What is Jamaican Cheese?

Jamaican cheese refers to a specific type of processed cheese product that is popular in Jamaica and the Jamaican diaspora. The most well-known brand of Jamaican cheese is Tastee Cheese, which comes in a distinctive cylindrical can.

What is Jamaican Cheese

Tastee Cheese has a unique taste and texture that sets it apart from other cheeses. It is known for being rich, creamy, and having a tangy cheddar flavor.

While Jamaican cheese is a beloved part of Jamaican food culture, especially for the Easter tradition of eating "bun and cheese," its origins and production process remain mysterious to many.

History and Origins

The history of Jamaican cheese is intertwined with Tastee Cheese, which has dominated the Jamaican cheese market since being introduced in the 1960s.

Tastee Cheese was launched as a partnership between two companies - GraceKennedy Ltd, one of Jamaica's largest food companies, and the New Zealand Dairy Board (now known as Fonterra), a major New Zealand dairy cooperative. Fonterra supplies the base cheddar cheese used to produce Tastee Cheese.

So while Tastee Cheese is manufactured and packaged in Jamaica by GraceKennedy's subsidiary Dairy Industries Jamaica Ltd (DIJL), the key ingredient, cheddar cheese, is imported from New Zealand.

This explains why Tastee Cheese is often referred to as "Jamaican cheese" when it does not actually originate from Jamaica. However, the unique canned version of cheese has become an integral part of Jamaican food culture over the past 50+ years.

Key Takeaway: Tastee Cheese is considered Jamaican cheese, but it relies on imported New Zealand cheddar cheese as a key ingredient in its production.

Production Process

The production process of Tastee Cheese starts with raw cheddar cheese from New Zealand. This cheddar cheese arrives in 25 kg blocks to Dairy Industries' factory in Kingston, Jamaica.

The factory then processes the cheese in large vats to create the unique texture and tangy flavor that Jamaicans love. Ingredients like butter, water, salt, citric acid, and preservatives are added and mixed thoroughly.

Finally, the smooth processed cheese mixture is packed into cans, sealed, pasteurized, and packaged for distribution around Jamaica and export markets.

So while the base ingredient (cheddar cheese) is imported, it undergoes a distinct process to become the canned Jamaican cheese product known as Tastee.

Key Takeaway: Tastee Cheese is made by processing imported New Zealand cheddar cheese with additional ingredients to create its trademark creamy texture and tangy flavor.

Nutrition & Health Benefits

Jamaican Tastee cheese is often perceived as being highly processed and unhealthy. However, in moderation, it can provide nutritional value:

  • Protein: Tastee Cheese is a good source of protein, with about 5 grams per 1 ounce (28 gram) serving. Protein helps build muscle mass and bones.
  • Calcium: Each serving provides 10% of the recommended daily calcium intake. Calcium is essential for bone health and cardiovascular function.

The pasteurization process also kills potentially harmful bacteria, making it safer for consumption. Still, it contains added preservatives and high sodium levels, so it should be eaten in moderation.

Cheese can fit into a balanced diet. For optimal health, limit portion sizes of Tastee cheese and pair it with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Key Takeaway: Tastee Cheese provides protein, calcium, and other nutrients, but the high sodium and preservatives mean it should be eaten in moderation.

Common Uses in Jamaican Cuisine

In Jamaican cuisine, Tastee Cheese is more than just a snack - it takes center stage as the star ingredient in many classic dishes:

  • Bun and Cheese: No list would be complete without this popular Easter tradition of eating sliced Tastee Cheese inside a Jamaican spiced bun. The sweet bun offsets the salty tanginess flawlessly.
  • Sandwiches: Tastee Cheese is commonly sliced and placed between two slices of bread for a quick sandwich. Common additions are Jamaican bulla, hard dough bread, crackers or biscuits.
  • Pair with Starchy Fruits: Breadfruit, green banana, yam and sweet potato are topped with melted slices of the cheese for breakfast or dinner.
  • Jerk Tastee Cheese: This spicy, limited-edition flavor combines Tastee Cheese's signature tang with the spicy jerk marinade flavors popular in Jamaica.

The versatility to be paired sweet or savory makes Tastee Cheese a popular choice in almost any meal.

Key Takeaway: Jamaicans commonly enjoy Tastee Cheese melted over starchy fruits or baked goods, in sandwiches, or as a star ingredient in classic Easter bun and cheese.

Why Canned Cheese?

Canned cheese like Tastee may seem like an unusual concept. However, there are some advantages to canning cheese:

  • No Refrigeration: The canned packaging allows Tastee Cheese to be stored at room temperature without refrigeration. This added convenience makes it more accessible.
  • Longer Shelf Life: Packing cheese into a can allows it to keep longer without spoiling compared to refrigerated blocks of cheese. Unopened cans can last over a year stored in a cool, dry pantry.
  • Easy Transport: Importing large cheese blocks and refrigerating them across Jamaica would have been challenging when Tastee was first launched. Canning allows easier distribution.

So while unconventional, canning provides practical benefits that allowed Tastee Cheese to become Jamaica's leading processed cheese brand.

Is All Jamaican Cheese Imported?

While Tastee dominates the market, there are a growing number of smaller Jamaican cheese companies producing their cheeses locally:

  • Meadowbrook Dairy in Manchester makes artisanal goat and sheep milk cheeses like cheese curds and feta.
  • Serendipity Cheese from Holland Bamboo Estate provides handmade smoked cheeseUsing local cow, goat and sheep milk.
  • Farmstead Cheeses located in Bog Walk claim to be "Jamaica's only farmstead cheesemaker," creating varieties like chili pepper and garlic herb cheese on-site.

These dairy microenterprises provide options for those who want to support local Jamaican food businesses and purchase cheeses made completely within Jamaica.

However, Tastee remains the most popular and beloved Jamaican cheese brand by a large margin.


Is Jamaican cheese actually from Jamaica?

The famous Tastee "Jamaican" Cheese relies on imported New Zealand cheddar. But the final product is processed and packaged in Jamaica. Smaller local brands are starting to offer cheeses made completely in Jamaica as an alternative.

Does Jamaican cheese need to be refrigerated?

No. The canned packaging of brands like Tastee allow it to be stored without refrigeration before opening. Refrigeration will extend the shelf life after opening.

Is Jamaican cheese healthy?

In moderation, Tastee and similar cheeses provide nutrients like protein and calcium. But the high sodium content and preservatives mean it should not be consumed excessively.

What dishes use Jamaican cheese?

Common pairings include Jamaican spiced bun, starchy vegetables, breads, biscuits and crackers. It is also used as a star ingredient in sandwiches and dishes like jerk cheese.


While many assume it comes straight from Jamaica, the iconic Tastee Cheese relies on imported New Zealand cheddar cheese to create its signature tangy, creamy flavor. Through decades of skilled Jamaican manufacturing and marketing, it has become an integral part of local cuisine and culture.

Smaller Jamaican cheese companies are now starting to provide options made completely on the island. But Tastee remains the definitive and beloved Jamaican cheese product found in pantries and Easter baskets worldwide.

AGAH Productions
AGAH Productions