Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Befco Camembert Cheese Kakimochi

Camembert cheese is one of the  most popular and common types of non-processed cheese in Japan. You can often buy it in little boxes for between 350-500 yen ($4.33-$6.17). In the most common offering, there's a little circular plastic tray protecting a small (100 gram/3.5 oz.) round of softish Camembert. You can buy these pretty much everywhere, including convenience stores. For foreign folks who find processed cheese to be the spawn of the devil, it's often the only option.

It's my best guess that Camembert is a popular "real" cheese because it's mild and fatty, two food attributes that are popular in Japan. I've read that pizza was originally unpopular in Japan because the cheese was too stringy, stinky and pungent. The fact that mature cheddar is much harder to find and more expensive would seem to support the notion that strong cheeses, though much more common than before, are still less favored than mild ones.

This sembei seeks to transfer a flavor which is incredibly mild to begin with to the exterior of a 24-calorie salted snack. The crackers are nicely crispy and the way they are scored gives them some convenient breaking points and provides a nice visual sense. The powder on the outside isn't voluminous, but it's still enough to have you rubbing your fingers to get it off. They smell slightly of pungent cheese, but the first bite is really more buttery than cheesy. Only toward the end of one cracker do you start to detect a cheesier flavor. It obviously needs to build up on the tongue and get some momentum before it takes on enough critical flavor mass to matter. The saltiness level also seems to take a few crackers to kick in. If you're a fan of pigging out, you're probably going to find these a lot more appealing than me, but I generally stop at two.

These were fine, and I'd even buy them again if they were a mere 69 yen (85 cents) for 12 decently sized crackers. I got these for that paltry sum at a discount snack shop along with the previously reviewed soy sauce flavor of the same type of cracker. However, the decision to buy them in that case would be based merely on the fact that these are serviceable salty snacks and not because the flavor really blew me away.

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