If you really want a stuffed pasta, try some of the fresh ravioli in the refrigerated section. Some of those are pretty good. Or buy some frozen ones. But dried? E IMPOSSIBILE COSI. In this case, I can only imaging the Italians having a good laugh making this for export only. They would never eat it in a million years.

Ingredients (filling): Parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs (!?!), sunflower oil, water, dried basil, garlic powder. It says Product of Italy.

UPDATE: Today I saw a sign on these – “Will be Discontinued soon” and to stock up if you wish. (Me, I’ll pass but I will pick up a few of the decent Italian packaged Gnocchi)

Good riddance I say.

BUY THESE GREAT PASTAS INSTEAD!

Trader Joe’s PESTO ROSSO (Red Tomato Pesto)


PESTO ROSSO – “Red, tomato-based pesto sauce, rich umami flavor, including Parmesan and cashew nuts”.

Trader Joe’s PESTO ROSSO, is interesting. Rosso is Italian for “red”. Here one usually thinks of pesto as the green Pesto Genovese made from basil leaves, (pine) nuts, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Pesto Rosso is a red version made from tomatoes, (cashew) nuts, and Parmesan, which is a Sicilian or Southern Italian kind of pesto (paste). I got a jar to check out and made a pasta dish with this. The dish turned out quite tasty. TJ’s Pesto Rosso is pretty good, however just like the other jarred TJ green pesto it will better if you fix it up a little. Some fresh garlic, maybe some chopped up TJ’s Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil, and naturally a generous amount of freshly grated cheese (Parmesan, Pecorino, Rosemary Asiago or Canestrato Pepato. Extra Virgin olive oil at the end is a must, as they made this with bland cheap sunflower oil to keep costs down.

USAGE: Cook your pasta two minutes less than al dente, drain it (saving 1/2 cup pasta water – a super secret ingredient*). Add the pasta to a pan with the Pesto Rosso and finish cooking the pasta adding a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water as needed. Cook about another two minutes until the pasta becomes al dente and nicely coated with sauce. I added some fresh garlic. I also added a tablespoon of Tomato Paste (optional) to intensify the tomato and umami flavors even more. When ready, plate it up and drizzle with good EVOO and a nice sprinkle of freshly grated cheese on top. Fresh or dried basil on top would be nice if you have it.

Now one can use the Pesto Rosso in other ways besides pasta. You can spread it on fresh or lightly toasted bread or a baguette for a kind of bruschetta, again with maybe a few additions (a little olive oil, fresh black pepper and some Black Garlic…. or a little on some crackers topped with a slice of Rosemary Asiago cheese. Pizza or French Bread Pizza? Definitely. So get creative.

TJ’s Pesto Rosso is worth checking out, and I love they they have another convenient fast pantry item for those times when “there’s nothing to eat in the house”. The 6.7 oz jar is $2.49. You can get some more ideas about Pesto Rosso from the link below plus even a recipe to make some yourself! BTW The jar indicates it makes about 7 portions so use that as a guide. Don’t use a whole jar to make 2 (or even 4 portions). I’d say 2 heaping tablespoons per portion/person. A few tablespoons of some *reserved pasta water when you finish your pasta in the pan will get this to coat and absorb into the pasta.

TRADER JOE’S says

Our Pesto Genovese has long been a customer favorite. While this style of pesto comes from Genoa our Trader Joe’s Pesto Rosso brings the tradition of red, Sicilian pesto to our grocery shelves.

Our Italian supplier uses tomatoes as the foundation, with sunflower oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, and some basil—though not as much basil as one would find in green pesto. Pine nuts, typical of Genoese pesto, are exchanged for cashews in our Pesto Rosso. Carrot purée pumps up the red-orange color, while also adding some subtle sweetness.

Pesto Rosso has a saucy, spreadable texture that is great for topping a toasted baguette, or a homemade pizza, or even a French bread easy pizza. Use some spoonfuls to enhance the flavor of your minestrone, or vegetable soup. Of course tossing some in with your favorite hot pasta is a must.

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/pesto-rosso-068135

INGREDIENTS include: Tomatoes, sunflower oil, tomato powder, Parmesan cheese, carrot, cashews, salt, basil, balsamic vinegar, garlic)

TJ’s CANESTRATO PEPATO (Sardinian Cheese with Peppercorns )


Trader Joe’s CANESTRATO PEPATO Sardinian Sheep’s Milk Cheese with Black Peppercorns

I discovered this terrific cheese not too long ago in Trader Joe’s cheese section, and it’s become one of our favorite cheeses they sell. It’s fantastic and we adore it. “Pepato” refers to the cheese being infused with whole black peppercorns, as you can see in the pic. It’s produced in Sardinia, Italy by “an award winning cheese maker” ; The combination of peppercorns and a great sheep’s milk cheese is super. Up till seeing this I don’t think I ever encountered a cheese having whole peppercorns embedded in the cheese when they make it. It’s quite an interesting sheep’s milk semi-hard cheese that is both terrific grated onto pasta or just eaten on it’s own, cut into very thin slices. served with good bread or crackers. If you put this on a cheese board you will get comments. A piece is around $4-5 (its $12/lb)

Great Stuff! You can put this on your Cacio e Pepe dishes! Or even make it from scratch with this.

UPDATE: I haven’t found this for some time unfortunately !!! Sigh…..

TJ’s Cacio E Pepe Pasta Sauce


“A creamy, cheesy pasta sauce made wth Pecorino Romano and Black Pepper”

Cacio e Pepe means “cheese and pepper” and is a classic Roman pasta. Trader Joe’s Cacio e Pepe Pasta Sauce has been getting a lot of buzz since they released it, so I had to give it a try. You know what? It is pretty good. The fettucine cacio e pepe dish I made with this sauce turned out really tasty. Making a dish with this could not be easier, just combine this sauce with your cooked pasta. That does not mean just dump a ladle of sauce on top of the pasta though. Americans seem to serve pasta like this, which makes Italians cringe. Italians always finish cooking pasta with the sauce together for the last minute or so to blend the flavors. Now as it comes right out of the jar TJ’s C&C sauce is really really thick. A few big spoons go a long way. So don’t even think of using say a whole jar to make 2 portions – or even 4. The Nutrition label suggests this 14.5 oz jar “makes 7 servings” so you can use that as a guide. Let’s round out this jar is enough for 6 portions. My basic suggestion is try maybe 2 or 3 heaping Tablespoons of this sauce per portion of pasta, which you will thin later with a little pasta cooking water to get the consistency you like to coat the pasta but not drown it in sauce. That’s another thing, Italians never drown pasta so it’s swimming in sauce, it’s coated generously, in the right proportions to the pasta. Again, they finish the pasta cooking it with the sauce and never just pour it over naked pasta (this is a crime to an Italian). TIP: I suggest making this with one of TJ’s excellent Artisan Organic Pasta varieties (spaghetti, fettuccine, etc) Of course any shaped pasta such as Ziti or Farfalle will work well with this type of creamy sauce too. You could even do a pan fried Gnocchi perhaps with this sauce. TJ’s made the sauce “bulletproof” with the addition of a little starch (cornstarch) which prevents separation. They are saving a bit on some of the ingredients for example listing sunflower oil not olive oil. Don’t worry you will fix that when you plate it.

Be sure to have a piece of Pecorino cheese, as well as fresh black peppercorns (grinder) on hand. These few additions will help make this jarred sauce taste way better. Have a pan big enought to hold the pasta ready with your C&C sauce in it. Boil the pasta, and drain it when it’s about a minute UNDER al dente (save 3/4 cup pasta water). Finish cooking the pasta with the C+C sauce for one minute or until the pasta is cooked perfectly al dente. While you are tossing it to coat, add pasta water a few tablespoons at a time as needed, mixing it all up with tongs to incorporate pasta and sauce until you get your desired consistency fully coating pasta generously but not swimming with a lot of extra liquid. Plate it on warm dishes and quickly add a few touches. Some freshly grated Pecorino, a few grinds of black or rainbow pepper, and a drizzle of good EVOO. I topped it with a wee bit of chopped arugula for color. I know a Roman would protest that or any addition to the 2 basic cacio and pepe ingredients of cheese and pepper. If you wanted to use a little grated Parmigiano or Grana Padano, they will be delicious but again don’t tell your Roman friend who will so “only Pecorino Romano is allowed” on Cacio e Pepe! It says on the jar, that once opened, use it within 3 days. I didn’t want to have it again so soon so I figured I would simply put the jar (carefully ) in the freezer. The following week I did an overnight defrost in the fridge which worked fine keeping this sauce intact and I then made another meal with the remainder.

As far as what shape and kind of pasta to use with this sauce TJ’s has so many good ones including the ORGANIC and ARTISANAL pastas. You pretty much can’t go wrong with any of your favorite pastas.

Now you can even use this sauce for other things besides pasta. You could use it on vegetables (perhaps roasted brussel sprouts, or potatoes, or on top of asparagus?) Or with eggs, on top or even mixed into some scrambled eggs or on an omelette….

https://www.traderjoes.com/home/products/pdp/070650

A 14.5 oz jar of TJ’s Cacio e Pepe sauce costs $3.49.

So while this sauce is handy I am all for making a real Cacio e Pepe from scratch once in a while. Cacio E Pepe is only two ingredients and that’s where the magic happens getting it to emulsify (and not become gloppy). You may have to make it a few times to get the hang of it but once you do, you will really get a great deal of pleasure from making it yourself no doubt. I liked this guy’s take on making it (tip: don’t use very hot water to mix with the grated cheese to make the emulsion and don’t let the cheese boil, just get it warmed up so it doesn’t break) A teaspoon of cornstarch slurry makes this foolproof BTW., and in fact the Trader Joe Cacio e Pepe sauce has cornstarch in it to make it bulletproof as well. If you get into Cacio E Pepe and want to try to make the sauce yourself yourself, watch these two pro’s, absorb some of their ideas and I bet you will end up with a terrific authentic Cacio e Pepe. Buon Appetito!

TJ’s ASIAGO CHEESE with Rosemary & Olive Oil


“Rosemary and Olive Oil intensify the rich nutty Asiago flavor”. Yes, it does! TJ’s Asiago with Rosemary is an excellent, very delicious cheese. I was really impressed when I tasted it. Compared to the regular Asiago that Trader Joe’s carries, which frankly is just OK, this is way more flavorful (and costs a bit more). In this version the added flavors, especially that of rosemary which the cheese is liberally coated with all over, greatly benefits and expands the cheese’s flavor. This cheese is excellent on its own, sliced thinly, and it was great on crackers. It was great with wine. Obviously this cheese will be a great match with almost any Italian dish. I grated this up, then tossed a generous amount over sautéed gnocchi and it was absolutely delicious on them. If you try this with almost any pasta dish you will like it. This is great as a second or third cheese on a Pizza. I did one with it and people scarfed it up! Rosemary Asiago would be great on a cheese plate or charcuterie plate, especially with grapes or other fruits, and some nice crackers. Wine too, naturally! TJ sells this cheese for $9/lb a decent price for a premium cheese like this. Try this, you will love it.

RAVE

TJ’s HABANERO LIME FLOUR TORTILLAS


Trader Joe’s HABANERO LIME FLOUR TORTILLAS ($2.69, 17 oz package of 10)

There are some traditional regional food divides in some countries. Traditionally in Mexico in the North they lean towards using flour tortillas (Tortillas de Harina) while Southern Mexico traditionally prefers tortillas made from corn (Tortillas de maiz). I generally prefer corn tortillas as they’re more flavorful and have a chewier texture when cooked. However sometimes I do buy flour tortillas as they have certain qualities that make them useful for some things. For one thing, flour tortillas are softer and more pliable so easier to fold. They are usually bigger too so can hold more ingredients inside. They can be used for Quesadillas and Burritos. They can also be used for “wrap type” sandwiches, etc. If you want flour tortillas, I think the Trader Joe’s HABANERO LIME FLOUR TORTILLAS are an interesting choice as they bring a bit of flavor to the party. These tortillas have a little bit of heat in them from habanero chiles, plus a bit of lime flavor. They have a lovely color, tinted reddish orange from anatto seed (a natural food coloring). Package says “MEDIUM HOT” but remember when you add fillings that moderates the spicy level.

Last night, I made Quesadillas (vegetarian actually) for dinner with these Habanero/Lime tortillas. Filling was: Pepper Jack Cheese, Soy Chorizo and TJ’s Refried Salsa Pinto Beans (which I gussied up*). Topping of avocado, tomato, more cheese and Green Dragon SauceMore Refritos on the side…. They were really tasty!

Need a recipe for Quesadillas? Here’s one…

  • TIP – Out of the can, TJ’s Salsa Pinto Refried Beans are really boring. They need a little work if you want them to have some taste. I add olive oil, oregano, cumin, chile powder and a little Green Dragon or Zhoug. Cuban Style Spice Blend works great with these or any beans. Warm frijole refritos over low heat, stirring often so the bottom doesnt burn. Some cheese on top is nice!

Rutland Red Leicester Cheese


RAVE

rutlandredcheese

If you are a cheese lover – I certainly am – you will probably really like this, Rutland Red Leicester. I found it a very interesting cheese and terrific new find. This is a special cheese, I mea a kind of quality hand-made artisanal cheese that one might find in a high end gourmet cheese shop… yet you can buy it at TJ’s (well while they still carry it, don’t tarry, just in case their supply doesn’t last). When my eye caught it in TJ’s cheese section, I first thought it was a French cheese which looks the same and is a favorite of mine called “Mimolette“.

This reddish orange cheese is however from England and is in vein of a true English cheddar. Red Leicester has a wonderful nutty flavor and crumbly texture. Red Leicester is a traditional hard English cheese made from unpasteurised cow’s milk, and is produced in the county of Leicestershire which is up in England’s Midlands. Leicester City is well known for two things these days, Richard III‘s bones and its football team winning the English Premier League a few years back as a 500-1 underdog!

Supposedly the history of Red Leicester cheese dates back to the 17th century when farmers decided that the color of the cheese should denote its richness and to set it apart from cheddar, they decided to give it a reddish color using annatto, a natural vegetable dye.The wheels of cheese are coated in butter to make it richer then wrapped in cloth (i.e., a “cloth-bound”cheese ). Rutland Red Leicester is dense and has that “aged cheese” look and taste with a crumbly flaky texture and has an edible orange rind. I like it sliced very thinly. It’s excellent served on a cracker or toast or with fruit such as apples or grapes. It would probably pair wonderfully with wine, a white or a light red. I also found it melts very well and is delicious melted or cooked (grilled cheese with this, yes!)

If you put this on a cheese plate for guests it would surely get attention and questions. I’m sure the terrific English striker of Leicester FC Jamie Vardy would love this cheese. Well I do. TJ’s sells Rutland Red Leicester for $10 a pound -in a cheese shop this would be a $20/lb cheese, so once again, a TJ bargain.

“As the cheese ages, the butter keeps it moist, and the cloth seals in the butter, resulting in a super crumbly texture that simply melts in your mouth.”

Here’s a link to Trader Joe’s post on it. If you are interested, get this while you still can, it may not be there forever, unfortunately.

https://www.traderjoes.com/digin/post/rutland-red-leicester-cheese

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