The Costco Report: Who Moved My Cheese?

The Costco Report: Episodic observations on where to port safely, and what to avoid like a pestilence, when navigating an ocean of consumer non-durables under a sheet metal sky… In today’s edition, a big finger wag at the Big C for abandoning some of our local dairies, and Taquitos From Hell.

First up, and most importantly, cheese: As recently as late summer, Costco – to their credit – carried several exceptional cheeses from no less than four local* dairies: Pt Reyes (home of my favorite bleu for salads), Fiscalini (outstanding cheddar and one of the better versions of smoked mozzarella), Redwood Hill (a goat’s milk cheddar that makes a spectacular in mac-n-cheese), and Laura Chenel (the archetypal Sonoma County chevre). Come Autumn, this had been reduced to the Pt Reyes and the Laura Chenel, and by the end of October, I was faced with the null set.

So I asked the custy service dude what was up. It has to be said, Costco consistently offers good customer service, and this was no exception: He looked up every cheese I asked about, checked stock and order books, and explained that their collective absence was just a seasonal thing (true, lots of good imported cheeses were out of stock as well), that they knew their buyer demographic here in SoCo (which I took to be code for: “Corporate knows you all consume wine and cheese like whales at a baleen buffet”), and that they would assuredly bring back all the good stuff come the holidays. Well, I’ve seen the Pt Reyes and Laura Chenel resurface only episodically, I’ve noticed the welcome addition of Belwhether Farms (home to what is, in my estimation, the finest creme fraiche outside the French countryside),  and I’ve never heard from Fiscalini or Redwood Hill again, which is why I’m calling Costco out on this one: Why, in Sonoma County of all places, would you abandon some of your best local dairies? It’s not like we don’t produce a lot of milk and, last time I checked, management agrees that the natives are hardly restrained in their proclivity to consume massive quantities of local cheese and wine, so why? Bad dog, Big C.

Next, just because I’m feeling kind of grumpy about the whole cheese thing, an honorable mention for Worst Nibble on Planet Earth goes out to the free sample of horrid, boxed, fried, reheated tube of congealed grease, encasing some fetid, stringy mystery meat, and called a “taquito”. Whether Mexicans eat a tasty version of this dish, or whether the diminutive of taco is, in historical fact, a genetically engineered atrocity escaped from a high security sub-floor of the Taco Bell research labs, I cannot say. But I can tell you this: There was nothing “free” about that free sample. It left my mouth at Top Gun seat-ejection velocity, and I had to drink some cloyingly sweet sample of a vaguely “chai”-like liquid just to dilute the acrid taste on my tongue. But, really, this one’s on me: What WAS I thinking?!

*Yes, I know, Fiscalini and Pt Reyes technically come from area codes other than my beloved 707. But they’re at least in neighboring counties (well, Marin at least is a neighboring county; I don’t really know where Modesto is, but I think I could ride my bike there, if I really put my mind to it, which is as good a working definition of “local” as any).

Author: Proximal.Kitchen

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6 Comments

  1. @cara… I always welcome comments, but PU-LEEEZ! Tell you what: Why don’t you read something other than the rare post that mentions either “Costco” or “Safeway” in the title (e.g., the other 95% of what I write), take an introductory economics course (or just read my post on buying local wines at Costco), and then, instead of lobbing snarks in from the cheap seats, engage us all with an informed opinion?

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  2. Those small local cheese producers don’t make enough to supply both the Costcos in the area and their normal retailers with the exception of certain times of the year. Costco also runs a pretty hard bargain when negotiating prices, should the local cheese producers give Costco a huge price break at the expense of the markets they’ve been selling to all these years? To do so would be very short sighted.
    I rarely read this blog but the other two times I read it you were complaining about some coffee you got at Costco and the other time you were complaining about some lemons, mangos or avocados that you picked up at Safeway.
    You need to walk the talk buddy.

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  3. Proximal, love ya but I gotta say that kvetching about local cheeses at Costco is a little off the mark. Because even though they have regional buyers, the demands for high quantities are often too great for regional producers to keep up with. If you want local cheese, buy it at Olivers, Whole Foods or Pacific Market, dude. Or even better, at the farmer’s market, so the purveyors actually make more money, rather than giving all to a middle man.

    And really, were you expecting more from the taquito at Costco? Heh.

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    • @HI – I agree, to a point: I should try to figure out WHY they stopped carrying those brands (I asked Costco and they wouldn’t tell me; I’ll call the dairies at some point). I don’t agree about Whole Foods (it’s a longer conversation but I can’t stand that place, for all sorts of reasons), and I only partially agree about the direct purchase: Sure, I love to buy direct, and I have no time for the middle man as you put it, as long as my purchase is convenient, and price competitive; but consumers don’t owe producers any special subsidies, so if Costco can, on economies of scale, deliver the same local product for less, that’s where I’m going. Mainly – although your point on quantities is certainly valid – I’d just like to see big box retailers at least try to source local stuff, insofar as the local stuff is economic and of high quality.

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  4. @ER – Google maps pegs a bike-navigable route at around 150 miles – a very long day in the saddle, but definitely possible (no offense to Modesto, but why one would do this is another question entirely). Is it local? I guess not, but really I just miss the Fiscalini smoked mozz, and it fit the pattern, so I tossed it in there.

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  5. Quibbling here, Modesto is about 135 miles from Santa Rosa, per Mapquest and that’s if you travel the interstate highways, which you wouldn’t on a bicycle. I’m not a cyclist so I don’t know what roads they would recommend.

    I do agree with you, my husband and I really liked it when Costco was carrying the local cheeses and are very disappointed that they have stopped.

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