Trader Joe’s New Zealand Butter


Another excellent premium butter

Trader Joe’s now carries three premium imported butters. They have a French butter, an Irish butter and just recently I saw this one, from New Zealand no less. Now New Zealand is pretty famous for its food products. I happen to love the New Zealand extra sharp cheddar cheese that TJ carries, it’s really terrific. So I wanted to try this butter. When I first opened the package I was struck at the deep yellow color this had (it may be hard for the actual color come through in a picture). Trader Joe’s says on the package that “it’s made for us on the South Island of New Zealand from from grass fed cows”. Something like this I imagine?

Cattle graze in front of New Zealand, North Island, Mount Taranaki Credit: Getty

Boy that looks pretty nice, so maybe those cows are really content. When I tasted this butter I was impressed. It’s very gently salted and has a lovely sweet flavor and aroma. The color is beautiful. It was delicious when I spread some on some warm bread. Wonderful when I put it on pancakes the next morning. Wonderful later when I made an omelet. This is a truly excellent premium butter. I liked this butter, frankly as much as I liked all 3 premium imported butter TJ carries which are all excellent in their own rights. I have tried tasting one then another and I can’t put one higher, they are each amazing in their own rights, and make you think “now this is what butter should taste like”. If you were impressed by the French Cultured butter or the Kerrygold Irish butter TJ sells, you will no doubt be also impressed by this New Zealand butter.

Of course imported butter costs more than TJ’s regular butter, about double. This Kiwi one is a wee bit cheaper than the French and Irish ones. The NZ butter costs $3.29 for an 8 oz package. I never used to buy imported butter but thanks to Trader Joe’s prices I now buy two kinds for our fridge. Regular (good) butter for most uses, plus a pack of one of the imported “great” butters to have for when you want something extra special. If I can save a little bit on an imported butter, thats great so this New Zealand butter will probably be on my shopping list from now on.

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Mustard and Ale Cheddar Cheese


Trader Joe’s “British Mustard and Ale Cheddar”? Hmmm…Sounds a bit intriguing, no? Comes in a small package, only 5 ounces and kind of cheap, it was well under two bucks. Now I have to say I’m not usually one who is too into cheeses with added “flavors”. Still on rare occasion you do come across a quite decent cheese with something added to the cheese that works quite well. An example are some Dutch Gouda’s that have cumin or caraway seeds in them. I’ve tried some that are really delicious. I didn’t know what to expect from a Mustard and Ale Cheddar. I love mustard with cheese of course especially cheddar. So I got some of this mustard and ale cheese to taste, and frankly thought well it’s OK, its got a lot of whole mustard seeds in there which are a little strong, maybe over-shadowing the cheddar. I couldn’t put my finger on the “ale” part really. So I think, it’s OK but would I buy more, no, not really, I’d rather buy a jar of TJ’s excellent Whole Grain Dijon Mustard and some Cabot Extra Sharp Cheddar or New Zealand Extra Sharp Cheddar and use some mustard as I see fit. But here’s the funny part. During this evaluation, I tasted a piece, then tasted another. Just one more bite…. ok one more… and soon I realized during this tasting I had eaten about half the package. It was hard for me to stop tasting this cheese! Maybe I liked it more than I though? So if the combination sounds appealing to you, you may want to give this a try and see what you think.

TIP While we are at it, if you want a great melted cheese sandwich, try spreading that TJ whole grain Dijon on some nice bread before you add your cheese. Grill it up with butter. When all the elements melt together its pretty great. So I figure this cheese might make a very good melted cheese sandwich too. If anyone tries that let us know if its any good like that. So its a bit odd, but this cheese may be worth trying. If you put it out on a cheese plate, folks might even ask where you got this stuff.

Trader Joe’s GREEK YOGURT


This is one of those Trader Joe’s products that I basically like to have in my fridge at all times. Why? It’s so useful. I use it all the time, for one thing to make all kinds of tasty sauces in a few seconds.

Greek yogurt is very thick, as it is strained yogurt. Its similar to our Sour Cream, or to crema in Mexican cooking, or to creme fraiche in French cooking. You could substitute this for pretty much anything or anywhere Sour Cream would be used. One thing I generally do with the greek yogurt is make a nice rich sauce by mixing it with something.

It can be as simple as mixing some greek yogurt with a few teaspoons of fresh lemon juice, a pinch of salt and grind of pepper. Boom you have a lovely Greek yogurt lemon sauce. This is a terrific salad dressing. Its great with grilled chicken or shrimp. Add something else to it and you get even more mileage. Add Green Dragon Sauce. Or add some Yemeni Zhough. Or Sriracha, as the milkiness of the yogurt tames all of these sauces and makes them creamy and smooth. Especially great, is fresh garlic. Chopped parsley, or arugula and you have a green dressing…. your only limits to find things to use this with will be your imagination.

For dessert or with fruits, you can mix the yogurt with a pinch of sugar or maple syrup for a lovely sweet, creamy addition.

Of course I can put this on my breakfast cereal, but it is richer than regular yogurt, so I keep the amount small.

Some more ideas

  • as a breakfast or dessert bowl with banana and blueberries
  • as a topping for chili instead of sour cream
  • as a topping for soups instead of cream
  • as a spread on crackers or bread (try mixing with some ingredients…)
  • as an addition to a pasta sauce for extra creaminess

A 16 oz. tub is $2.50. A container lasts in my fridge for about a month, depending on how much I use it. So great stuff, try it.

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Cabot Vermont Extra Sharp Cheddar


My review for TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar seems to get a good deal of interest, so next up for review in the Cheese Department is an absolute classic cheddar which I mentioned in that earlier post.

For my money the well known, long established, classic cheese, Cabot Cheddar, is the very definition and Gold Standard for what an “East Coast” Extra Sharp Cheddar tastes like. Its terrifically convenient that Trader Joe’s carries it under Cabot’s own well known brand.

Cabot extra sharp cheddar is my personal go-to cheese to pretty much always have in the house. Labeled an “Extra sharp” cheddar, it’s got a slight tangy taste to it. “Intense, rich cheddar flavor with an “East Coast” bite” is how they describe it on the package and I would say that description is spot on. Cabot is made in Vermont, and is a bit unique as a company, as its a Farmer’s Collective. Cabot has been around for almost 100 years and has won many many “best” awards.

Cabot extra sharp cheddar is both great just sliced as is out of the package. It’s also great to cook with. It melts wonderfully well and I think makes one of the most fantastic melted cheese sandwiches you will ever try. Also terrific melted into an omelet. Do I need to say, melted on top of a burger is good? It’s not, its freaking amazing.

Eaten as is slice up and paired with some fruit, that is a perfect, heavenly match especially paired with an apple, grapes or a pear. Put a piece of this cheese in front of me with a knife and a good apple (like TJ’s Envy (!) and I am one happy camper eating that delicious salty sweet combo. Ending a dinner with this is a divine dessert.

Trader Joe’s sells Cabot cheddar for an excellent price ($6/lb) in a block. If you have never tried this cheese, you may want to give this a Try. I think you will love it (even though the kids may want something a bit tamer)? You can give them the New Zealand cheddar, also excellent, or TJ’s sliced cheddar. The adults can enjoy the Cabot Extra Sharp.

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Trader Joe’s AUTHENTIC GREEK FETA in brine


As this authentic Greek feta is made from sheep’s milk it is has a wonderful tangy flavor and aroma with a nice creamy texture and is not overly salty. It comes as two large slabs of cheese covered in brine, which is the way really good feta should be sold, because the liquid keeps the texture of the feta creamy and smooth.

There are a few types of feta cheese made from different milks (cow, goat, sheep) and it’s made in quite a few countries including France, Bulgaria, Israel and of course Greece, perhaps the best of them all though I like all the ones just mentioned for different reasons. TJ has on occasion carried an Israeli feta (it came in plastic bag, I think its changed now).

The box this comes in could be better designed perhaps. I found it tricky to open up this plastic tub until I understood only the very top part is a lid that comes off, once you have broken the waterproof seal, ripping a small plastic tab in one corner of the tub. Open it up carefully on the counter so brine doesn’t fly out everywhere (and by the way don’t throw out the brine – more on this later)

Here’s just a few ideas on what you can do with feta cheese. I mean its delicious just by itself but its so versatile to have in the fridge to use with other things, like….

Greek Salad
Just a slab of this cheese on some salad greens, cukes and tomato and you will have a Greek Salad in minutes. Throw on some olives too if you have them of course. Drizzle some very good Extra Virgin Olive Oil and some lemon juice on. Grind on some fresh black pepper. If you add hard boiled eggs, maybe some drained canned tuna, or cooked chicken. Serve with a some crusty bread. Voila, a complete dinner.

Watermelon and Feta
Cube up some nice sweet watermelon and throw on cubes of the feta. Genius combo. I’ve decided I don’t need olive oil on this, just the two ingredients and a grind of black pepper.

Shakshuka and Feta

TJ’s frozen Shakshuka: add cubes of this feta in as you cook it. Double Yum~

As it is imported from Greece this not as cheap as the small pack of feta cheese TJ carries that $3 for 8 oz. Its good, just not great like this one. This brined feta TJ sell is $6.49 for 10 oz (drained). So figure about $10/lb for a real “Product of Greece” feta. Not cheap but not terrible for the real deal, and this stuff will make your meal or dish, so worth the occasional splurge.

Oh, and remember I said keep that brine? You can actually use it. That milky feta brine actually has flavor. Mellissa Clark in the New York Times put out a great recipe for chicken using brine, plus you can marinate chicken breasts in feta brine for 30-60 minutes;  Bake, broil, pan grill…! They will be SO juicy from the brining.

https://food52.com/recipes/69859-melissa-clark-s-feta-brined-roast-chicken

https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/primers/article/feta-guide

https://food52.com/blog/23031-how-to-use-feta-brine-water-salt-tricks-tips

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Trader Joe’s KEFIR


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So what’s KEFIR? Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink, kind of like a “drinkable yogurt”.  Kefir is all the rage in the media and natural health community of late. It’s an excellent source of calcium, protein, and most of all, is extremely high in Probiotic bacteria. So it is considered very beneficial for general health, digestion and especially your Gut Health, a huge new topic of interest in the research community.

Kefir’s origins are from the mountainous regions that divide Asia and Europe. Kefir like yogurt is made from fermenting milk. It’s similar but unique and different from yogurt. Kefir is a more powerful probiotic than yogurt as it has way more kinds of probiotic bacteria. Probiotics as you know are very important for your digestive system and overall health, and your gut health. If you look at the label on TJ’s with a list of all the active bacteria cultures, and you will notice there are a lot more cultures listed (12) than are usually seen in yogurt, usually 3-5. I recognize the first three L.  (L. stands for Lactobacillus) bacteria listed but I don’t recognize most of the other bacteria listed off the top of my head. The bottle says it contains 12 active (live) cultures. So there’s more kinds of diverse bacteria in kefir than in yogurt, more diverse probiotics going into your gut. Kefir is also supposed to be better tolerated by those who are lactose intolerant. I’m not lactose intolerant so I can’t say.

I wanted to try Kefir for a while so bought the bottle of Mango flavor I saw at TJs to try. Review? Taste-wise I found the Whole Milk KEFIR to be really quite tasty. This Mango version’s been sweetened (with natural cane sugar) as plain kefir I hear is pretty sour on its own. But I found the mango is not too sweet, you still get that tangy sourness a tiny bit. They also carry a Strawberry* flavor one which I would buy next time as I would like to try that flavor also. (UPDATE: I bought the Strawberry and it was also good) Normally Kefir is supposedly pretty sour and tart. If you didn’t grow up drinking “straight” pure Kefir, I am told it might take you some getting used to? The whole milk kefir drink was pretty thick, almost a smoothie. In fact, one could probably use this in Smoothies, I bet it would be great. (Update: I tried it making smoothies. Excellent for them!)

KEFIR SMOOTHIE RECIPE: In a blender, try 1 cup Kefir, 1 cup of ice, onebanana (could be frozen), a 1/2 cup of some fresh or frozen berries, tablespoon of chia seeds and/or flax seeds and a drizzle of honey ?

I’ve been using the kefir also pouring some over my morning bowl of oatmeal or cereal. Or over some fruit. Its seriously yummy. Even kids might like the Mango and Strawberry versions. So kefir is both super healthy and super tasty. A 32 oz bottle sells for about $3. If you like yogurt, this is something well worth trying. There is also a Plain Kefir (unsweetened) if you are inclined to try it “au natural” (very tart I hear). TJ’s even sells one made from Goat’s Milk (!) The Mango one is rich it’s made with whole milk. I would not drink this a full glass at a time, I take a small glass of it as a little will go a long way.

Drink a few ounces at first only, till your body gets used to all that extra probiotic healthy bacteria! Lest it work “too well”… If you know what I mean!

UPDATE: I bought the Strawberry* Kefir and realized that it says LOW FAT milk. The MANGO KEFIR says with WHOLE MILK. Whole milk is 4%. Low fat milk is 1-2%. So go for the strawberry if you want lower fat/calories.

Nutrition (per 1 cup):  200 Cal. and  4.5 g of sat. fat for the MANGO Whole Milk Kefir. VS 160 Cal. and 1.5 g sat. fat for STRAWBERRY Low Fat Kefir which interestingly also seems to have 1 more gram of Protein per cup serving? Plain Kefir=100 cals (1 cup) So if you want to save some calories get the STRAWBERRY Low Fat Kefir or PLAIN Low Fat Kefir (though the Mango was very tasty!) Honestly, I can’t see anyone drinking it a whole cup at a time straight though of any variety straight, this is a small glass thing, or mix with some ice and a dash of water….

Has anyone tried Plain Kefir version ? Is it really sour or tart? Let us know in the comments.

And if you are so inclined try out the Goat Milk Kefir and please report in the Comments section as well. I am curious about that one, too.

(update fall 2019: many bottles later. The whole milk mango kefir is def. not quite as thick as when I first tried it and reviewed it. They’ve changed it and now make it a bit thinner. I have found this product change again and again on some TJ products.. I think they get customer feedback and make change to the products based on the customer feedback. My gut feeling (get it?) tells me people may have complained it was too thick. Other readers have also stated what I’ve found that it’s not as thick as it used to be.)

Is it worth buying? Definitely! Try it. Your personal biome may thank you (but go slow at first, lest it do its magic too much!)

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Strawberry Low Fat Kefirlofatkefir

Trader Joe’s FRENCH CULTURED BUTTER


If you want to “up your butter game” at home, you should try this excellent, high quality butter from France. But be warned, if you try this once, you may never go back to regular butter.

Spread a bit of this French butter on almost anything you would put butter on… say some asparagus, frozen peas, green beans, a baked potato, some steamed Yukon Golds, a nice slice of bread (sliced Brioche?)… on top of an omelette…anywhere…and you will notice how good really good butter is once you taste some.

I’ve lately grown to buying two kinds of butter at Trader Joe’s. “Regular” butter and the “premium” (i.e., imported butter). This French butter is definitely the Good Stuff. If I’m having some toast in the morning and I put some of this French butter from Brittany on it, or anything, its heavenly. At any other store you would pay something like $6-7 for this 1/2 lb. pack. Trader Joe’s now sells it for about $3.80 for 8,8 oz.

I’ve gotten to really like the two Imported “premium” butters that TJ sells. Irish KERRYGOLD butter comes in a gold or silver package (salted/gold, silver/unsalted). Imported from Ireland, Kerrygold is an excellent high quality butter, and I love that one too. It costs a bit less than the French one: Kerrygold Irish butter is $3.19 for 8 oz. 

“Trader Jacque’s FRENCH CULTURED SALTED BUTTER” comes in a blue package. It may have the slightest of edges on the Kerrygold Irish butter (but frankly both are superb butters). The French butter comes from Brittany (Bretagne), the region in the North West of France famous for cows, butter and cheeses (and Calvados!)

I’ve tried to do taste tests comparing the Irish vs. French butter and pick one over the other but they are both so good I almost can’t pick one as “better”. Both have a rich flavor that says “imported” premium butter. I started to buy the French butter as a neighbor says the French one has a slight edge. The difference may be that the French butter is “cultured” (fermented with enzymes similar to those in yogurt) to give a little bit of a tangy taste vs. the non-cultured Irish Kerrygold. Honestly though, I go back and forth on which I like more, the Irish or French butters, and always give up. Try them both and see which you prefer (if you can)! Both the Kerrygold Gold and the French Cultured are salted butters but are way less salty than you may think for salted butter you are used to (like Hotel Bar). Still, if you want an UNSALTED butter get the silver Kerrygold package. The gold package is salted (but lightly).

These imported butters naturally cost more the regular butter Trader Joe’s sells for $3/lb. I would say the normal TJ butter is equal to Hotel Bar butter or similar. But this French butter (or Irish Kerrygold) does up your “butter game”. FRENCH CULTURED BUTTER comes in a 8.8 oz pack which sells for $3.49, (PRICE INCREASED SINCE WRITING*) So figure its costs about twice as much as the regular butter. Still TJ’s French butter is I think the equal to butters you might buy in a supermarket in France. And if you compare this to imported premium butters you might see sold in an upscale supermarket here which carries imported butters, well they are crazy expensive (12/lb?). So as usual Trader Joe’s is selling this premium imported butter at a still fairly reasonable price (around $6 lb.) for an excellent French butter. The Cultured French Salted French butter only comes in a salted version but I find it fine, not overly salty at all, it’s just right for most applications. I’ve grown to love it. In fact, my Japanese sister-in-law loved this butter so much when she was visiting us that she actually carried back two packs all the way home to Japan in her bags!

Give it a try once, say slather some on a piece of warm French baguette just out of the oven, and you may never go back to regular butter…. Mes amis, c’est La Vie en Rose!

Cultured butter is typically created by adding live bacteria (cultures) to the butter before it’s churned, versus regular butter which is cream that just goes straight to the churning machine. … Results in a higher-fat product, which in turns makes the butter more silky and gives it a richer taste.”

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* UPDATE: Price of the French Butter price went up. Now $3.69 (Summer 2019) Irish Kerrygold still $3.19. To save a little I’ve been getting the Kerrygold recently.

UPDATE 2 (Nov 2020) This French butter has been M.I.A. in my local TJs for some time. I imagine its a supply chain problem due to Covid. The Irish Kerrygold butter is in stock so I have been buying that instead. Its as good or better but prices have gone up some though.

Trader Joe’s UNEXPECTED CHEDDAR


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In this case, the hype is correct

Year in, year out this is one of TJ’s best selling products, and for good reason. This is a “knock it out of the ballpark” Trader Joe’s product. Unexpected Cheddar is an aged cheddar cheese. If you put this out on a cheese plate for company you are almost guaranteed to get some comment like, “Yum, this cheese is amazing…where did you buy this?”

While I have not tried every cheese that Trader Joe’s sells (I wish!) I have to say Unexpected Cheddar is one of the best cheeses I have purchased there, or frankly anywhere. I’m a huge fan of a good Cheddar, the sharper the better for my tastes. Is it because I’m a Damn Yankee (well a New Yorker) and Sharp Cheddar has always seemed to me to be a very Yankee or “East Coast” cheese? On this side of the Atlantic anyway as Cheddar cheese is quite English in origin. Historically in my taste memories, the Sine Qua Non of a classic Cheddar, that was in our house since we were kids was always CABOT CHEDDAR from Vermont.  If we didn’t have a piece of CABOT Extra Sharp Cheddar in our fridge we would at least always have a package of Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp as my dad’s favorite cheese was Cheddar by far. TJ’s Unexpected Cheddar is quite different from both of these classic cheddars such as Cabot. Cabot Extra Sharp is wonderful and its sold at TJs (try it). But “Unexpected Cheddar” is unique, its got a texture unlike any Cheddar you’ve tried. As Trader Joe’s own description is so perfect I’ll simply quote how they describe it:

“Unexpected Cheddar has been a best-seller since it first hit our cheese cases, back in 2011. It presents itself as an aged Cheddar, and tastes like one as well. Until, it doesn’t. That creamy Cheddar takes an unexpected flavor turn, the texture seems to change as you eat – you might swear you were enjoying an aged Parmesan. On first try, it’s an unexpected pleasure. With subsequent purchases, the only unexpected part of the experience is that it continues to be such a great value. Then again, you’ve come to expect great values at Trader Joe’s, so our price of $3.99 for each seven ounce piece may not be so unexpected after all.”

Forgetting the marketing jazz the description of the taste and texture is exactly right on.  The texture is more crumbly than a regular cheddar. As you slice this cheese, it may crumble apart not terribly unlike a piece of Parmegiano Reggiano. There are flavor profiles in the Unexpected Cheddar which have that same “umami” overtones of a Parmigiano , Grana Padano or Pecorino. I’ve tasted this with wine, and it pairs wonderfully with both reds and white wines. Or beer for that matter. It would be a great pick if you are doing a wine tasting, or a beer tasting.

At $4 for 7 oz. figure this costs a bit under $10/lb. for a super premium cheddar, a very good deal as usual from Trader Joes. Once you buy this you may find it makes it onto your “Always Must Buy” TJ List every time you go there. To be honest in our house the biggest problem with UNEXPECTED CHEDDAR is it goes so damn fast… Its too damn tasty, and way  too easy for a package to get eaten in one day, so be warned.

Be sure also to try this melted. On a cheeseburger? Grilled cheese sandwich? The most amazing grilled cheese you may ever have! In an omelet? On pizza or as quesilladas… They are all fantastic.

Want some ideas for foods to pair this with? While it is excellent on its own of course, I find it goes exceptionally well with fruit, such as apples, grapes, figs, etc on a cheese plate. In particular, the ENVY or FUJI apples that TJ carries pair very well with this cheese. It is a bit tricky to slice the cheddar as it tends to crumble a bit but thats OK as I promise you every last crumble will vanish off the plate.

If you serve this to guests, you will get much praise. Seriously, try this. You will love it.

By the way, TJ does now carry CABOT EXTRA SHARP VERMONT CHEDDAR. Also worth trying if you’ve never had it, Cabot Extra Sharp is THE classic East Coast cheddar cheese.

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