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
I stand with @chrissyteigen on Nutella.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Why on earth would you take a risk on ANOTHER Nordic cheese when the first one went so disastrously?”
Full disclosure: this blog is not chronological and I actually tried bread cheese way beforegjetost. And yes, if I had let gjetost sour my view of all Scandanavian dairy, I probably wouldn’t have had the pleasure. But if you think I would let one bad experience prevent me from spending hard-earned money on food that has an extremely high risk of being terrible, you obviously don’t get the point of this blog.
Bread cheese is great. Wikipedia tells me it is from Finland and actually called Leipäjuusto, or “Finnish squeaky cheese.” I’m gonna just go ahead and keep calling it bread cheese, because that name evokes images of my two favorite things: bread and cheese. It is in the family of “non-melting” cheeses like halloumi and paneer. Much like halloumi and paneer, it is awesome.
Bread cheese is not that expensive on the cheese spectrum, but at ~$8 a slab it is a little too pricey for me to buy as a regular cheese snack. Some Finnish versions are made from reindeer milk (!!!) and I would easily pay twice as much to try those, but the kind I got is from boring Wisconsin and made from cow’s milk, so no.
The process of making bread cheese involves a toasting step, and as a result it has these delicious-looking browned spots all over it:
I basically can’t look at a block of cheese with toasted brown spots all over it and not buy it, so here we are.
The texture is pretty dry and chewy. Wikipedia says that the people of Finland would make this stuff for multi-year storage. This will be good information to have when my wife is demanding that I decide which of my precious cheese scraps to sacrifice in the weekly fridge purge. And yes, it does squeak when you bite into it, which I guess is cool, but we have already established that I don’t really care about that kind of thing.
The flavor is highly reminiscent of halloumi. If you haven’t tried halloumi (you should) it is basically an extremely salty mozzarella that you can fry in a pan. Because it’s extra salty and extra dry, I want to describe bread cheese as the beef jerky of cheese. However, I don’t want you to go thinking it is as chewy as beef jerky, because it is not. It still tastes and feels like cheese.
I am also completely fascinated by non-melting cheeses, so I decided to see what would happen if I microwaved a chunk for 10 seconds.
Here it is before:
Here it is after:
Holy crap. It sizzled like crazy and turned into a soft, airy nugget that tasted, looked and smelled like the browned top of an extra-cheese pizza (aka Heaven). I highly recommend doing this.
As for other methods of serving, Wikipedia also tells me it is good with sweet stuff, and can also be served as either a side dish with, or in (!!!) coffee. This is a wonderful coincidence, because I was also recently made aware that there are people out there putting butter in coffee and claiming that it tastes good and won’t kill you instantly. I am going to save the bread cheese/coffee experiment for a future “Weird Coffee” post, which will also conveniently give me an excuse to buy more bread cheese.
The Ez Factor:
Ezra took this cheese and ran with it. Meaning, he literally picked it up and ran away to another room to eat it. This is not normal behavior for him, and I’m assuming it means that not only did he like it, he was also paranoid that I would suddenly decide I enjoy eating cheese off of the floor and steal it back from him. Unlikely.
Now that I am in the midst of my personal popcorn renaissance, it has recently become my go-to dessert. I tend to go for kettle corn. I have a penchant for kettle corn, thanks in part to San Diego Padres games in the 1990s and in part to the fact that before my teeth were fixed, the only way I could safely approach popcorn was the Kettle Corn flavored Popcorners they serve on JetBlue flights. Today I can admit that Popcorners, while a special and important part of my life, are not popcorn at all. Popcorners will be the subject of about 6 other separate posts, but we will not mention them again here.
The great thing about popcorn that happened sometime between 2007 and 2014 is that you don’t even have to pop it anymore! Here is the popcorn section at Wegmans:
Overwhelming, no? Do they even sell unpopped popcorn anymore? I don’t know! I don’t care! America is great.
The all-around best kettle corn is probably Trader Joe’s. Two varieties, light and regular, both delicious. Buy them, they are great. I haven’t been to Trader Joe’s in months so I don’t have a photo. Do you really need a photo? It’s pastel pink (regular) and blue (lite) bags with Victorian-era drawings on them. You’ll figure it out.
In the normal retail world, there are two good kettle corns: Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop and the frou frou one with pink himalayan sea salt and coconut oil. I don’t remember the name but it’s right under the blue and yellow boxes in the above pic. It has a pink Buddha on it. Buddha Something Popcorn.
Angie’s Boom Chicka Pop is pretty good, not too sweet, zero grease, ONLY 20 GRAMS OF CARBS PER 3.5 CUPS. Put all 3.5 cups in my mouth. It is not as sweet as Trader Joe’s. I don’t like sweet a whole lot, so I like that.
The Buddha one is a little oversugared to the point of being Cracker-Jacky.Way too sweet for my tastes. I guess the Wegmans gods heard me complaining about that, because now they don’t carry it anymore. However, the plain Buddah stuff is coated with coconut oil, so it has that really satisfying movie-theater-popcorn mouth feel. It can easily be lightly kettle-fied with a light sprinkle of sugar.
With all of that background out of the way, we finally get to the point of this post: Angie’s Pumpkin Spice Popcorn:
A gorgeous endcap and I trust Angie. Angie gives me great, non-greasy, lightly-sweetened kettle corn. Angie is my homegirl. But is she, really? Let’s look more closely at the bag. See that?
It says “Holidrizzle.” Holidrizzle, my nizzle. Do you know what that means? DO YOU KNOW WHAT HOLIDRIZZLE MEANS?
Holidrizzle means that THIS POPCORN IS FROSTED. FROSTED. THERE IS A DRIZZLE OF FROSTING ON THIS POPCORN. LOOK CLOSELY AGAIN AT THE POPCORN IN THIS PICTURE. THIS POPCORN HAS 40 GRAMS OF CARBS PER 3 CUPS. THIS POPCORN IS CAKE.
Had I realized that this popcorn had FROSTING on it, I never would have bought it. But I did, and now I can never stop buying it. And before you can say “oh but it’s seasonal pumpkin spice, it’ll be gone soon enough” it’s called “Holidrizzle” and I know where this story is going.
The take-home point here is that this pumpkin spice popcorn is one of the best things I have ever eaten, and that kettle corn is a slippery, slippery slope. Buy this popcorn, don’t buy this popcorn, I don’t care. Just know what you are getting yourself into.
Round two of Lay’s Great Potato Chip Experiment is now upon us. Thankfully these reviews are fresher in my memory:
Mango Salsa: These were basically a mango-infused play on a BBQ-flavored chip. Most people who aren’t total weirdos like BBQ-flavored chips, so what’s not to like here?
Wasabi Ginger: THESE ARE LIKE IF YOU TAKE ONE DELICIOUS THING LIKE SUSHI AND COMBINE IT WITH ANOTHER DELICIOUS THING LIKE POTATO CHIPS AND IT COMES OUT TASTING LIKE SOMETHING MORE DELICIOUS THAN YOU COULD EVER HAVE IMAGINED.
Cappuccino: THESE ARE LIKE IF YOU TAKE ONE DELICIOUS THING LIKE COFFEE AND COMBINE IT WITH ANOTHER DELICIOUS THING LIKE POTATO CHIPS AND IT COMES OUT TASTING LIKE DIRT.
Bacon Cheddar: Oh hell no. Don’t wanna try ‘em, not gonna try ’em. Fool me once, shame on Cheesy Garlic Bread potato chips. Fool me twice, shame on me for buying a full-sized bag of those fucking cappuccino chips what was I thinking?
It has been way too long since I sampled the O.G. three Lays Million Dollar Flavors chips. I have a more detailed recollection of having scoured multiple CVSs and 7-11s in a search for snack sized bags of these guys than I do of actually eating the chips. That said, here are my recollections:
Chicken and Waffles: I’m pretty sure these just tasted like maple syrup. It was good, but why even bring chicken into the equation? It gave the whole thing a weird Chicken-in-a-Biskit vibe that I’m sure grossed a lot of people out. This was a major strategic blunder that basically cost us a lifetime of tasty maple syrup flavored potato chips.
Sriracha: I recall liking these a lot but I honestly don’t even remember how spicy they were. I’m pretty sure I thought these were going to be the winner.
Cheesy Garlic Bread: Artificial cheese flavor is indistinguishable from artificial sour cream flavor. Artificial garlic flavor is indistinguishable from artificial onion flavor. Surprise surprise, these chips won.
Wegman’s carries these in three varieties (chive being a recent addition). The Yancey’s website says there are actually five varieties so I guess Wegman’s is holding out on us or something. They are only $3ish a bag, require no cutting utensils, and last for many days. All in all, the plain ones (AND ONLY THE PLAIN ONES) are a very good and worthy cheese investment. I buy them weekly.
Regular: Delicious. Salty, chewy and smooth. Only once have they had the authentic squeakiness of a “fresh” cheese curd but news flash they are not fresh they came to Massachusetts from New York and also, who gives a shit?
Chive: Do you eat delicious cheese and think “This cheese is great, and all, but I really wish it tasted like it was stored open in the fridge right next to an onion”? Well, HAVE I GOT A CHEESE FOR YOU!
Buffalo: Inedible. Seriously too hot. Raging flaming hellfire, and not in a way that is at all pleasant or palatable. My wife is a huge fan of Yancey’s regular Buffalo cheese, and so I bought these for her. I pulled them off the shelf and tossed them in the cart thinking “Damn, I am an all-around terrific, thoughtful wife.” Three curds in, she was done. She loves things far spicer than I can even pretend to tolerate, so of course the next logical step would be for me to try one. I can’t truly recognize a bad decision until I’m fully immersed in it.
The Ez Factor:
Regular: Ezra loves the regular curds. It is possible that he could love them more than string cheese, if he were capable of evaluating two things comparatively (he is not, he is a cat).
Chive: Ezra does not care for the chive curds. His allotment went fully uneaten.
Buffalo: We do our best to not harm animals in the creation of this blog, so Ezra was not permitted to sample the Buffalo curds.