Saturday, February 8, 2020

Specially Selected Truffle Mac & Cheese Bites (Aldi)

Overwhelming.
I'm a fan of fried mac n' cheese, but those flavors usually don't translate very well to frozen varieties...case in point, Aldi's own Appetito's brand bites which, as you can tell from my review, leave a lot to be desired, despite an alluringly-affordable price tag.

Even though I look at the ads every week, I'm pretty sure Specially Selected's Truffle Macaroni and Cheese Balls snuck under my radar, until I happened to see them inside the freezer at Aldi during a quick shopping trip. They also offer a mushroom arancini variety, and while those would probably be good, my wife isn't too keen on mushrooms; and from the way I had to rummage through a couple layers of bags to find this truffle kind, it seems she's not the only one to feel that way. (I took that as a sign that I made the right choice.)

Prepwork is simple: toss these onto a baking sheet, and cook for 12 minutes at 425 degrees—that's it. There's no flipping required (though you probably could at the midway point), and the breaded spheres come out nice and hot, with the exterior getting enticingly crispy. A bag of eight medium-sized bites retails for $2.99, which is kind of high, but the texture certainly works in its favor: these could be served as an appetizer in a restaurant, where it would no doubt cost $8 or $9 for a similar-sized serving. Besides, you can usually expect a higher price for their "Specially Selected" line, which at least are made to look more premium than many of their other lines. At any rate, we were certainly eager to dig in.

In a word, this flavor is...intense. It starts off innocently enough, with the crunchy outer layer giving way to what you think is going to be a light cheddar flavor—until what I presume to be the “truffle” kicks in, offering up a complete garlic-style kick in the tastebuds. Seriously, my wife and I were caught completely off guard the first bite...it's like an assault in your mouth!

Once the shock dies down, and the flavor becomes expected...it's really not quite as great. It's almost too much flavor, and this is coming from someone who's typically a big fan of garlic flavor profiles. The truffle flavor overwhelms everything else to where it essentially becomes “truffle balls”, with the macaroni only providing texture, and little else. What makes this even more of a bummer, is that the taste before the truffle comes in and attempts to obliterate your tongue and surrounding areas, actually hints at something that could be good on its own. The cheese is a little light, but with a boost of some added cheeses rather than the overload that we get, it could have been a pretty tasty little treat.

Overall: 3.5/10. In a word, “overwhelming”, and not in a good way. They cook up nice and crisp in the oven, with an appealing crispy texture on the outside that gives way to a soft, creamy texture on the inside. But the flavor—which starts, innocently enough, with the mild taste of cheese—suddenly explodes into an excessively garlic-like taste that overwhelms everything, and forcefully becomes the center of attention. As a single-bite tapas at an upscale restaurant, something like this could work, as a powerful one-and-done statement; an assault on the tastebuds that's over as quickly as it began. But when there's eight or nine in a bag, once that initial shock wears off and the strong taste becomes expected, it quickly grows tiresome, and we both found ourselves unwilling to grab another one.

On a random note specifically for this product, but one that could work in a variety of different frozen products: That'd be neat if one or two of them tasted strong, with the remainder just tasting like normal mac and cheese bites. The juxtaposition between the strong ones, along with the “weaker” ones, could create an entirely unexpected flavor profile typically missing from boring frozen foods.