4 Cheese Brands to Stay Away From Right Now — Eat This Not That

Few foods are as integral to every facet of the culinary world as cheese. Somehow, cheese is synonymous with both fine dining and junk food. Cheesy flavors adorn countless chips, snacks, and fast-food menu items. Yet, at the same time, there’s a seemingly endless array of fine cheeses and flavor pairings that make the world’s Michelin-starred restaurants go round.

They say variety is the spice of life. Well, cheese definitely has that angle covered. Per the International Dairy Foods Association, there are around 2,000 varieties of cheese in existence. Luckily, Americans are more than equipped to handle all that cheese. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over the past five decades—from 1977 until 2017—the average American has increased their annual cheese intake by an astounding 21 pounds (from 16 to 37 pounds).

Of course, with so many cheesy options to choose from, it’s important to make the right choice. When it comes to nutrition, cheese is a bit of a mixed bag. Generally speaking, it is a great source of calcium, but many cheeses are also stacked with excess calories, saturated fat, and too much sodium.

“There is a strong correlation between high saturated fat intake and elevated total and LDL blood cholesterol levels,” explains dietitian Molly Hembree. “Cheese with high saturated fat should be avoided. The average healthy adult should be striving for less than 22 grams of saturated fat intake per day (less than 10% of total calories), while the American Heart Association recommends less than 6 percent of total calories as saturated fat (about 13 grams) per day.”

Nutrition isn’t the only factor you should keep in mind the next time you venture down the cheese aisle at your local grocery store. Certain cheese brands use lesser ingredients than others, and many cheese products contain troubling preservatives and additives.

Read on to learn more about the cheese brands you should stay away from right now. And don’t miss 5 Soda Brands to Stay Away From Right Now.

kraft american cheese singles
Keith Homan / Shutterstock

Kraft-Heinz is an absolute juggernaut in the cheese world. The word “Kraft” is synonymous with American cheese—and for good reason. While the actual process of creating processed, “American” cheese was invented in Switzerland, J.L. Kraft was the first to patent the process of creating the variety back in 1916.

At the time, Mr. Kraft wrote in his patent application that he was trying to find a way to indefinitely extend the shelf life of cheddar cheese, thus making it much more accessible to Americans far and wide. It’s a noble goal, but the science of American cheese is less appetizing.

According to Michael Tunick, a research chemist for the USDA and author of The Science of Cheese, American cheese is created by grinding up and mixing together older cheeses, newer cheeses, and an emulsifier (sodium phosphate, etc). Emulsifiers hold processed cheeses together, and provide their trademark texture and meltability. But, while sodium phosphate is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), high consumption levels have been linked to numerous health concerns like accelerated aging and vascular damage.

Kraft American Cheese Singles technically can’t even be called “cheese.” The FDA mandates that a food must contain at least 51% cheese curds to attain that distinction. Instead, Kraft American Cheese is labeled as a “pasteurized prepared cheese product.”

horizon organic white cheddar shredded cheese
Courtesy of Horizon Organic

Horizon Organic offers a wide variety of cheese and dairy products, but some have been critical of the company’s food preparation practices.

Nutrition expert Dave Zinczenko writes in his book Eat It to Beat It!: “If one of the ingredients in your cheese were ground wood chips, would you consider it “organic”? The earnest folks who work at Horizon Organic do. On the label of their finely shredded cheddar cheese is the word “cellulose,” which means processed wood chips. It’s categorized as a synthetic ingredient, but the FDA, apparently pining for the timber industry, allows its use in foods labeled ‘natural’ and ‘organic.'”

In all fairness to Horizon Organic, they’re certainly not the only cheese brand to use cellulose in their shredded cheeses. But, even if we put cellulose aside for a moment, a quick peek at the reviews on Horizon Organic’s own website for its shredded cheddar cheese reveals another apparent problem: Mold. Close to every single review mentions mold appearing in the bag.

Similarly, the review section for Horizon Organic’s American Singles doesn’t exactly inspire culinary confidence either. It looks like Horizon Organic changed up their recipe over the past few years, and not for the better. Here are just a few of the review titles: “New great taste you’ll hate!”, “Why did you ruin a good thing?”, and “Don’t bother.”

The top review for Horizon’s Organic American Singles on Amazon states: “This new and improved taste feels more like some cost-cutting measure by Horizon. It literally tastes like you’re eating fat-free plastic. Seriously!”

cheez whiz
Mich66 / Shutterstock

Technically, Cheez Whiz is a sub-brand under the Kraft umbrella, but this concoction deserves its own place on this list. We’ve already touched on the creation of American cheese. In the 1950s, following the success of Kraft American Cheese in the United States, Kraft set its sights on bringing some cheesiness to the United Kingdom.

Kraft food scientists were tasked with creating a new type of cheese that would be perfect for preparing a Welsh Rarebit. A popular recipe in the U.K., cooking up a Welsh Rarebit sounds simple enough: the dish is made by pouring cheddar cheese sauce over bread. Actually preparing the cheese sauce can take quite a while, though, so Kraft wanted to create a pre-packaged cheese sauce to entice home cooks.

But enough about history, let’s get down to the ingredients. Right off the bat, there is very little real cheese in Cheez Whiz. Curiously, this wasn’t always the case. One of the food scientists who created Cheez Whiz in the 1950s, Dean Southworth, told author Michael Moss that he was absolutely shocked after seeing (and tasting) some Cheez Whiz in 2001.

According to Southworth, the original version of Cheez Whiz that he helped create contained a decent amount of real cheese. What he picked up at his local grocer decades later, however, was very different.

“I said, ‘Holy God, it tastes like axle grease.’ I looked at the label and I said, ‘What the hell did they do?’ I called up Kraft, using the 800 number for consumer complaints, and I told them, ‘You are putting out goddamn axle grease!'” he told Moss.

So what’s in Cheez Whiz? A plethora of concerning ingredients such as caramel coloring, sodium phosphate, and insane sodium levels. Just two tablespoons of Cheez Whiz contains 541 milligrams of sodium.

paris brothers' milton creamery cheeses
Courtesy of Paris Brothers Specialty Foods

Paris Brothers is a Kansas City-based food company that finds itself on this list due to a very recent (June 2022) voluntary limited recall of over 90 of their cheese products.

Per the FDA, the recall is in effect for Paris Brothers’ cheeses distributed across eight states: Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Florida, and Mississippi. The cheeses had been delivered to a variety of major grocery chains, including Fareway and Hy-Vee.

What’s this all about? Possible listeria contamination. Routine sampling by the FDA revealed traces of Listeria monocytogenes in Paris Brothers’ cheese goods. Listeria is a bacteria known to cause serious and even fatal infections among children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Healthy adults certainly aren’t immune either; even mild infections can result in fever, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and headaches. Listeria can also cause miscarriages in pregnant women.

Worryingly, cheeses contaminated with listeria don’t always look or smell spoiled. On a more positive note, only cheeses produced on May 4, 5, and 6 of this year are included in this particular recall.

These items should feature the lot codes 05042022, 05052022, or 05062022. But the recall notice also adds that “individual retail outlets may have relabeled the individual consumer packages.”

The following products are included in the recall:

  • Cottonwood River Cheddar
  • D’amir Brie Double Crème French Brie
  • Milton Prairie Breeze White Cheddar Style
  • Milton Tomato Garlic Cheddar
  • Paris Brothers Mild Cheddar
  • Paris Brothers Colby Jack
  • Paris Brothers Pepper Jack
  • Cervasi Pecorino Romano

Thankfully, no actual illnesses have been reported in connection with this recall. Still, the FDA encourages all consumers to return any affected cheese goods to their local stores for a full refund. If you have any questions about the recall, further contact information for Paris Brothers’ FDA rep can be found here.