Friday, April 16, 2021

Happy Farms Mozzarella String Cheese (Aldi)

An affordably-delicious snack for all ages.

There are foods that everyone seems to have in their lunches in elementary school, and chief among them is probably string cheese. I don't know whose idea it was to make cheese into a peel-able pillar, but more power to them, because it seems to be the food that defies generations and continues to be popular, even as technology improves and makes other fads obsolete. Like many things that youngsters enjoy (cable television, R-rated movies), I was deprived of string cheese as a child. There were no reasons in particular, besides the simple notion that I just never really bothered my mom to buy any. And even though I vaguely remember trying it (and liked it) as a youngster, it apparently wasn't enough for me to request my mom constantly keeping some on hand.

But thanks to having a childish wife (which is used as a term of endearment here) - and then an actual child - string cheese has finally made a more consistent appearance in my life as a thirtysomething! And of course, our trusted provider of the completely unnecessary snack, is Aldi, which offer 12 packs for the reasonable rate of $2.49 per pack. And my go-to kind has been perhaps the only cheese that I have loved since I was a child: mozzarella.

This story starts the same way as most do: we bought a package of these for our son, and I used my parental privileges to steal one for myself. I really can't remember the texture of most string cheeses, but I'd imagine this is pretty much the same right out of the pack: it's soft. I also can't compare the “stringiness” to others, but I'll admit to being a little off-put when I started pulling it apart, only to discover that it looks like a fraying rope. Really, is this what kids find so attractive about string cheese? I thought it pulled apart “cleaner” for some reason, and the only reason it was “string” cheese was because it could be peeled into sections, but it definitely lives up to its literal name.

Aside from that, it's pretty much mozzarella cheese, which is what you should be hoping for when you buy a mozzarella cheese product. I'm not sure the manufacturing process to make cheese stringy, but I'm wondering if it involves rather large quantities of salt, because this seems to be saltier than most regular mozzarella cheeses that I've had. It's not that super-noticeable, but it's definitely there. Other than that, though, it has a nice, mild flavor—maybe a little too mild—yet accurate for the kind of cheese that it is. The taste is close enough that I no longer have to eat shredded mozzarella, where I would risk spilling more all over the floor (or the kitchen sink) than I actually managed to get into my mouth.

It's really the perfect snack for those occasions when you want something to eat that you can also peel, but you're all out of bananas. We don't always keep these on hand (our tastes seem to vary from week to week), but it's one of those items that everyone in the family unanimously likes, so we get them more frequently than I ever have at any other point in my life. I guess considering I rarely got it as a kid, that's a statement that would apply by default, but still...it's good.

Overall: 8/10. It seems to be a little saltier than normal mozzarella, but other than that, this is a pretty tasty little snack. It has a nice, light cheese flavor, and peeling it is a breeze. The price is pretty solid at $3.09 for a 10 oz. package (of 12 individually-wrapped cheese sticks), giving you either a couple of weeks' worth of school lunches, or multiple days' worth of snacks at home. We don't always have these on hand, but considering it's one of the few products the whole family seems to enjoy, we have them more often than not.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

GUEST POST! Unbranded Unicorn Ice Cream Pints (Dollar Tree)

Want to hear our initial thoughts and impressions of this ice cream live, as it happened? Then have a listen to this episode of our radio show!

It ain't bad, and it's a blowout price for a pint of ice cream.

Once again, I’m not the foremost expert of the family when it comes to flavors of things named after mythical creatures, so I’m going to have my wife fill in the blanks on this one. Again, we already reviewed these on our radio show, so this review just functions as a text recap for those who would rather read than listen. Her words follow, starting...NOW!

It’s got good texture, nice and soft, the way an ice cream should be. It also tastes pretty good for what it is, although I also think the limitations of being a dollar store product hinder it from being anything more than that. It’s just a blue ice cream flavored like cake with sprinkles and little pockets of icing. I would have liked it more if it had actual pieces of cake in there, but that is probably impossible at this price point. Again, it’s good for being a dollar, but no one is ever going to confuse this with an actual premium brand. There’s just not enough there. Oh, and the blue stains your mouth for hours after eating it. I understand if it did that a little bit - and I understand that it might make it even more fun for children - but it’s like they poured an entire bottle of blue food coloring into every pint. I wish they would have toned that down a little bit more, too.

I will say that the value in the ice creams aren't quite as good as the sherbet; you can get full 48 oz. cartons of ice creams for around $2 at places like Aldi and Walmart, at least here in the Midwest (it would take 3 pints and $3 to reach 42 oz., still leaving you 6 oz. short). However, it's a pretty solid price for a pint, which are usually more expensive (per ounce) to get you into buying the larger containers. Like everything else, it all comes down to personal preference. I kind of like the size, since it mostly discourages waste...not that ice cream typically goes to waste in our house, but still. And the pints are definitely a more compact size than the cartons, which take up more freezer space. At any rate, given the low cost, it’s certainly worth a try. And you might want to act fast on that, considering I’m sure they’ll be pretty much consistently sold out all throughout summer.

Overall: 6/10. This one isn’t as much of a cut-and-dry success as the orange sherbet, but it’s definitely better than most of the other varieties. The blue-colored ice cream aggressively sticks to everything (the insides of your mouth will be painted dark blue for hours), and my wife would have liked to have seen actual cake pieces (instead of just icing and sprinkles blended in throughout), but for a dollar, she was impressed with the overall taste. Value isn’t as great as the sherbet (would cost $3 to buy 42 oz. worth of ice cream, which is 6 oz. less than the standard 48 oz. carton size; here in the Midwest, we can get 48 oz. cartons for around $2 at Walmart and Aldi), but it’s still very reasonable. Worth a try if you’re into it, and great as a summertime treat for the kids, but it probably won’t win over any non-fans of unicorn products.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Great Value Cookies and Cream Ice Cream (Walmart)

Unexpectedly fantastic.

I’m not going to launch into another long-winded intro about why I was shopping at Walmart, and why I rarely shop there, despite their reputation as providers of budget-minded products, much like the ones I review for a living (“Living”? Ha! I wish). I already did that in a previous post, so let’s just jump right into it for once, shall we?

I really didn’t know what to expect when I grabbed a carton of Walmart’s cookies and cream ice cream, which is released under their “Great Value” brand name; this is because I don't recall ever having Walmart ice cream of any kind before. I have to admit I was expecting something "cheapy"...maybe harder ice cream with only occasional cookie pieces throughout. To say that I didn't have high hopes would be...well, accurate. I mean, who has high hopes for anything from Walmart? Usually when you go there you just want something cheap and passable. 

I have to say that it’s good at making first impressions: this looks like a quality cookies and cream ice cream, with a good color, and loads of cookies evident just from a quick glance. However, as we all know, looks aren’t quite everything. There have been many instances of products being “top-heavy” to fool consumers - that is, items that put forth extra effort to mislead consumers by appearing to be full of something at first glance, only to quickly taper off. It’s very common in cheap candles, where the scent is overloaded so that when customers take a sniff in store, it smells strong, but when they actually go to burn it, the scent gets weaker and weaker.

Well, thankfully I can report that Great Value’s ice cream isn’t guilty of false promises: there are rather large cookie chunks all the way throughout, virtually guaranteeing that you won’t go more than a bite without sinking your teeth into delicious chocolate cookie morsels. They taste as you would expect: like the same kind found in chocolate sandwich cookies. Meanwhile, the ice cream itself is surprisingly rich and creamy, two qualities I wasn’t expecting to describe anything from Walmart.

It’s almost in the “churned” style, with a very soft cream that melts rather quickly. The positive side to this is that it can be eaten directly out of the freezer using a plastic spoon; that’s a claim not even many expensive brands can lay claim to. And speaking of price: a 48 oz. container comes in at just $1.97...that’s roughly on price with what you can expect to pay for Aldi’s “standard” ice creams, and, quite frankly, this flavor blows away their cookies and cream. I mean, it’s not even close. If that’s not the very definition of value, then I don’t know what is!

When all is said and done, this is one of the best cookies and cream ice creams I’ve ever had: factor in the price and that just makes it an almost required purchase for fans of this flavor. Pick it up: you won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 10/10. I feel wrong giving anything a perfect score, let alone something from Walmart, but in this case it’s well-deserved: this ice cream is damn near flawless. It’s rich, creamy, and so delectably soft that you can eat it straight out of the freezer with a plastic spoon...that’s not a claim even many expensive brands can live up to. And speaking of price, a half gallon tub is just $1.97, making it one of the cheaper store brands for ice cream. There are plenty of cookies spread throughout too, ensuring you rarely (if ever) go a bite without a mouthful of them. Maybe I just got lucky with a great batch, but it's almost good enough of a reason to go there more frequently. Almost.