Suggested Retail Price: $3.99 for a 24.3-ounce tub
QUESTION: Why is Kraft’s new dessert product called “Philadelphia Ready-to-Eat Cheesecake Filling”?
ANSWER: Because “Philadelphia Ready-to-Eat Tub of Mediocre Chocolate Pudding” wouldn’t have the same marketing punch.
The bright side of this alleged cheesecake product is that it requires no baking or time to set. The down side is that it doesn’t really taste like cheesecake. Yes, the air-whipped, puddinglike mass has a vaguely cream cheese–y note, even if the insipid Chocolate Dream flavor I sampled lacked any substantial cocoa punch. (It also comes in a plain flavor, a.k.a. Heavenly Classic.) But the beauty of a real cheesecake—one from Junior’s, for example—is that it has a certain weight to it. Both in the sense of physical heft and density, and in terms of multidimensional flavor. There’s a snap of lemon, for instance, or a beautifully browned and crumbly crust. The texture of the filling is hardly that of whipped foam; you can actually cut a slice.
But it’s hard to deny the marketing appeal of a product like Chocolate Dream Ready-to-Eat Cheesecake Filling: On the side of the package, the message is “Open tub, spread contents, and WHAM: cheesecake!” (Directions not quoted verbatim.) But we all know what we’ll actually do: Open tub, insert spoon, eat. It’s an alluringly naughty idea. However, what should be a guilty pleasure delivers none of the pleasure and all of the guilt.
Suggested Retail Price: $2.95 for an 18.3-ounce carton
Until the tragic and seemingly inexorable progression of global warming makes winter a thing of the past, it’ll remain the finest of all seasons for soup. At least in this part of the world, Campbell’s is the default option: Despite its insistent saltiness, it offers familiar flavors paired with a painstakingly cultivated wholesome and traditional image that makes it an obvious choice when the mercury drops below freezing. But as consumers grow increasingly sophisticated, Andy Warhol and “what Mom used to heat up on the stovetop” won’t build the brand. In an effort to break into new markets—and to appeal to those for whom Campbell’s means mediocre canned chicken noodle soup—the food giant has introduced its Select line, with six soups named “Gold Label” to indicate extra-luxurious offerings.
Are they extra-luxurious? I tried the Golden Butternut Squash and the new Creamy Tomato Parmesan Bisque flavors. Both were mild (slightly undersalted, as opposed to the typical oversalted Campbell’s offering), pleasurably smooth, and reasonably decent approximations of the made-from-scratch soups they’re impersonating. The first five ingredients of the butternut squash variety are butternut squash, water, potatoes, carrots, and cream. Contrast this with the top five ingredients of classic Campbell’s chicken noodle soup: chicken stock, enriched egg noodles (which include niacin, ferrous sulfate, mononitrate, and riboflavin), cooked chicken meat, water, and salt. And three ingredients later, you get monosodium glutamate, in contrast to the Gold Label, which has none.
If there’s anything to fault these soups on—and though they’re respectable efforts, they’re not exactly perfect—it’s that they’ve got a thick consistency almost more like dip. Paired with good bread, they’re a treat, but by themselves they can quickly become monotonous. Salt, pepper, and a little grated ginger (or nutmeg in the case of the squash) can considerably brighten them—unlike most ready-made products, their relatively high level of quality makes them worth doctoring.
So far, Campbell’s plan for upscale soups is only about 50 percent implemented, but it’s gratifying to know that this reliable, iconically American food behemoth is working on something ambitious.