Hello. My name's Nathan, and I love Trader Joe's. My wife Sonia does too. She's a great shopper, has excellent taste and knows good value when she comes across it. As many of you know, Trader Joe's is unsurpassed in the world of good-value grocery stores, so we spend a lot of our time and money there. Although the store fairly consistently delivers great taste with its own unique line of food products, there are definitely some big-hits, and unfortunately, there are some misses...

After doing a couple of internet searches for reviews of TJ's food items, Sonia discerned an apparent dearth of good, quality reviews for the store's offerings. So, at her suggestion, we decided to embark on a journey of systematically reviewing every Trader Joe's product, resulting in the blog you are about to read...

A couple of months into our Trader Joe's rating adventure, an old college friend, Russ, who unbeknownst to me had been following our TJ's blog, decided that I had been slacking in my blogging duties (which, of course, I was) so he decided to contribute his own original TJ's reviews to the blog, thus enhancing it, making it more complete and adding to it a flavor of his own. He and his wife Sandy are also avid TJ's fans and, as you will soon discover, he is an excellent writer and is nearly as clever, witty and humble as I am.

Seriously though, Russ: You go, boy!

So here it is: "What's Good at Trader Joe's?"

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Saturday, May 30, 2015

Podcast Episode 1: Introducing Let's Talk TJ's!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Trader Joe's Smoked Chile Cheddar Cheese

We cover a lot of bases pretty well here on WGaTJ's. Want to know what we think about any kinda beverage? Chances are, it's covered. Most snacks and desserts? Yup. Bacon-related in any way, shape, or form? Absolutely. Heck, even anything in the *ahem* fake meat realm? Yup, covered there too.

One area that we absolutely, sorely lack, though? Cheese. Definitely cheese. The edible kind, I mean, we got plenty of lame jokes. The cheese shelf at our local shop is literally only a few feet by a few feet, but it's stockpiled high with all sorts of stuff that admittedly, I usually pass on by. Some forays have been pretty successful, others not so much, but by in large Sandy and I keep to the bag of shredded cheddar or whatever we need for the week and move on by unless something really catches our eye. Apparently there's been a very elusive caramel-washed gouda out there recently that we just haven't been able to track down, much to our disappointment.

However...Trader Joe's Smoked Chile Cheddar Cheese. Try to tell me that doesn't sound delicious, and I will laugh at your folly. It probably helps that it is currently TJ's "spotlight cheese" making its existence all the more obvious folks like us.

This cheddar isn't perfect, but man, it's still pretty good. There's three kinds of peppers in play here - habanero, jalapeno, and pasilla, the last of which I haven't heard of till now. Pennsylvania suburban bringing up, y'all. With that peppery tango, you'd be right to think there's a potential fiery furnace awaiting any bite, and. well, that's only about partially true. The chiles seems to be somewhat unevenly marbled through out the chunk we procured, leaving some bites tamer than regular ol' pepper jack, but when you hit a vein, there's a lot. Yet even those bites seem to be tempered by the overall soft creaminess of the cheddar, which I did not fully anticipate being that way.

When I see "aged for three months" and "handmade in Vermont", I bank on many past experiences of plowing through as many cheddar samples as possible at the Cabot Factory Annex Store  in Waterbury, VT (right down the street from the Ben & Jerry's factory - tradiotnal first and last stops on the annual family vacation to Vermont) expecting a certain kind of kinda drier sharpness. Maybe not overly sharp, but still something, so the fact that this is fairly mild cheddar was a surprise. If it were sharper, the spiciness of the peppers would stand out a little bit more in juxtaposition, making a more distinctive flavor, methinks. Instead, TJ's opted for a smoother flavor meld which may be appreciated by the masses, but results in more or less an edgier pepper jack-esque concoction.

The other descriptors on the label, such as "cold-smoked" and "made from raw milk" might have some more sway over others than me, but there's not much (if any) difference I can discern from those factors. Feel free to fill us all in on the comments below. Still, for a very reasonable $8.99 a pound (our piece cost maybe $3.50), both Sandy and I were pretty happy, although our cheese-lovin' toddler was not exactly a fan. We tried to tell her no, but you parents of almost three year olds know how that can go. We've had only plain chunks but would love to shred some over some black bean soup or melt into a grilled cheese. I'm sure we'd buy it again, and perhaps this will help re-pique our interest into the too-oft ignored corner of TJ's-dom.

Bottom line: Trader Joe's Smoked Chile Cheddar Cheese: 7.5 out of 10 Golden Spoons

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Sour Gummies T's & J's

Ah, Sour Patch Kids. The American standard for tooth-rotting, roof-of-mouth-irritating, zero nutritional value, sugary, soury sweetness—an institution nearly as deeply-rooted in our junk food culture as Coke or McDonald's. As a boy, I'd go through a box of them during the course of a two hour movie at the theater. (Needless to say the local dentist made a fortune off of me). I remember my mouth watering as I'd tear open the packaging. Sour Patch Kids—the paradigm of sour gummy candy on Earth. Until now.

Sweetened with cane sugar and natural fruit flavors, Trader Joe's has offered us these "T's" and "J's" as their answer to the classic sour gummy candy. And it's a stellar effort, in my humble opinion. TJ's has done gummy candy before, and we've reviewed it here at least twice. But this product is truly my favorite. I don't just mean from TJ's...and I don't just mean sour gummy candy. I think this is the best gummy candy I've ever had. Strong words, indeed.

Let's start with the texture. The candy is nice and soft. If anything, I'd say it's just a hint softer and more pliable than your traditional Sour Patch Kid or sour gummy worm. Each piece is coated in the familiar "sour sugar" that graces the exterior of most classic sour gummies. It falls off just as easily—and it still irritates the roof of my mouth, although maybe not quite as much as other sour gummies...? That might just be because I didn't eat the whole bag in one sitting as I did in years past. The letters are nice and flexible, long and thin. If you're so inclined to suck on the candy and get that super tart start and then a sweet finish, I swear that since there's a bit of increased surface area on each gummy, that they dissolve faster and deliver more taste than your traditional Sour Patch Kids, which are basically just oblong slabs vaguely molded to resemble weird little zombie children. All that to say that I think these candies are optimized for maximum flavor-delivery from a geometry standpoint...amiright? Russ isn't convinced.

Flavor-wise, they taste more natural than most sour gummies. That might not be saying much, but there was always a weird glaze and aftertaste that would hang around in my mouth long after the box of Sour Patch was gone.  Also, TJ's choice of flavors is a bit more refined than your average pack of sour gummies: tangerine, grapefruit, lemon, and lime. It took me a while to figure out which flavor matched with which color. I figured out that the deep reddish color must be grapefruit. I think they were going for a ruby red vibe. The orange-ish color is tangerine. The colors of the lemon and lime flavors are nearly indistinguishable from one another, but I think one has a delicate green hue you can detect in certain light.

I really have no complaints about this candy. Sonia loved them too. There's even a resealable bag to keep them fresh (which does help one avoid the temptation to consume the entire bag all at once). If I were comparing this to Cookie Butter Ice Cream or Chicken Tikka Masala, I might not hold them in such high esteem. But I'm comparing them to every other gummy candy I've ever had, so I can't deny them a near-perfect score. Sonia agrees. 4.5 stars from each of us.

Bottom line: 9 out of 10.