First we round ‘em up, then we let ‘em shine. Shelf Life considers it our duty to get the most from our items, so we often dream up ways to improve them. Is the subject a little on the tasteless side? We say: add garlic! Is it scorched, drippy or otherwise difficult to swallow? Our tip: cover it with sauce! We’ve also figured out methods to deal with aggressive mouthfeel, sad-sack appearance, problem dryness, and weird extrusions. But enough about our judges – what about the products? Shelf Life has discovered that there is a Canadian component to the story of Fettucini Alfredo. This legendary dish was created in the 1920s by Alfredo di Lelio at his restaurant in Rome, Alfredo alla Scrofa. Hollywood actors Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford often dined at Alfredo’s while on their honeymoon in 1927. The Ontario-born actress developed a fondness for di Lelio’s recipe, which used three kinds of flour, the heart of the best parmagiano, and only the richest butter, which the restauranteur made himself. Journalists picked up the story of Pickford’s pick, and the rest is Weight Watchers history.
Chewing for Canada is this week’s team of expert judges: Peter Carruthers, owner of Presidential Gourmet, fine catering in Toronto; Dinah Koo, proprietrix, Koo and Co. caterers in Toronto; and Edward Levesque, owner of the Toronto restaurant Edward Levesque’s Kitchen.
As always, space limitations prevent us from evaluating every brand in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste-tested and awarded between zero and five stars. Brands of Alfredo sauce were served with
Authentico Alfredo Sauce
300 ml, $2.99
available at IGA and affiliated stores
Peter: There’s a total lack of aroma here, and the colour doesn’t tempt me at all – Brand One is a greenish gray, more like oysters than a dairy product. The consistency is poor – it’s too gluten-y. If I wanted this much nutmeg I’d have some of my grandmother’s fruitcake. On the positive
side, there’s not too much salt.
Dinah: I’m afraid the news isn’t good. Brand One is gluey and pasty, and it doesn’t cover the pasta effectively; it gums it up. The taste gives you a bit of flavour which soon disappears, and you have to be prepared for some garlic powder. The smell is at least buttery, what there is of it.
Ed: The pepper chunks are too large to be in a sauce; they should be more finely ground. But asking for ‘fine’ anything might be too much. I find the texture pasty and the taste peppery. I agree with Dinah that there’s a faint buttery aroma.
Brand One Total THREE STARS ***
Alfredo de Roma, Alfredo Sauce
435 ml, $3.39
Peter: The taste is very commercial and very disappointing, considering that you get an actual cheese aroma here. It’s amazing how shiny this sauce is. I guess people want this kind of texture as well – this sort of creamy viscosity. Products like Brand Two are built for travel, to come off an assembly line and sit on a shelf. Have sauce will travel.
Dinah: The texture is faux creamy, and the appearance is smooth. The taste is like a cream sauce with a tiny bit of cheese waved over it. Brand Three has a touch of the factory about it – you can smell a tiny bit of chemical cheese flavour, like a whiff of Kraft dinner.
Ed: Take a dozen Kraft products, mix them up, stick them in a jar, and dip in your spoon – that’s what this brand tastes like. Even if Brand Two isn’t made by Kraft, I think that’s the goal, to imitate the nation’s most popular cheese stuff. I’m also picking up a metallic flavour. And mayonnaise. Heavy metal mayo.
Brand Two Total FIVE STARS *****
300 ml, $4.49
Peter: This brand is just bizarrely awful, it’s got a weird commercial sheen and the smell is very un-fresh. And we’re back to the Christmas levels of nutmeg. You know that new gimmick that the pizza chains are pushing – the dipping sauce? Brand Four could be that – it could have escaped from Pizza Pizza.
Dinah: They’re certainly not getting any better. I’m seeing and tasting grainy chunks of pepper and spices. The taste is powdery and bland. The smell is full of dried spice and herb. This brand would be a no.
ED: Brand Three tastes like stale flour. Look at the appearance – you’re getting artificial powders that haven’t dissolved, you can see them on the plate, those stubborn little flecks of whatever it is. All I smell is different degrees of artificiality. Brand Five gets one star for, I don’t know, going to the trouble of trying.
Brand Three total ONE STAR *
O Sole Mio
400 ml, $3.99
available at IGA/Sobeys stores in central and western provinces.
Peter: The salt balance is working. I recognise that salt is a very personal thing but I’m a salt guy. Cheese is in the aroma, and you can taste it as well. Brand Three is coating the pasta like a sauce should.The best thing about this brand is the fact that it’s been cooked properly – it isn’t too raw. I could sell this at home, to my kids.
THREE AND A HALF STARS***1/2
Dinah: Have you noticed that kids love pasta? Every kind of Canadian -go to an Asian home, and the kids are eating pasta. It’s perfect for parties. Brand Three would definitely go down well with kids. And adults- some adults. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend any of these brands but for what they are, Brand Four is the best.
Ed: You’re being generous! None of these products are doing it for me. I don’t think any one of them deserves more than three stars, but this one
earns the most. It’s got the best plate appeal and texture, because the sauce is pure white and creamy, which is the proper way for Alfredo to look. Could use more cheese – it could be way better – but I’m living in the real world.
Brand Four Total TEN AND A HALF STAR**********1/2
Results: O Sole Mio turned out to be the only brand worth singing about; judges agreed that it was the best of a not-very-good lot. Classico and Our Compliments failed to do well. Olivieri’s terrible performance surprised everyone, since this brand’s prepared pesto sauce won a previous Shelf Life taste test.
Off The Menu: Butter, fettucini, black pepper and Parmagiano-Reggiano – simple, right? We’ll even settle for whatever pasta is in the cupboard and any kind of plausible creamy-slash-cheesy sauce. But we didn’t have a good feeling about this test. If history has taught us anything, it’s that simple forms are the hardest to get right. We also know that dairy-based packaged foods, even ‘fresh’ ones, are difficult and expensive to manufacture, so the results tend to be tricky. But Shelf Life persisted. We wanted to give supermarket-style alfredo sauces a chance – some responsibility, even. And what happened? They were weak. They let the family down. In this house. Where our children play. With apologies to Michael Corleone, in The Godfather, we have to say: Alfredo, you’re nothing to me now.