When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Content comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, regular features will help you with branding.
I struggle to describe Trader Joe’s–is it shabby chic organic? Artisanal gauche? Bleeding heart store brand? It’s the Steve Jobs of grocery stores; high concept, low effort in a very performative way. I want to limit my critique of TJ’s to the sort of jabs you’d throw in an early morning sparring session. For all it’s pretense, Trader Joe’s really helped me stretch out my food stamps, back when I was jobless and living in a squat and crashing support groups for the coffee.
So you go to TJ’s because it’s cheap, and you see a bunch of high-brow food that, however affordable, you don’t necessarily know what to do with. This is where I come in. I’m admittedly late to the party, as there are numerous cookbooks and a decent blog dedicated just to reviewing Trader Joe’s food. But rest assured, I’ll catch up to everyone else’s consumption and pick a fight with the dude wearing a shirt with a conservative political slogan “ironically”.
TODAY WE’RE GONNA EAT TRADER JOE’S “PESTO GOUDA”.
Gouda is a waxy cow’s milk cheese from the Dutch city Gouda, located in South Holland and also known for stroopwafel. To agree on a price on cheese at the Gouda cheese market, buyers and sellers clap each other’s hands and shout prices at each other. And then, when a price is agreed upon, uniformed guys from a 500-year old guild led by a man named “The Cheese Father” carry the cheese to be weighed by a civil servant. It’s pretty metal, in both its intensity and dedication to anachronism.
It’s good to know stuff about cheese, where it comes from, how it’s made, etc. There’s a big divide now between “the good stuff” and “over-processed peasant swill”, but there was a time when leaving some dairy in a cave to be eaten by cultures was a scientific marvel for a civilization afraid to take baths or let women read. I don’t have my family tree handy, but I’m fairly certain my lineage can be traced back to a bunch of sweaty nerf-herders who can thank beer and milk for them not dying of water-borne diseases or wasting away in winter.
I say this because you will undoubtedly encounter people who presume you don’t know the difference between cheese and legendary game show host Wink Martindale’s hairy asshole. They assume you’re buying a four-cheese pizza because four is greater than one, two, or three, and not because the cheeses provide a unique and diverse flavor and texture profile. They put gimmicky cheeses with bright colors and weird chunks of not-cheese on display with the organic meat because they know you’re not gonna bother a team member on the difference between Fontina and Leicester.
I want you to have those tools. Eat the strange and unfamiliar and gimmicky, but never let food you purchased condescend to you. This cheese has a bit of an attitude. It says: yeah, pesto’s great but it’s soooo hard to make, right? And who wants to bother with all the different types of cheese? It comes from a cow’s privates, right? Who cares. I’m a cheesy jello mold of pesto. Take me home. Eat me like a horse fitted with a very gourmet feedbag. I love you, you spunky so-and-so.
TEST # 1: By Itself
The Pesto Gouda has a very rubbery, waxy texture. It’s overwhelming and subtle, in that the flavor of pesto is so pronounced that you don’t really register the Gouda itself. I reckon it’s between young (4 weeks) to young matured (8-10 weeks), but I run a blog with a bunch of swear words on it and am not a proper cheesemonger. A proper cheesemonger might find this type of cheese revolting; I was very charmed by it! It really commits; the pesto flavor is very robust and ever-present without being overpowering , and while I would’ve liked a little more grit, it tastes and feels like an actual godless experiment of splicing pesto with cheese and not just giving the cheese a dye job and the faint hint of pine nuts. That said: there aren’t any pine nuts in this cheese. It’s basil and garlic, with some coloring agents. So, it has spent some time at the salon, but it’s more of a touch-up than a makeover.
TEST #2: Grated On Pasta: I grated the cheese on some tricolore fusilli, tossed with a little bit of olive oil. Even with some external heat from a blowtorch, it never achieves a texture I’d consider “melty”, but it does remain smooth and not chunky. The waxiness provides a nice contrast to the pasta, especially if it’s cooked al-dente (which I usually do, as a diabetic). This is a good way to dress up some pasta, but it feels a little bland on its own. This cheese really needs tomato to bring out the full flavor of the pesto in it. Or some sweet-style Italian sausage. Now, in a normal situation, if you got some pesto that tastes a little dry (like in the way a cocktail is dry, not in texture) or savory with no complement, you can throw in some cheese on it BUT WHAT DO YOU DO, HOT SHOT, WHEN THE CALLS ARE COMING FROM INSIDE THE HOUSE?
Thankfully, Trader Joe’s offers several variations of Parmesan.
TEST 3: Shaved Thin, Served on Crackers, Topped with Tomatoes, Drizzled with Olive Oil
The spices you see there are Penzey’s Frozen Pizza Seasoning, which was given to me as a Christmas gift by my fiancee as part of a larger spice box; I reckon the product monkeys over at Penzey’s—A FINE ESTABLISHMENT THAT CAN SPONSOR MY CONTENT ANY TIME—thought to throw it in there to spare the sensitive hearts of their salespeople, who might not survive too many days of trying to sell you fresh smoked paprika to see you walk out with something you can put on a Tombstone at 3 in the morning when you mis-guessed the strength of what you bought at the dispensary.
This is, in my opinion, the best use of the Pesto Gouda. The tomato and olive oil complements the pesto, and stacking them up like this gives you a nice gradient of textures, from crackly to slightly mushy, with the cheese in between.
It’s also, at least for me, a good way to make a few ingredients last a while longer than just stewing them in a pot and scarfing them down, because the little hors d’oeuvre take a bit to make and I can’t really put a bunch in my mouth without looking like a desperate, feral ogress who is decidedly not here at this tech seminar to here how we can disrupt the public’s access to clean drinking water and sit on a fucking bench and read a book without that space and activity be monetized in some way.
CANAPE. THAT’S THE WORD I WAS LOOKING FOR. THESE ARE CANAPES.
According to The Coupon Project, the Pesto Gouda was ranked in the top 25 customer products, along with Reduced Guilt Guacamole. FOOD SHOULDN’T COME WITH GUILT AT ALL; IT’S NOT SOME FEAT TO PUT GUILT IN THE FOOD AND THEN TAKE A LITTLE BIT OUT AND SELL THAT AS SOME IMPROVEMENT TO THE CONSUMER!
What about guilty foods? Where’s the food that gives you the shits and unwanted flashbacks of your complacency in the rise of nationalism in your country?
VERDICT: RECOMMENDED. 3.5 OUT OF 5 TOTALLY ABSENT PINE NUTS.