A funny thing happened on my way through the last aisle of the third and last grocery store I patronized last Friday, in anticipation of hordes of relatives and friends descending on my humble abode in time for the Thanksgiving holidays.
That story in a minute.
Now, before you start jumping to conclusions about the author being a sales flyer slave, I need to set the record straight. Market Basket has the best selection of: authentic Greek cheeses and other foodstuffs; it’s the only bakery at which you’ll find the most irresistible artisan pecan raisin bread; and the best prices on grass-fed beef; Market Basket brand bulk sparkling water from Italy; as well as organic butter and milk.
Whole Foods, on the other hand, had these amazing miniature Brussels sprouts from Holland – no bigger than a nickel – that I can’t wait to exchange for the larger, tougher variety in my signature Thanksgiving dish. Sprouts steamed until tender in chicken broth, then slathered with olive oil, freshly grated parm, toasted almonds, seasoned bread crumbs, generous kosher salt, and ground pepper. Voila! Their shallots, on the other hand, are bigger than the average bear and much appreciated for roasting whole with my free-range bird.
Another “have to have” is Whole Foods Three Wishes wine. Here’s why. At $3.49 for a bottle of Chardonnay, Merlot, or Cabernet Sauvignon by way of California, the quality is above average for everyday and/or for large crowds and/or for starters – all from Whole Foods, including mixed marinated olives, French brie, Mediterranean olive spread with feta, and crusty breads from the bakery. When you’re gathered at the dining room table, ready to toast all you’re thankful for with treasured loved ones, that’s when you bring out the pricey stuff. I go for something like Le Crema Chardonnay or a flute of Clicquot.
Where was my third stop? Hannaford, Coliseum Avenue, in Nashua. The absolute best uncured bacon, Nature’s Place. It’s thick sliced and well-seasoned without nitrites and less than $6 a pound. Side bar: I rarely if ever eat bacon for breakfast. Instead, I crumble it up in a Mediterranean bean salad using one can white cannellini beans drained, chopped garlic and chives, chopped roasted sweet red peppers, olive oil, fresh grated parm, and ground pepper to taste. Substitute orzo simmered in chicken broth for the beans, add oregano or other herbs and you’ve got another quick, satisfying entrée.
Another foodie friendly advantage at Hannaford is the bulk DIY aisle where I can get the exact amount of whatever it is I need without it going bad and wasting money, pine nuts being chief among them. At something like $19 a pound, I’d gladly drive out of my way for those luxurious and versatile little nubbins.
Finally, there I was on my way down Hannaford aisle #15, the last aisle in the last store I was going to that day, the one with frozen pies and cakes, ice cream, popsicles, and the frozen phyllo dough I always buy there, when a handsome young man, named Lee, dressed in a flannel plaid shirt and jeans offered me a sample of ice cream from a place I had never heard of, Walpole Creamery in Walpole, New Hampshire.
I’m a sucker for chocolate so I take a taste. Holy cow! Did I miss lunch today? Am I hallucinating? I took another sample to be sure I wasn’t in a Willy Wonka dream when another guy shows up named Rob. “Good isn’t it?” He grinned, reading my mind. “We make our own cocoa starter,” he explained, “not many ice cream companies do that.”
Lee chimed in, “And you know what else a lot of other companies don’t have?”
I shook my head in mesmerized ice cream abandon.
“USDA super premium grade ingredients, including high milk fat content.”
He went on to tell the small throng of ice cream groupies gathered that Walpole Creamery has lots of great flavors including a seasonal line that’s perfect for the holidays like Pumpkin Spice and Cinnamon. Then I had a foodie epiphany. I would buy an assortment of Walpole Creamery Flavors and conduct a taste test at breakfast the next morning what with my older daughter flying home that night. Makes sense, right? Clean palate in the morning. Likewise, the mind a blank slate. Gordon, my hubby of 27 years, is as much of an ice cream geek as me. I got clip boards, paper, pens, bowls, and spoons ready for our 8 a.m. tasting.
Here’s the lineup: Walpole Pumpkin Spice, Creamery’s Maple Walnut, Cinnamon, and Sweet Cream. As an added bonus, and for a little friendly competition, I bought both Walpole Creamery’s Chocolate and Vanilla, as well as Häagen-Dazs Chocolate and Vanilla. We used a 1-10 scale with 10 being the highest. We commented on color, texture, and creaminess.
Our unscientific results are as follows:
Pumpkin Spice – 8. Very smooth texture and creaminess. “Buttery” in color, not orange showing absence of artificial colors. (Good!) Nice spice profile, could add more pumpkin essence. Would go great with ginger snap cookies.
Maple Walnut – 9. Velvety rich texture and creaminess. Creamy in color. Deep maple taste – the real thing and locally sourced – and after taste without tasting artificial, like so many available. Only complaint: could use some more nuts.
Sweet Cream – 6. Same rich and creamy texture as her predecessors but best as a backdrop for fresh fruit perhaps or hot brownies from the oven, as eating it was comparable to eating whipped cream from the freezer.
Cinnamon – 8. Has same rich, creamy texture as all Walpole Creamery selections. Buttery in color with flecks of cinnamon. Cinnamon is reminiscent of apple pie filling and nicely balanced. A fun novelty flavor for the holidays, either by itself or served creatively with baked goods or even in coffee.
Walpole Creamery Chocolate vs. Häagen-Dazs Chocolate – 10 vs. 4. Hands down, Walpole’s Chocolate the clear winner over a longtime family favorite. Much deeper in color, much deeper in chocolate creamy richness. The mouth feel of the Häagen-Dazs was thin and watery by comparison, with virtually no real chocolate taste which surprised all of us. Walpole’s Chocolate had a lovely lingering aftertaste and the richness seemed to stay much longer on the tongue while the Häagen-Dazs dissolved almost immediately. (Willy Wonka would approve.)
Walpole Creamery Vanilla vs. Häagen-Dazs Vanilla – 5 vs. 10. A reversal of fortune with Walpole’s Vanilla not measuring up to the rich, Madagascar vanilla-laced ecstasy of Häagen-Dazs. Additionally, Walpole’s rendition seemed the thinnest of all participants in texture – or were we blind-sided by the strong flavor profile of the Häagen-Dazs? Walpole’s color appeared true to form, what with tiny vanilla bean flecks but, alas, the judges sided with the General Mills property on this one.
Summary: Walpole Creamery’s super premium ice creams are fabulous and festive options for the holidays – and every day – and from our own backyard. Milk from New Hampshire farms, as wells as other local ingredients, like maple syrup – and made with local employees!
You be the judge. $4.49 per pint. For locations in your area or for more information: www.walpolecreamery.com
Carolyn Choate loves to chew on food. Literally and figuratively. In the kitchen from her garden in Nashua or her favorite market, a restaurant across town or across the globe. When not masticating, Carolyn is likely swilling wine or spirits as neither is far from her heart – or lips. Forget diamonds and Louboutins, she’d rather blow a wad on Pinot Noir and grass-fed filet with fresh sautéed morels. And write about it. You taste the picture: The “Barking Tomato” aspires to push your “foodie” button. Carolyn’s day job is producing local affairs programming for WYCN-CD.