What Cheddar did our tasters like best?

What Cheddar did our tasters like best?

Some people immediately turn up their noses at the mention of reduced-fat cheese. This is understandable, given that some of these products are flavorless and have the texture of, say, rubber. Because EatingWell recipes regularly call for reduced-fat cheeses-Cheddar most often-we decided to put several brands to the test.

The term "reduced-fat" means the product has at least 25 percent less fat than the full-fat version-but must that translate to reduced flavor as well?

We gathered an array of reduced-fat Cheddars, then narrowed the field to our preferred six before convening a panel of cheese tasters to rate them. Our diverse panel included Ric, who said, "There's no cheese I wouldn't put in my mouth"; Dan, a Cheddar guy who wasn't convinced that reduced-fat cheese could actually taste good; Henry, a grilled-cheese connoisseur; Terry, who has been searching for an acceptable reduced-fat option; Robbie, a lover of artisan and exotic cheeses; and Jessie, who loves cheese but is cautious because she's lactose-intolerant (most cheeses are low in lactose, since it's drained off in the cheesemaking process). Here's how our panel weighed in.

Cracker Barrel 2% Milk Natural Cheese, Extra Sharp Cheddar White

This cheese was the top pick by five of our six panelists. It also had the highest marks in appearance, taste, and texture. Dan, who vowed to never buy reduced-fat cheese, said he'd even set it out for guests. Henry said it tasted the most "real" of the options, and Jessie thought its balanced flavor had nice sharpness and acidity. Terry noted its square shape made it a great choice for cheese-and-crackers.

Cabot 50% Light

Robbie enjoyed the milk tang of the Cabot and its unobjectionable texture. Ric liked its sharper edge and nice appearance. Terry felt it was "sharper and cheesier" than the others, while Dan was fond of the flavor but wasn't as keen about its texture.

Kraft 2% Milk Natural Reduced Fat Mild Cheddar Cheese

Ric's favorite; he said, "This one has a complexity the others don't have." The chewy, gooey texture pleased Henry, who also noted it had a "different and better flavor than the others." The slight sharpness appealed to Jessie, who thought this one would be a winner melted on nachos. But Robbie disliked its texture and believed the only place for it was atop a bland saltine.

The Tasting Panel:

Robbie Stanley, editor of The Charlotte News

Ric Cengeri, rabid supporter of Preston North End, English football team

Dan Cypress, EatingWell accounting manager

Jessie Bradley, garden designer

Henry Sengle, 7th-grade soccer lover

Terry Wright, marketing manager

Other cheeses EatingWell liked:

* Crystal Farms Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese

* Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese

* Tillamook Reduced Fat Medium Cheddar Cheese

Editor's Note (June 25, 2010): Horizon Organic Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese is no longer available.

April/May 2006