Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Glico Kari Kari Cheese Pretz

My husband and I have been back in the United States for almost exactly seven years come the end of this month. This has nothing to do with Pretz, but it has something to do with the delay between the last review of the contents of my ZenPop cheese box and this one.

For the duration of our time back "home" (which often doesn't feel like home), we've lived without an actual television. That is not to say we didn't watch any content which is on TV, but just that we did it using a 28" monitor that we hooked up to a PC or our blu-ray player. My husband finally decided he was tired of seeing puny people from across the living room when we sat on our loveseat (Note: we also lived without any sort of "proper" furniture for about six years in terms of seating). So, we bought a 43" TV with the notion that we could now see things on screen more clearly with our aging eyes. Simple enough, eh?

Well, it turned out not to be so simple. We live in a pretty small house with a lot of impediments to furniture arrangement. It was built in 1949 and has few wall outlets, lots of heating vents, and unhelpfully placed doorways. I love the place and the size. I also love the neighborhood, but, boy howdy, is it hard to set up much of anythign in regards to furnishings. I ended up rearranging in anticipation of the TV, finding that failed greatly and then doing it all again three days later. My total investment in time for this game of musical furniture was about 15 hours. The whole experience totally wiped me out and I had no energy left for talking about pretzels.

By the way, all of that effort was for the picture below (cat not really a part of the process, but the thing on the far left is a treat dispenser which she was poking around in). It looks pretty simple, but that was the hard part. Getting it down to this level of sparseness was no small feat.

However, now that it's all worked out, I can focus on more important things like talking about salted snack foods. I love pretzels of pretty much any stripe, but there are two things about them which are missing from these Pretz and that was disappointing.

First, there is the flaky, crumbly interior of the pretzel which yields so beautifully compared the harder baked exterior. These have more of the texture of a piece of raw spaghetti (yes, I've eaten raw spaghetti for reasons which are very sad). They aren't quite that hard and they do yield a little bit, but there is something about the texture which is unsatisfying.

The second point which is missing is the distinctive rye flour flavor that I associate with pretzels. The cheese powder on this is pretty decent. It's got a pronounced processed cheese flavor with the appropriate savory notes and a little bit of a "dairy" kick, but it's not overbearing. It's also not too salty while being salty enough. The main problem is that the delivery system for the cheese flavor, the pretzel stick itself, is too insubstantial to hold its own.

This is not a bad snack by any stretch of the imagination. I just feel like it sacrificed some flavor complexity and textural satisfaction for a stronger crunch. They are more like a thick chip version of a pretzel than a normal Pretz. That may work for some people, but it didn't really do it for me.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop snack box.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Bourbon Horo Buono (Cheese Balls)

My expectations of these were that they would be a variation on conventional cheese balls in the U.S. By that, I mean a version of a cheese puff in ball shape. My supposition was incorrect by and large. This is one of those snacks which is unique and defies comparison because we don't have anything like it in the U.S.

These are little balls of softly crispy rice with a cheese coating that resembles white chocolate in texture. The inside is airy and isn't exactly crunchy because it's not brittle, but it's a little crispy. It's like soft sembei.

My guess is that the texture is achieved through using a lot of oil as the first ingredient is soybean oil. The interior is reminiscent to the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the fluffy sembei made by Echigoseika. It's not quite as soft and decadent, but it's on the spectrum.

The exterior texture is very yielding and seems soft, but it doesn't melt despite having a soft texture. It's cool on the tongue, and mildly cheesy. The description calls it "cheddar cheese cream" which sounds about right for the profile. The interior has not strong flavor, but is mainly a textural element.

I really enjoyed these and was delighted by how unusual the combination was. This is a big part of what enjoying foreign-made snacks is all about for me. I love it when I'm offered something which defies description or comparison as opposed to being a variation on a familiar theme.

Note: This was part of my cheese "sweets box" provided free of charge by ZenPop.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Lotte Crunky Baked Cheese Tart

The concept of this bar seems stolen directly from the baked KitKat concept. It's a white chocolate bar designed to be briefly cooked in a toaster oven in order to caramelize the chocolate a little and change the flavor profile.

I tried this both "as is" and baked and it is a night and day situation. When it's "raw" and a normal chocolat bar, it is unremarkable with a somewhat cloying "dairy" flavor from the attempt at cheesecake flavor. It's crunchy and heavy in feel and not especially bad or good.

In my first attempt at baking some of this, I overdid it. The margin between golden brown and burnt is probably seconds wide. Even over-browned and nearly burnt, this tasted really good. The weird dairy flavor vanished and it had more caramel tones.

Like the baked KitKats, you not only don't want to overcook them, but you don't want to handle them while they're still hot or they disintegrate. In general, these are quite crumbly after being baked anyway. The texture becomes almost cookie-like. It's still very sweet and the impact of the little crunchy bits is reduced when the bar is baked.

I really loved this when it was baked. The cheesecake flavor isn't super strong, but it's still very enjoyable because of the caramelization and texture. I didn't mind how crumbly it became, though it was a mistake to try and eat it warm as it crumbled into tiny bits. If you can get your hands on one of these, be sure to wait for it to cool so it holds on to some integrity.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop cheese sweets box.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Calbee Potato Chips Giza Giza - Cheese and Black Pepper

The site for the "giza giza" (ridged) potato chips that Calbee makes encourages you to enjoy the chips slowly one by one. I don't know if they are letting you know that the experience is better if you eat them slowly or if they care about your health and are encouraging moderation, but it's pretty sound advice in either case. I imagine that American companies would encourage you to cram as many down your gullet as possible so you would go out and buy another bag. Cha-ching!

Most of the Calbee chips that I've had have had a "fresh" taste which carries a stronger potato flavor and lacks the oily heaviness of American chips. While my husband buys Kettle chips, I rarely eat fried chips at all because I've got issues digesting them in America. I will note that I don't have this problem with Japanese chips so it could be something about the fats they use. Nonetheless, I did enjoy these slowly, one by one, and in small portions.

The chips themselves are very crispy and crunchy without being brittle. These are slightly thicker than the standard (non-ruffled) varieties that Calbee makes. The cheese flavor to some extent masks that "fresh" flavor that is so distinctive in Japanese potato chips and that's a little disappointing. The cheese powder has a  "dairy" flavor which means this is made with real cheese. If you're used to fake versions, this may actually seem less "cheesy."

The black pepper is fairly subdued and tends to hit as a finishing note. I'm a bit ambivalent about this because I love black pepper and would have preferred a more potent presentation. That being said, it does balance the flavor experience pretty well because your taste buds don't get saturated with the pepper.

These are lovely chips, but a little on the unassuming side. That's not really a demerit, but just an observation. I enjoyed them and found them suitably savory and with a more complex flavor than some without being flavor blasted.

Note: This was part of my free ZenPop "sweets" box.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Fujiya Anpanman Korokoro Ball Chocolate

Though these balls are chocolate coated bits of crunchy cookie, they are kin of M & Ms in a way other than being small and a chocolate coated confection. They melt in your mouth, not in your hands according to Fujiya's web site. I'm guessing the fact that the claim is in Japanese will keep them from being sued for slogan theft.

These are fortified with Calcium derived from egg shells so you could claim these were healthy treats, but you'd be a liar because the first ingredient is sugar. Sugar is the great destroyer of nutritional value when it's quantity eclipses all of the others by a large margin.

The ball pictured on the box is about the same size as the actual candy. They're similar in size to a pea. The interior biscuit is the weaker of the flavors in this candy. It's such a tiny amount and mainly is there for crunch, but you can catch a faint hint of it on the first one or two of these that you eat (before your tongue is overwhelmed by the sugar and most of the subtle flavors are cancelled out).

The chocolate on the outside is firm and seems coated with something to help it not melt. It has a nice flavor, but it's not the strongest cocoa flavor that you're going to encounter in a candy. I loved the texture a lot, but I'm big into crunchy things. There isn't a ton of complexity there, but these are still fun to eat.

The boxes for this candy each feature a different pair of friendly characters from the Anpanman cartoon. There is something sweet about their expressions and it's probably a cool little bonus for fans of the show.

Note: These were part of my free sweets box from ZenPop.