Cheese Club Shells and Cheese Cups (Aldi)

A stock image of Aldi's Cheese Club Shells and Cheese Cups
A pretty tasty knockoff.

Aldi always carries the cupped version of the typical noodled macaroni and cheese, and they also always carry the large boxes of the shells and cheese.  But they don't always carry a combination of the two, so when I laid eyes on this in an Aldi advertisement, I was chomping at the bit to go and get them.  I like their typical mac and cheese cups as an occasional snack, but the shells and cheese variant has always been my favorite, even dating back to when I had the national brands as a child (hey, I'll eat virtually anything on someone else's dime).

The cupped version is surprisingly similar to its single box counterpart, as each individual 2.39 oz. cup includes its own cheese sauce packet, rather than the cheese powder included with the regular noodles.  Here it's not such a big deal—since these are made to eat on the go, even the powdered versions don't require any additional ingredients—but I always prefer the taste of the sauce to the powders, even though both are probably equally heinous for your health.

The first setback that I encountered, and it might just be a problem with our microwave, is that after the recommended amount of microwave time (3 ½ minutes) there is always a huge pool of water still remaining in the cup.  And that's after filling it directly up to the fill line, as the instructions indicate.  I thought maybe the first time I did something wrong, but when it happened again, I knew our microwave was probably at fault (it is about a million years old, after all).  The first time, I just poured out the excess water, because despite it, the shells seemed well-cooked.  The second time, I put it in for an additional thirty seconds, hoping that would cause more to evaporate, but I still ended up with the same problem.  Again, all it took was an extra fifteen seconds or so for me to dump out the excess water, but I'll admit that's a little more effort than I want to put into making a microwavable cup of pasta.

Getting beyond that, the taste is actually fairly similar to the full-sized version, with the cheese coming off as rich and creamy once the water finally settles down (and you will want to follow the instructions and let it sit for a minute or two; mine looked like soup right after adding the cheese, but actually did thicken into a more edible concoction after a few minutes).  I'm not such a huge fan of the small noodles, and there is no way in hell that 2.39 oz. of macaroni and cheese is going to be even remotely filling, but it's a decent little snack to enjoy between meals; I usually end up eating them right after I get off work, as a bridge to dinner.  It could also be used as a side dish, just to add a little bit more something to an otherwise light meal.

Honestly, I keep getting more and more appalled at just how expensive macaroni and cheese products are, as a whole, especially considering the pennies I'm sure it costs to make them.  I mean, the national brand crap with the powdered packets are available for a dollar at Dollar Tree, and I even find that ridiculous (sadly, they're usually even more than that at supermarkets).  These shells and cheese cups are $2.69 for four cups, which seems kind of high to me, but is still around a dollar cheaper than you would expect to pay for the main brands in a typical grocery store.

These are only available as a Special Buy, and this is one of the products where I approve that status: they're good, but only occasionally, so even if they were available all the time, I would rarely ever buy them.  Besides, if I really have a hankering for a quick microwavable cup of macaroni and cheese, Aldi does offer the kind with the powdered cheese all the time, as I mentioned at the start of the review, so they at least have us covered in that regard.  

In the end, if you like the stovetop version of shells and cheese, then chances are good that you're going to enjoy this version, too.

Overall: 7.5/10.  These cups are a nice little snack (or quick, light meal) to eat on the go.  Prepwork is also much simpler, and safer, than the stovetop version, making it an easier alternative for kids to make.  The flavor is actually pretty close to both the regular boxed Cheese Club version, as well as the national brand, thanks to the inclusion of an actual cheese sauce packet, rather than the powdered stuff.  This makes it creamier than the macaroni noodles, too.  The downside, and it might just be me, is that even with completely following instructions (which in this case is simply fill water to the fill line, and microwave for 3 ½ minutes), I'm left with a ridiculous flood of water in my cup, despite the noodles being well-cooked.  So I have to take extra time to slowly pour out some of the water, while trying not to lose any shells in the process.  It's not that much of an added hassle, and I'm sure I could cut back on the amount of water I initially put in, but it's still an annoying added step.  At $2.69 for a four-pack, these are also about a buck cheaper than the national brand, so there are some decent savings.  At least worth a look, for sure.