Steppin’ Up Your Cheese Game

Smart Ones Fruit Inspirations

By: Weight Watchers

I Paid: $3.35 for a 9-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3stars


Marketing: 3stars

The only thing less inspiring to a gourmand than a frozen microwavable dinner may be a diet frozen microwavable dinner. That said, the Fruit Inspirations line of Weight Watchers Smart Ones (good Lord, that’s a lot of titles and modifiers) is about as intriguing as they come. Theory: What’ll jazz up tired old diet food? How about fruit?

A sampling of two of the line’s four flavors—Cranberry Turkey Medallions and Pineapple Beef Teriyaki—revealed more merit than the packaging might suggest.

The meat pieces in the former were closer to random chunks than medallions, but they were quite moist and imbued with what seemed to be real turkey flavor. The cranberry sauce was too cooked down and insufficiently tart, more reminiscent of canned sauce than the real thing, in all its astringent glory. But it wasn’t terrible—a cranberry misdemeanor, not a cranberry atrocity. The accompanying stuffing was relatively dry and tasteless, but paired OK with the sloppiness of the meat and sauce. The veggies (carrots, green beans, potatoes) offered a token bit of textural resistance.

Pineapple Beef Teriyaki was a slight disappointment by contrast. The first thing that came to mind when the sauce hit my palate was a pineapple-flavored Blow Pop; the sweet flavoring was exactly that sophisticated and understated. Fortunately, the relatively bland rice and veggie medley could be combined with the meat and sauce to dampen the candy pineapple attack. And the tender meat offered more beefy flavor than you might expect.

While Fruit Inspirations are unlikely to revolutionize your dieting practices, they’re also unlikely to ruin your day, and that’s certainly saying something.

Fine Cheese Company Flavoured Crackers

By: The Fine Cheese Company

I Paid: $4.65 for a 5.3-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5stars


Marketing: 4stars

The UK’s Fine Cheese Company has a simple, well-defined mission, and providing specially designed cheese-accenting crackers seems to fall well within its parameters. The boxes for its various crackers are classy beyond belief: Down to the font choices and pastel sketches of cheese, they say “luxury.” They don’t scream it; screaming is uncouth. They merely offer it, in an offhand manner, to those who might be listening. But these crackers have a level of refinement and taste that, if anything, trumps the polished exterior of their boxes.

Charcoal Crackers are the company’s workhorse, mild in flavor but with a distinct hit of charcoal that is surprisingly savory. Real charcoal powder is used in their production, and the crackers’ slate-black appearance stands in mute testament to their authenticity. Cheese looks good—stately, in fact—displayed on them.

The Red Hot Chili Crackers are along the lines of an MI5 agent disguised as a mild-mannered librarian: They start out gentle and low-key and then—wham!—assert themselves. Not in a brash or overstated way, but rather in a bold, zesty-but-correct way, making a fine complement to mature cheddar cheese.

It’s the Celery Crackers, however, that are a real revelation. The bright, garden-fresh taste of celery is miraculously front and center in these otherwise modest and understated wheat-based morsels. Like the Red Hot Chili Crackers, they’re designed to help a particular type of cheese (in this case, blue), and they do their job competently and with a dash of cheerful aplomb.

Far from universally available, the Fine Cheese Company’s cracker line is worth searching for online and at local cheese shops. When you need to step up your cheese game in an impeccably British manner, nothing else will do.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow Chowhound on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.

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