It’s November, time for the completely subjective, overly opinionated, highly unprofessional annual chazzer-fest known as the JTNews Hanukkah kosher food-tasting event.
The annual “koshies” unwrap and devour about four grocery stores’ worth of interesting, kosher-certified, snackable products. This year, samples came from Whole Foods Market (Westlake), Trader Joe’s (Issaquah), Albertsons (Mercer Island) and QFC (Mercer Island). (Be advised that while every product is marked as kosher, some hechshers may not be recommended by the Seattle Va’ad HaRabanim.)
As usual, we’ve come up with a handful of winners, a few losers and a smattering of curious new finds. Feel free to tear this page out of the paper, laminate it, and bring it to the grocery store with you.
HaOlam goat cheese with Mama Lil’s peppers, Whole Foods capers and Trader Joe’s quinoa tortilla chips.
Ask me about the state of kosher-certified cheese any given day and expect a diatribe about flavorless yellow rubber or buckets of bland “parmesan,” which is actually a chem-lab combo of cellulose and enzymes.
(Did you know the last and only kosher authentic Parmesan factory closed? Now there is no kosher Parmesan cheese in the entire world.)
Thankfully, kosher cheese is starting to get with the program, and three — count ’em, three — cheeses made it into the winner’s circle this year. Kudos to Trader Joe’s Israeli sheep’s milk feta cheese, Sierra Nevada Cheese Co. Monterrey Jacques raw milk goat cheddar, and the very special Beechers Kosher Flagship cheddar. Beechers, in particular, we love, love, love you!
TJ’s feta ($8.31) is a perfect go-to cheese. Alice said, “I buy this for home — great for everyday” and Lynn called it “smooth and spicy!” The Sierra Nevada Cheese Co., out of California, is one I’ve been very happy with of late (they also carry a delicious capra Bianca, a feta, and a swath of flavored cheddars). Their artisan cheeses use local milk and are free of weird ingredients, and the small company uses sustainable practices. Sierra Nevada cheeses also have huge price tags: This Monterrey Jacques put us back $12.99 at Whole Foods. But Joel thought it was worth it: “They took a boring cheese from the dairy case and made it taste good.”
Local company Beechers has a kosher version of its Flagship cheddar ($11.21, QFC), which should make kosher locavores smile. Gigi hardly contained her enthusiasm: “Local! Wonderful Pike Place Market item to pair with local apple or pair — or maybe oranges or avocado.” Joel said, “it has just the right amount of sharp” and Trish found it “amazing, local, fresh.”
What better way to offset all that salt than with chocolate? This year, we had enough chocolate-covered goodies from Trader Joe’s to create a category deemed, well, “chocolate-covered things.” Their chocolate peanut butter pretzels ($3.29), pomegranate seeds ($2.99), espresso beans ($4.49), powerberries ($3.49) and edamame ($3.49) all met good reviews, but the powerberries get the trophy. What’s a powerberry? No, it’s not a new Monsanto hybrid fruit, but rather an açai, pomegranate, cranberry and blueberry juice emulsion “dipped” in dark chocolate. Cheryl said she “loves the tart and sweet combo!” Really, with these little antioxidant nuggets, do you need to eat anything else?
Let’s just say you do. From the category of “pickled things” come Mama Lil’s Kick Butt Peppers ($7.99, Whole Foods) and Bubbie’s pickles ($6.39, QFC). Karen found the peppers “delectable” and Roberta said they “taste just like Budapest.” I’m not sure what that means, but I like it. As for Bubbie’s pickles, Nicole wrote, “Delicious! I don’t like super spicy but it had just the right amount of kick to it.”
Now, a few honorable mentions. Trader Joe’s wasabi almonds ($4.99) had everyone kvelling: “Very nice — clean bright wasabi flavor — great cocktail snackie,” said Michael. The almonds have just enough wasabi to give the almonds a kick without dumping your sinuses.
Salmon made a comeback this year. The Spence & Co. Ltd. farmed Nova lox ($8.49, Whole Foods) was described as buttery and not too salty; Trader Joe’s hot smoked wild salmon ($9.71) came in with just the right amount of flavor.
“Well done,” said Michelle. “Not overcooked. Perfectly seasoned and smoked.”
Finally, in the bakery department, Trader Joe’s mini orange cranberry scones ($3.99) won everyone over. “Orange and cranberry create a great taste, flavor bursts in your mouth — not dry,” said Sara. Cougar Mountain oatmeal raisin cookie dough ($4.99, Albertsons) went over well, even after we baked them in the shape of “JT.” “Delish!” exclaimed Cheryl. “Has a cinnamon babka taste.”
We’re nice people. We don’t like to put things down, and we especially don’t like putting down a nice big bite of food. But in the name of journalistic integrity, we gave these three items a big thumbs down.
Shoppers’ Value cheese curls ($1.67, Albertsons). Does anyone, besides 14-year-old boys, seriously eat orange powdered cheesy curls anymore? How about with MSG? Apparently so, because Shoppers’ Value keeps making them. While they are a throwback to the carefree Cheetos days of the early ’90s, certain things have to stay in the vault, along with my old hair crimper and neon turquoise spandex pedal-pushers. And did I say they contain MSG?
While Trader Joe’s products swept the koshies this year, we had to break out the slide trombone for one item, Trader Joe’s Contemplates Inner Peas ($1.29). It’s a pity, really, because crunchy baked peas seem like a great idea. “I imagine space food to taste like this,” said Michelle. However, Joel says his kids love them, so all is not lost.
Finally, Hod Sharon has some prepared salami sticks ($5.99, Albertsons) that did not go over well. Michael said of the turkey salami, “No flavor — pasty texture, for people who don’t like eating or need to diet, perfect!” And of the Mexican salami, he claimed, “barely even food.”
“Why bother?” asked Alice.
Trader Joe’s yogurt cookie stars
Each year we’re excited to find new tasty and interesting kosher treats. Last year it was bacon-flavored popcorn. This year we were pleased with Sweet and Sara’s vegan coconut marshmallows ($5.69, Whole Foods). “Tasty! Better than normal marshmallows,” Kathleen raved.
Trader Joe’s yogurt cookie stars ($3.99) — bite-sized, star-shaped cookies covered in yogurt — have addiction potential and are vaguely reminiscent in flavor of Flintstones vitamins. Overall, they met good reception. “Crispy and nice fruit flavor, good with tea,” said Becky.
We were also happy to discover Trader Joe’s quinoa tortilla chips ($2.69) and Whole Foods’ garlic-scallion dip ($2.99), and we’re petitioning for Washington State to allow them to get married.
Alas, every year we end up with a handful of raw-vegan items that no one but a raw vegan can truly appreciate. The Go Raw masala chai super cookies ($4.99, QFC) got reviews like “taste like soap” and “still chewing,” and the Go Raw chocolate truffles ($5.99, QFC) got a minus-1 and a sad face from Trish. However, I found the Go Raw masala chai super cookies to be not bad. Who doesn’t like a little sprouted organic sesame seed in her cookie pellets? I did once spend a week on a silent raw food farm, though, so if you’re on a normal diet spectrum, don’t listen to me.
There you have it, folks: The 2012 JTNews koshies. But don’t take it from us, go eat it all yourselves.