What You Probably Didn't Know About The Whole Foods Cheese Section

If the New York Stock Exchange sold shares in cheese, it would be the safest investment imaginable because it grows more and more popular with each passing decade. According to CNBC, many Americans ate roughly 14 pounds of cheese in the year 1975, a paltry amount by today's standards. By 2018, Americans were downing around 38 pounds of cheese annually, even though other dairy products, most notably milk, saw a decline in popularity.

Interestingly enough, while America has grown ever more fond of cheese, the one variety that's actually slipping in popularity is American cheese, along with similar processed options. Meanwhile, more international cheeses have crossed American borders and small-scale creameries are popping up around the U.S. producing gourmet cheeses that garner global attention. This was best exemplified in the 2019 World Cheese Awards when Oregon's Rogue Creamery beat out nearly 4,000 other cheeses from around the world (via Food & Wine). Another influential factor in the nation's growing cheese obsession is the fact that large grocery chains are beginning to carry a wider array of options, none more notable than Whole Foods.

Whole Foods carries as many as 1,000 types of cheese

The first thing to note about Whole Foods' cheese selection is its sheer vastness. Bustle reports that each individual location stocks somewhere between 250 and 1,000 different types of cheese. That's not all at the cheese counter, as the Whole Foods website includes pre-packaged cheeses, including shredded and sliced options as well as cream cheese and cheese sticks Between the dairy section and the cheesemonger, there is something for everyone, and once you start exploring the selection, it's hard to walk away empty-handed.

Whole Foods doesn't just have a lot of cheese; they have cheeses you can't find anywhere else in the United States. Per Bustle, they are the only American retailer with a deal to distribute cheeses made by Hervé Mons, a renowned French affineur. What's an affineur you ask? Forbes took a deep dive into this unique profession, and to put it in the simplest terms, an affineur is the proprietor of a cheese cave or cellar who oversees the aging of various kinds of cheese. Mons, a third-generation affineur, ages his cheeses in an abandoned train tunnel near the French commune of Ambièrle (via Boska). He has attained numerous accolades in France but also took the time to develop an exclusive product for Whole Foods: A semi-soft goat cheese called Tommes des Bois Noirs.

Whole Foods has the holiday spirit

Whole Foods has its own spin on the 12 Days of Christmas, which is wonderful because, let's face it, nobody actually wants drummers drumming, lords a-leaping, and maids a-milking showing up on their doorstep. Since 2016, Whole Foods has had a "12 Days of Cheese" sale each December, during which it offers 12 unique kinds of cheese at a 30% discount (via Cheese Professor). This helps to curb the store's famously high prices a bit for the holidays.

In 2021, the 12 Days of Cheese deal ran from December 10th to December 21st. Food & Wine reports that the offerings were highlighted by cheddar from Moorhead Farms in Somerset, England, an Italian washed-rind buffalo cheese, and gruyere aged in a sandstone cave in Switzerland. 

The grocer also offered discounts on Klare Melk Truffle Gouda, Jasper Hill Gin Washed Harbison (a soft-ripened cheese), MonS Mary dans les Étoiles (goat cheese with a unique fungal rind), and Rogue Creamery Enraptured Cherries Jubilee (blue cheese with wine-soaked cherries inside). All four of them are exclusively offered by Whole Foods.

Whole Foods has more certified cheese experts than any other store

If you aren't sure what cheese to buy, you should ask for recommendations (and samples) from whoever is working the cheese counter. At Whole Foods, these cheesemongers really know their stuff, and some of them even hold the title of Certified Cheese Professional (CCP), which is a real thing. The American Cheese Society (ACS) aims to increase the standards for cheese across the country, and as part of that mission, they came up with the ACS Certified Cheese Professional Exam. Candidates are given three hours to answer 150 questions, and if they pass, they become an official CCP. NPR obtained some sample exam questions, which include "why is blue cheese pierced with needles?" and "what's the lactation schedule for sheep?"

When the ACS issued its very first CCP Exam (NPR notes this was in 2011), a number of Whole Foods cheesemongers took part. Bustle reports that out of the 121 individuals who passed the exam, more than half of them — 70, to be exact — were Whole Foods employees. At the time, this meant that Whole Foods had more certified cheese experts than any other North American retailer, and the number of CCPs has surely increased in the decade since.