East vs West: Losing the brands you know and love

This Safeway was the third store I had gone to today, and I was about out of steam. The Cabot website said these Safeways in Bellevue, WA had Cabot. I was about ready to drive home angry and send a nasty email to Cabot about how their website was faulty. But first I decided to ask someone.

“I’m looking for this cheese from New England called Cabot. It’s not in your regular cheese aisle. But I was told it would be here.” I blurted out to one of the cashiers.

“I’ve never heard of that, but the specialty cheeses are over near the meat counter.” She shrugged.

I wanted to yell “It’s not a specialty cheese! It’s a regular cheese!” but I’m not a crazy person, so I just thanked her and walked away.

I had already walked by the specialty cheese area before, but I figured I would go look one more time. It only took a minute of reading labels to find it. Cabot! My cheese! Oh how I love you. Wait…this little thing is $8? What the hell.

I bought two of them, and some triscuits to put them on. That night I shared my triumph with my wife. We both had a delicious New England white sharp cheddar snack that night.

I grew up outside of Boston, MA, and had a bit of culture shock when I started college outside of Harrisburg, PA. All of the towns ended in burg (Harrisburg, Mechanicsburg) instead of boro (Marlboro, Northboro)! What kind of crazy place is this? Who are these weird people? (Yes, 18 year old me really was annoyed by burg vs boro). There were a few other things that took some getting used to, but on the whole, Pennsylvania is very similar to Massachusetts. They have Cabot cheese, for one.

You see, Cabot is a farmer-run cooperative that started in Vermont. I think these days it includes New York farms too, but it’s the quintessential New England small town business and brand. I grew up with it. Their extra sharp white cheddar (or hunter’s seriously sharp) is to die for. I ate it in MA, and I ate it in PA. It was the only cheese I would buy. So, when we first got to the Pacific Northwest (Bellevue, WA, which is right next to Seattle), and went to a grocery store, I went looking for Cabot. There was none to be found and I was horrified.

So, I went to the Cabot website. It was very helpful. You could put in a zip code and it would tell you if there was Cabot cheese there, and if so, where. The website pointed out numerous Fred Meyers (whatever that was) and Safeways that had it. So, while my wife was at work (I had not found a job yet), I set out on a Cabot hunt.

And, as I said, I finally found Cabot in the specialty cheese section. Instead of it’s usual black wrapper, it was in a wax paper binding with a shiny silver label on it. That must be why a (smaller) bar of cheese cost $8 here instead of $2.50 in the Northeast – that shiny silver label. But, it was Cabot, and it was worth it.

It actually took us almost two years to find a local equivalent. Tillamook makes a pretty good sharp white cheddar. It only comes in a large brick, and only is available in certain stores. The wrapper is all black. There is another Tillamook cheddar that looks almost exactly the same – but it doesn’t say Vintage White in easy-to-miss italics. Having to eat a whole 2 pounds of not sharp white cheddar taught us to never make that mistake again.

So I found my beloved Cabot, and I even found a passable local equivalent. However, other brands from the East Coast would prove more elusive.