Tuesday, October 28, 2008

QBB Almond "Baby Cheese" Snack

The Western view of most Japanese people is that they're sitting around daintily eating rice balls, sushi, and miso soup while sipping green tea. Those slim physiques are attributed to healthy eating so people expect shops to contain fresh, high quality food. By and large, markets are well-stocked with the kind of stuff that keeps Japanese folks so trim. However, the dairy aisle, conveniently located across from the beer aisle in my local market, offers a refrigerated contradiction to the image of healthy-eating Japanese. It's a calm, cool ocean of processed cheese and margarine spreads dotted with the occasional bit of massively overpriced real butter and cheese.

Lining the top of the case is of the Japanese equivalent of "Kraft singles" are quite a lot of single serving "cheese" snacks. Up until now, I've been afraid to try any of them except the string cheese. The string cheese has the advantage of being a rare natural cheese product. One of the scariest snacks I used to see was called "cheese candy" which had little bits of pale processed cheese wrapped like hard candies. I haven't seen those as of late, but I might take one for the Japanese snack review team and give it a try if it's still around.

QBB has several varieties of snack-sized cheese. Each pack contains 4 individual little foil-wrapped blocks in an easy to open package. I could choose between "cream cheese", "Camembert", and "iron fortified plain cheese" in addition to the almond variety that I tried. Incidentally, QBB stands for "quality's best & beauty." The brand is produced by a margarine and butter company called "Rokko Butter Co." which was established in 1948. Besides processed cheese, they also make dried fruit and nuts. Most notably, at least in my opinion, they are responsible for distributing Lindt chocolate in Japan. Somehow it seems ironic that the same company that sells some of the very best consumer chocolate (in my opinion) sells so much processed cheese.

Each little block of cheese is 18 grams (.6 oz) in size and is rather pale and has very small fragments of almond embedded in it. The blocks are smooth, shiny and firm, but yield easily to a butter knife. If it's closer to room temperature, it is softer, just like real cheese. However, I somehow doubt it actually would melt, but I didn't attempt to heat it as I'm afraid of the processed blob monster with teeth of slivered almonds that might result. I'm pretty sure this cheese is not meant to be used in that fashion. Each block is just supposed to noshed on, probably with a beer. There are 62 calories, 3.65 grams of fat, and 191 mg. of sodium in each 18 gram serving. For the quantity of cheese (72 grams/2.5 oz.), it's not high priced for a cheese product in Tokyo at 128 yen ($1.30 USD), but it's also not incredibly economical.

I decided to try the cheese both alone and on a cracker. With a pessimistic attitude, I gave it a try and it was actually pretty good. It smells very vaguely of almonds and when you bite into it, you get a solid hint of nuttiness as well as a cheesy tang. The sense of the almonds gets stronger as you chew. The texture is pleasant, but clearly not like natural cheese. It's softer and more uniform than most cheese. It's not unpleasant in any way, but there is a little bit of what I'd call a processed cheese aftertaste. I tried it on a Morinaga thin wheat cracker with wheat germ. This is a very hearty cracker, but the cheese flavor was able to compete with the earthy grains of the cracker.

The ingredients list shows that the first ingredient is actually natural cheese and the second is almonds. Given how few almonds there are in it, this means the other ingredients are not present in great quantity. The third ingredient is whey. Many people don't know this but the way in which many types of processed cheese is made is by infusing the whey back into the cheese. Whey is a nutritious byproduct of cheese-making.The dreaded Velveeta is made by adding whey back into the cheese. In other words, this really isn't that bad for you. It's just more processed than natural cheese.

I didn't expect to like this because it was processed cheese and my knee-jerk reaction is to believe that is bad, but I didn't find this too bad at all. If I were looking for something a bit more substantial and less junky than sweets or salted snacks, this would definitely be a contender. I won't be picking it up frequently, but I could see revisiting it when I was in the mood for cheese and nuts.


Anonymous said...

I hate those over-processed cheeeses for kids that are like nearly an orange/yellow colour! They are sooo gross. This cheese looks ok but abit shiny. We have similar things here like fruit and almond cheese which are nice but come in small rounds, about the size of a hand. I guess you're paying for the extra wrapping on the small servings, and convenience. Nice review!

Orchid64 said...

Thanks a lot for your kind words. I actually meant to mention that I thought the white processed cheese looked better than the bright orange stuff. I never understand the need to make cheese day-glo orange in the U.S. (which is where I'm from).

Helen said...

I love the almond "baby cheese" squares (rectangles?).

I have heated the camembert and plain squares and they melt quite nicely. I've used them to make blue cheese pizza- blue cheese is expensive and I wanted to stretch what I had, and also on the top of bagels and in omelettes. It doesn't melt completely on the top of a bagel in the toaster oven, but it becomes very soft and spreadable.

Great topic!

Orchid64 said...

I'm glad to hear about your experiences with melting it. I'm always a bit wary with processed cheese because sometimes it has odd texture issues when melted.

My experience with this does make me wonder if I judge processed cheese too harshly. Though I honestly can't see giving up the real thing (despite its expense), I'm much more favorably inclined to sample more after this experience.

Many thanks for commenting!

Carolina deWitte said...

Since I just found your site, this is late, but I will really date myself by saying that when my daughter was in about 2nd or 3rd grade, they sold 'cheese kisses', I think they were Kraft. Yes, blobs of bright yellow processed cheese wrapped individually as 'kisses'. My daughter loved them and I thought they were at least better for her than actual candy....(and, they tasted exactly like Kraft singles, of course)