Sunday, October 7, 2012

It's Pumpkininny! Nature's Nectar Sparkling Pumpkin Cider (Aldi)

Sparkling pumpkin cider? Hmm...interesting.
My wife and I actually stumbled on this at Aldi, simply because someone put it in the wrong space.  Since we were in a hurry, I don’t know that we would have seen it otherwise, but after a brief discussion, we decided to give it a shot, not really knowing what to expect.  After all, my only previous experience with pumpkin in liquid form was a six-pack of limited edition Woodchuck Pumpkin cider that we bought a couple years back, the first year they offered it.  We still have two bottles in our refrigerator, if that tells you what we thought of it.

The bottle is rather coolly designed, with a nifty little pop top that can be resecured to seal in freshness.  Honestly, it reminds me a lot of a wine bottle, and I’m wondering why more wine bottles don’t use this technology.  Instead of a cork, it’s a little piece made of plastic and rubber that fits right in the bottle top, and it’s secured shut by pushing down on a piece of metal, which is already attached to the bottleneck.  Not sure how well it keeps in freshness, as I’ve only had the bottle two days, but it’s pretty nifty.

After figuring out how to open it (a process that surprisingly only took us a minute), we immediately took to sniffing the liquid, and I think both of our hearts sank.  It smells rather disgusting; an unflattering mix of pumpkin, with a rather faint aroma of cinnamon and other spices.  After one whiff, we were already second-guessing our decision to buy it.  Nevertheless, we cast aside our reservations, and forced down a drink…

Maybe it just caught me at the right time, but it was much better than I expected.  Now, it’s nothing that I could drink all the time--I doubt I could even drink it twice in a year--but as a little fall-time treat, it’s definitely not bad.  Since it’s “sparkling”, there is obviously some carbonation in there, which I think gives it a little kick that would be otherwise missing in a flat cider.  There is the distinct taste of pumpkin, which threatens to take it into bitter territory, but it is evened out by the cinnamon “and other spices” (according to the label).  Personally, despite the label’s specific instructions to serve chilled, I actually thought it tasted better at room temperature, as to me, the spices seemed to come out more.  Chilled, it was a little stronger, and not quite as good, but that might just be a matter of personal preference.

As I sip it now, it does get real tiring real quick, but the ideas for such a beverage are already running through my head.  It would be interesting to try it heated, or perhaps in a hot cocoa.  Even though it’s carbonated, the carbonation isn’t very strong at all, and I think the fall flavors would work perfectly in such a drink.  Maybe adding a splash in a glass of Disaronno would be a rather interesting way to use it in alcohol.  Thanks to the spices, I really think there could be many applicable uses besides drinking it straight up.

In my last review for Belmont’s Pumpkin Supreme Pie, which under whelmed me, I mentioned that I would have been more satisfied if the pie had tried to be something different, and failed miserably.  This is something that certainly fits that frame of mind, yet the fact it doesn‘t fail at all is just the icing on the proverbial cake.  I wouldn’t doubt that pumpkin cider is widely available at supermarkets this time of year, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it, and at $1.99 for a 16.9 oz bottle (which, trust me, is more than enough to experiment with) it’s a pretty affordable addition to your fall-time beverage arsenal.

Overall: 6.5/10.  Its mix of spices and pumpkin get pretty old real quick, assuming you just sit and sip it, but as a mixer, the possibilities feel pretty endless.  There’s a nice blend of spices (including cinnamon), along with some apple juice (which I couldn’t really taste, as there‘s nothing sweet about this drink), and a noticeable flavor of pumpkin that really does give it a perfect fall-time feel.  It may not completely replace apple cider as your drink of choice for the season, but this is definitely something worth trying every now and again when you’re in the mood for something different.  The $1.99 price tag (for a glass, resealable 16.9 oz. bottle that looks even larger than that) represents some really good value, as well.  Definitely recommended for those that are in the mood for something outside of the norm for this time of year.

It's Pumpkininny! Belmont Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

Every bit as delicious as it looks.
I love pumpkin, and I love cheesecake, so when I saw this in the ad for my local Aldi store, I just knew I had to give it a shot.

Right out of the box, the cheesecake looks like a pretty standard cheesecake, aside from a brownish marbling throughout the top (the "swirl" in the title).  I was pretty surprised to discover that the cheesecake is pre-cut into eight generous slices, which is always nice, just to ensure that everyone gets equal slices.  It’s also helpful because you don’t end up with sloppy cuts, or chunks of cheesecake all over the place from a poor cut.  You literally just use a spatula (or your fingers), and it easily pulls right up out of the pan.  The cheesecake is rather, for lack of a better term, “sturdy”, so it holds together really well.  You don’t have to worry about it falling apart, which is a little thing that is magnified by the fact I’m pretty clumsy, and even I managed to plate it and eat it without making a mess.

The consistency is pretty spot on for a rather delicious cheesecake…it’s smooth and creamy as the fork runs through it.  If you haven’t noticed already, this dessert is comprised of two layers:  A small top layer, which looks (and smells) like straight-up cheesecake, and a light orange-ish bottom layer, which is obviously made up of pumpkin.  The consistency of both layers seems to be pretty even from a physical standpoint, as both are light and fluffy, and can easily be cut open with a fork or other utensil.

The taste is also pretty much exactly what you would imagine, which I can’t see being anything other than a really good thing.  Obviously, if you don’t like pumpkin, you are not going to like this.  Same thing if you don’t like cheesecake.  But if you like both, chances are great that you are going to absolutely love this:  Initially, the taste of cheesecake is front and center, but it gradually gives way to a pumpkin flavor that strongly resembles pumpkin pie.  The texture is also flawless, as the cheesecake literally melts in your mouth.  I’m not going to say it’s a perfect cheesecake--I’ve not traveled to New York, or ordered any from high-end restaurants--but as far as frozen, supermarket cheesecakes go, this is one that has to be tried.  The $8 price tag is both a very reasonable price for this type of dessert, and is even two dollars cheaper than other cheesecakes in the Belmont dessert line.

Overall: 9/10.  I can totally see this becoming yet another annual tradition in our household, just as Belmont’s own Candy Cane Pie (hyperbolic review coming later this year) has become.  It has a perfect consistency, which is saying quite a lot considering it’s frozen and from a supermarket, and the seamless blend of cheesecake and pumpkin flavors are almost mind-blowing, with both of them sharing time in the spotlight, but with neither one overpowering the other.  This is a dessert that almost begs you to savor every little morsel.  Of course, if you don’t like pumpkin, or you don’t like cheesecake, it’s pretty safe to say that you’re not going to like this.  But the opposite also holds true.  The $8 price tag is also very reasonable, as it’s $2 cheaper than other flavors in Belmont’s cheesecake line.  Definitely and wholeheartedly recommended.

It's Pumpkininny! Belmont Pumpkin Supreme Pie (Aldi)

It's a "supreme" waste of money, but that's about it...
On paper (or, more specifically, on its cardboard box), Belmont’s Pumpkin Supreme Pie sounds like a surefire success:  “Traditional pumpkin pie topped with a spiced pumpkin cream cheese layer, garnished with pecan pieces, caramel drizzle, and whipped topping.”  How the hell can this backfire?  Not only do you get a traditional pumpkin pie, but a layer of what is essentially cheesecake?  Pecans?  Wow, this has to be spectacular, right?  Especially after the brilliance that was their Pumpkin Cheesecake?

Well, first things first: There is nothing really outstanding about this pie.  While the picture on the box seems to insinuate that there is quite a bit of caramel drizzle and pecan pieces, I found the amount of both in the actual product to be quite lackluster.  Even the bites that did have some of each, it didn’t really seem to make it any richer, or any more extraordinary.  And the pecan pieces are so soft from being frozen (and thawed out) that there’s no satisfying crunch, or even any noticeable change in texture when taken with the pie.  So in other words, neither of those things really affect the overall flavor to the extent that one would expect them to.  And speaking of the flavor…let’s talk about it, shall we?

The actual “flavor” of the pie is good, in that it tastes just like a pumpkin pie.  Which is also simultaneously the main qualm I have with it, because, according to the packaging, I did not just buy a pumpkin pie.  I bought a “supreme” version of a pumpkin pie.  If I wanted a regular pumpkin pie, Aldi also sells those, but for half the price of this one.  I expected something mind-blowing, or very good…hell, I would have been really happy with a pie that tried to be something different, and failed miserably.  But instead I got a regular pie, with the slight addition of pecans and caramel drizzle, trying to be passed off as something unique and exciting.  Even the consistency of the top “cream cheese” layer doesn’t feel any different from that of the “traditional” layer, and although you can occasionally get the taste of pumpkin cheesecake in there somewhere, I thought it was overwhelmed by the traditional pumpkin layer.

This is all a shame, because both of these things are good on their own.  The pumpkin cheesecake, in fact, is quite extraordinary, while their traditional pumpkin pie is delicious, as well.  Unfortunately, some things just don’t need to be combined, and although on paper this probably sounded like something worth $7, the reality of the matter suggests that is not the case.  Not at all.

Overall: 5/10.  Like a pumpkin pie, only twice as expensive, Belmont’s Pumpkin “Supreme” Pie apparently boasts two different flavors in one (that of a traditional pie, and what is essentially a pumpkin cheesecake).  The problem is, the traditional pumpkin pie overwhelms the flavor of the lighter cheesecake.  The toppings, which consist of pecan pieces and a caramel drizzle, are much less prominent on the actual product as they are on its packaging, meaning these don’t really factor into the flavor as much as you would expect them to.  In other words, either stick to a traditional pumpkin pie, which is half the price of this one at your local Aldi store, or spend the extra dollar and get their excellent pumpkin cheesecake, which unlike this one, is well worth the money.