Diary Dilemmas: Dairy

I knew our family would be making some major adjustments with this move to Costa Rica.map_of_costa_rica-svgWe’d be dealing with improving our understanding and speaking of the language; we’d be driving where rules of the road don’t really apply; we’d be trying to find stores, doctors, parks, etc. in a country with a complete lack of street addresses; we’d be trying to make new friends while missing friends and family back home. But what I did not expect, was to have such enormous struggle with dairy products.

Let me preface my essay on dairy by pointing out that Costa Rica has so many delicious foods, fruits, veggies that I couldn’t possibly list them all–the tortillas are chewy and wonderful, the papayas and mangos are out of this world, the carnecerias are plentiful and full of new and interesting cuts of meat. It’s just the dairy department that has me really wrestling to adapt.

  • img_01071/2 & 1/2. They have no half and half for my coffee. O.K, O.K., you’re probably all thinking I’m a complete wimp for adulterating my delicious, fresh, Costa Rican mountain (decaf!) coffee with “cream”, but there it is. In the morning, (I’m talking like, 5 a.m. here people–that’s when the damn dog wakes me) I need a little dairy in my coffee to ease the impact on my system, as I don’t eat until more like 7:30 a.m. I searched multiple stores for half and half to no avail. I tried it with milk, and YUCK. So then I looked for cream in the fridge section, no luck. Finally I asked someone, “Donde esta el crema?” He looked at me, a little quizzical. “Para cocinar?” Sure, ya, fine, I’m gonna cook with it. I wasn’t going to tell him it was for my gringo coffee. He led me away from the refrigerated section into an isle, and there it was in little ultra-pasturized boxes on a shelf. Cool. I can deal with that. It’s a bit awkward, as there’s no way to really close the box once you cut it open, but I’ve improvised with a binder clip.
  • Butter. This is much more serious than the 1/2 & 1/2 issue. Butter here is sold by individual cubes, rather than a pound box, and it is NOT cheap: about 1,200 colones per cube, which makes it about $10 per pound! And it is not unsalted, organic, free-range, Kerrygold either. (Wanna know more about my obsession with butter, click here. It’s fiction, but ya know, that’s me.)

This would NEVER have happen back in the States!!

At home, we used to buy unsalted butter at Costco 4 lbs. at a time for about $7. We’d put three boxes in the freezer, and have one out to use at all times. We’d start to panic if we pulled that last box from the freezer and had no back-up. Popcorn without butter? Disaster! No butter to make muffins/scones/pie-crust/cookies/crêpes/etc.? Horrors! So here, I want to make a batch of scones, and I have to work it into our monthly budget!! Do you think I could make scones with margarine???

  • Cheese (nearly as dire as butte). Costa Rica has several nice fresh cheeses that are all pretty much the same–Turrialba, Tico, queso fresco, semi-duro, palmito–that won’t break the bank. You go to farmer’s market and cases are full of blocks of pure white, unaged, high moisture cheeses. I’ve had samples of many, and can’t discern much difference between the types. Thankfully I have my brother-in-law and his fiancé who make AMAZING goat cheese that we always have in the fridge. But I’ve struggled with the lack of variety of strong, aged, stinky type cheeses, or having access to 2 lbs. blocks of Tillamook or Bandon cheddar for $6-7 a block. You can get little packets of pre-grated cheddar and mozzarella here for about $10/ lb. You can find Gouda and Edam (imported?), which are even more expensive. The real problem isn’t Costa Rica and their cheese, the problem is that we, as a family, are used to eating lots and lots of cheese as part of our diet. My boys can go through one of those little pre-grated cheesmap2packets in a day and a half with their quesadillas and grilled cheese sannies. I think another problem is that I started out as a French speaker. My first international trip was to France. You go into a French store, and the cheese counter is as long as soda and
    chip isle in most American stores–it’s huge. And I LOVED it. My guts didn’t always love it, but my tongue did. Brie, camembert, Roquefort, Comté, and many, many more (check this out if you really are into knowing more about French cheese).

Man, I could really use a nice cup of coffee with cream and a scone right now.

(Dear readers, just so you know I’m not the only expat who feels this way about Costa Rican cheese, check out this fellow who has the same sentiments as me).

9 thoughts on “Diary Dilemmas: Dairy

    • NO WAY!!!! I’m there! I’ve been to the Pricesmart in Alajuela, and they had shredded cheddar in large bags for much cheaper than the regular store, and I broke down and bought a massive block of Gouda. Thanks so much for the tip!


      • Oops. It’s pricesmart. Be careful when attempting baking with said butter. It has a much higher moisture content than we’re used to and seriously alters recipes. I’m only making bar cookies at this point. Yes I ask visitors to bring cheese. I have some Brie and Manchego lovingly stored in the fridge for a special day.


  1. Mara, your impressions of life in Costa Rica are intriguing. Thank you for sharing. I, too, live on cheese and never drink black coffee, so I related to your deprivations in the dairy food group.

    Keep those blogs coming!



  2. Oh, gosh! I wonder if we can bring some across the border. Or would customs grab and dispose of it? I checked out the link to the farm. Wow! Can we visit? Will I get some of that beautiful soap for Christmas?
    Love, Mom


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