Making maple something rice pudding, Ina Garten just called Maker’s Mark “reeeally good bourbon.” I’d dial back on the E’s there, I.G.
This is less of a review, and more of an ode. An ode to the cheese scraps bin at Whole Foods. If you like cheese, and you are not aware of the cheese scraps bin at Whole Foods, you need to be. Now, spare me the “Whole Paycheck” snark.
Actually, you know what? You had to go there with the “Whole Paycheck,” didn’t you? Let’s go. U-turn. Change of plans. This is now a review of Whole Foods.
Whole Foods is awesome. For reference, my wife and I are former grad students and sometimes-couponers who operate on a strict weekly grocery budget. We also love food and lots of it so that weekly budget is possibly larger than your average weekly grocery budget, but whatevs. We have a tendency to get into food ruts, so we try to cycle through Trader Joes, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Costco, and sprinkle in the occasional Peapod delivery or Shaw’s run for pantry staples. Stick to one till we get sick of it, move on to the next. Works well for us.
Everyone knows why people love Trader Joe’s. Wegmans has achieved cult-like status in the Northeast (still not 100% sold on that one). Costco is Costco. They all have their pluses and minuses. But why is everyone always hating on Whole Foods?
Here are the areas in which Whole Foods kicks ass:
- Vegetables. In order to achieve the simultaneous goals of (1) eating a lot of food and (2) making at least a half-assed attempt at either maintaining or losing weight, we eat massive amounts of vegetables, and there is NO PLACE ON EARTH WITH BETTER VEGETABLES THAN WHOLE FOODS. With the exception of Trader Joes, they are within ~30 cents a pound of everywhere else that we shop, and they are hands-down, across-the-board more flavorful and delicious. When Whole Foods vegetables are on sale, they are way cheaper than most of the other places we shop and I almost feel like I am stealing something because of the quality.
- Meat. We bought meat exclusively at Whole Foods for about a year after watching Food, Inc. I still check the flyer weekly to see if our favorite meat & seafood items are on sale (grass-fed Au Poivre burgers and Bell & Evans coconut-crusted free range chicken, be still my heart). They give you a little number to indicate how much your animal was tortured before slaughter, and I like that. And the less-tortured meat just tastes better. Way, way better. It’s not psychological, it’s reality. Deal with it.
- The Cheese Scraps Bin. In case this hasn’t yet been made abundantly clear, I freaking love cheese. I love smelling cheese, I love tasting cheese, I love looking at cheese. I love heating up cheese and seeing what happens. I love sharing a small cheese course with my cat after dinner. Going to Whole Foods and seeing a fully stocked cheese scraps bin gives me a giddiness on par with Christmas freaking morning. Within the confines of this magical bin, you can try whatever the hell cheese you want for under $5/piece, usually under $3/piece, sometimes under $2/piece, are you kidding me?!?! And you never have to throw any moldy cheese away because the Whole Foods Cheese Scrap is the One True Appropriate Weekly Cheese Quantity for a 33-year-old woman and her 10-lb cat.
- Hamentaschen. Unfortunately I am not Jewish, but thanks to Whole Foods, Purim can still be my second Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Here are the areas in which Whole Foods doesn’t necessarily stand out amongst the pack:
- Prices. Yes, fine, Whole Foods is slightly more expensive than other stores. But I have been paying a lot of attention to this for a couple of years now, and the old chestnut “you get what you pay for” most definitely applies. So what if we spend a couple dollars per pound less on lettuce at Wegmans or Costco? We have to throw it out by Wednesday because by then it is a minefield of random disintegrated rotten mush-leaves. And then what happens? One of us has to stop at Whole Foods after work to buy replacement lettuce. Mmm hmm. Same goes for carrots. Wegmans baby carrots are slime-balls midweek. Avocados? Ok Costco wins here, their avocados are wonderful… but so are Whole Foods avocados! Wegmans and Trader Joe’s avocados are cheaper, sure, but they look like deflated footballs (in both physical form and interior color) by the time they finally ripen. In fact, the only place that can compete with Whole Foods on vegetables (or, more accurately, vegetablestheymightcarrybutonlyifyouaresolucky) is Trader Joe’s. And the Trader Joe’s Tradeoff is that for better or worse, you are also buying all of the rest of your groceries at Trader Joe’s. Your lettuce is wilting in a sealed plastic bag, their suppliers are hush-hush-secret so you have no idea where the fuck that chicken came from, they are still out of limes and no, they don’t carry that kind of vinegar* so don’t bother asking.
- Hot bar and prepared foods. Don’t buy that shit. It’s patently mediocre.**
Lastly, here are the areas in which Whole Foods sucks:
- Low-carb-bread-slash-wrap-style-thing options. Don’t really exist at Whole Foods. At least not ones that taste good. Makes my lunches difficult. Kind of a bummer.
- Kettle Corn. They have awful, nightmarish store-brand kettle corn. Seriously, it’s just the worst.
- That’s about it.
So there you have it. If my family can stay within the exact same grocery budget*** shopping at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Wegmans (not at Costco. Never at Costco.), so can you. Whole Foods haters need to step off.
Now that you know how I feel, either refrain from insulting Whole Foods in my presence or prepare to suffer the consequences.****
* PLAIN REGULAR WHITE VINEGAR
** Exceptions: potato salad, sesame tofu, roasted butternut squash with cranberries. Ok so maybe it’s not “patently” mediocre, but most of it does not taste as good as it looks.
*** Sales flyer, coupons and cheese scraps. The only reason this is possible is sales flyer, coupons and cheese scraps.
**** There are no consequences. I never say a single goddamn word when people insult Whole Foods in my presence. I just glower in silence and craft passive-aggressive blog posts in my brain.
I am here to warn you about Manteche.
What is Manteche?
Don’t ask Wikipedia.
No worries. I’ll tell you what Manteche is.
Manteche is a disastrous cheese chimera crafted by the brain trust at BelGioioso Cheese Inc. in Denmark, Wisconsin. It has been on display as the sole cheese in the wine shop at Wegmans for about a month, and I have been practically dreaming about it since I looked more closely and read exactly what it consists of:
Here is a more detailed schematic:
Yes. Manteche is provolone cheese. And butter. How could we possibly go wrong?
Here is what iGourmet has to say about Manteche. There are four lies hidden in this description, can you find them?
#1: “is a unique cheese”
As a cheese, it is provolone, i.e. a fairly unexciting sandwich cheese. As a butter, it is unsalted butter, i.e. the most boring and pointless form of butter. Two different dorks in a room does not a quirky party make.
#2: “The Provolone and butter flavors pull from each other over time.”
I don’t even know what this means but I fell for it anyways. First of all, as you can sort of make out from the picture the only pulling these two sections are doing is AWAY from each other, I could barely hold them together when I was trying to eat the cheese. Second, I tasted the touching parts and the non touching parts of this stupid thing separately and the provolone was provolone and the butter was butter at every location, sorry but no.
#3: “BUTTER FILLED BURRATA”
JUST STOP, BELGIOIOSO. DON’T EVER MENTION BURRATA IN THE SAME BREATH AS THIS SHIT AGAIN, BELGIOIOSO. WE ARE IN A FIGHT, BELGIOIOSO.
#4: “is a tangier cheese”
This was quite possibly the blandest provolone I have ever tasted PLUS UNSALTED BUTTER WHAT ARE YOU EVEN TALKING ABOUT, BELGIOIOSO?
Despite all the above LIES I am still pretty gullible and thus 100% willing to accept that manteche, when obtained in “the Basilicata or Calabria regions of Italy,” might be a delectable and tangy treat. But don’t bother with this one stateside.
The Ez Factor:
He ate the cheese. Skipped the butter. (Danjumbo ate the butter.)
Today’s topic is smoked cheeses. A fun fact about my household is that neither my wife nor I can so much as look at smoked cheese without compulsively saying “Is cheese. Smokey cheese.” This stems from an incident long before we were married involving a bitchy Albertson’s checker and her caseophile bagger:
(To paint the full mental picture, this bagger had a voice, accent and overall demeanor that could best be described as “Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite”)
Bitch Checker: You can’t use this coupon.
Me: Why not?
Bitch Checker: This coupon is for cheese. You didn’t buy cheese.
Me: Yes, I did buy cheese.
Bagger: She did ::rummages through bags, produces braid of smoked mozzarella::see?
Bitch Checker: That’s not cheese.
Me: It’s mozzarella. Mozzarella is cheese.
Bitch Checker: (incredulous) That’s cheese?
Bagger: Is cheese. Smokey cheese.
Another fun fact is that I don’t really like smoked cheeses all that much. But I know I am in the minority here and there are some very interesting-looking smoked cheeses on the shelves these days, so let’s give it a shot!
Grafton Village Maple Smoked Cheddar
OK, you know what? Screw this cheese. It’s not bad or anything, but this cheese tastes like maple in the same way “applewood smoked bacon” tastes like apples, and by that I mean: this cheese does not taste like maple. Maybe I should have read more closely and I suppose I should have known better, but actually, can we stop manipulatively labeling smoked food like this? Can we really taste the difference between the particulate remnants of different types of wood? Just call it “smoked cheddar” and be done with it. Stop pandering to our subconscious pancake brains. This cheese tastes like cheddar, but smoked. Next.
Yancey’s Fancy Smoked Gouda with Bacon
Ah Yancey, we meet again. For those of you not familiar, Yancey’s Fancy is the Kettle Chips of cheese. I mean look at these flavors (and yes, it is now my life’s mission to find the maple cheddar, the maple bacon cheddar, and the strawberry chardonnay cheddar. And all the rest of the cheddars). As I alluded to before, I am really not a fan of smoked gouda, from concept to flavor. It’s basically ruining a perfectly good gouda. You take a nice, fresh cheese that ages to produce rich nutty undertones and satisfying little salt crystals of awesomeness and then you turn it into something that tastes like barbecued cream cheese with the texture of Velveeta’s backwoods cousin. No thanks. I thought the bacon could help out here, but it was not meant to be. BUT, if you are like 90% of the world’s population and love smoked gouda, you will probably love this cheese because it is really smoked gouda-ey, extra creamy, and it has bacon.
I also should mention that unlike most of the ill-fated purchases on this blog, neither of these cheeses were really a waste of money because my wife thinks they are both terrific.
The Ez Factor:
Maple Smoked Cheddar: Ezra can’t read, so the lucky bastard doesn’t know what it feels like to suffer the unfulfilled promise of maple. He ate this cheese, but didn’t push for more.
Yancey’s Fancy Smoked Gouda with Bacon: After noticing that Ezra wasn’t overtly jazzed about his first taste of smoked cheddar, I did a side-by-side test: 4 pieces of maple smoked cheddar, 4 pieces of Yancey’s smoked gouda. He ate all of the cheddar, tasted the gouda, and then WALKED AWAY leaving three untouched pieces of smoked gouda cheese with bacon in it – this is almost completely unheard of. Then Danjumbo came over and promptly ate them, which is also almost completely unheard of (I feel like I should explain that in stark contrast to Ezra, the only human foods Danjumbo aggressively tries to eat are salami and doughnuts). I’m not sure what it means that my wife’s cat has almost the exact same taste in cheese as me while my cat has almost the exact same taste in cheese as my wife, but I’ll get back to you when I figure it out.
Something amazing happened last night that reminded me of how this blog started. I’m not talking about a few weeks ago, when I clumsily set up this Tumblr and kept posting things under the wrong account. I’m not talking about last year when I bought that first bag of Lays Chicken and Waffles potato chips. I’m talking way back in the day. Thirty years ago, in fact. Sit back and let me tell you the story of my earliest documented Horrible Food Decision.
Actually, I’ll let my Mom jump in to tell the tale:
You were next door at the Regans’ “helping” Judy Regan and her daughter (your friend) make cranberry bread. You were only 4 or 5. She described that she had the ingredients laid out – including a big bowl of fresh cranberries. Before she could stop you, you decided to take a handful of cranberries (berries, right? Yummy!) and pop them in your mouth. She just described a look of shock, with big eyes, and horror as you started to chew those hard, sour berries. I suppose you spit them out, I don’t know, but we got a chuckle out of it afterwards. (Well, maybe not you.)
Fast-forward thirty years. It happened again.
I love Craisins. I love Trader Joe’s unsweetened freeze dried fruit. How could this be at all unpleasant? This might just be four-year-old me speaking, but four-year-old me is here to tell you: these things are disgusting. Do not buy them. And before you ask “You didn’t eat those Trader Joe’s freeze dried cranberries as a snack, did you?” don’t bother, because my Mom already did:
This exchange followed (emphasis mine). Do you even READ my blog, Mom?
Me: wait, are the freeze dried cranberries not intended to be a snack?
Mom: I would think anyone who had eaten a fistful of unsweetened fresh cranberries would know better than to “snack” on them. I would think they would be used as an ingredient in recipes – like stuffing with cranberries – things like that.
Me: here is what traderjoes.com has to say: “You can enjoy them as a crunchy snack, in a smoothie, as a yogurt topper, cereal addition, for baking, or rehydrate them in water (one to two minutes) to make them slice-able.”
Mom: I could see adding them to a snack mix of nuts, pumpkin seeds, etc.
Mom: Now I’ve got to try them. I’m going to try them in the snack mix I just described.
My work here is done.
Update: In fairness to my Mom, I should point out that the gchat above is edited, and she actually wants to try these awful things because I also mentioned to her that my wife loves them. My wife also loves unripe peaches and..well….
Wife: ha. i like those things
Me: so gross
Wife: crunchy and tart! it’s like built in portion control because you can only eat so many
Me: if you can say that about a food, it is not a good food