Cumbrae's Other Stuff
So, I bought Cumbrae's pulled pork and some truffle butter this week when I was in getting some bones, some Berkshire and some brisket. I have long used their stocks and demi and liked them both. I hadn't tried any of their other prepared stuff because it is all so expensive (or at least more expensive than I was/am willing to pay to blindly try the stuff).
However, I had heard good things about the pulled pork so thought I'd give it a try ($11 for a 10cm Wide/20 cm Long/3 cm Deep tray full). The truffle butter looked too good to be true with flecks of black throughout ($7 for about 100 grams).
Well the pulled pork was fantastic. Really juicy and well pulled -- possitively adictive. The truffle butter is really good and has a strong truffle flavour, but it is also clear that the black is cremini mushroom and that adds a fairly strong cremini flavour to the mix which I didn't expect and wouldn't pay anywhere near $7 for again -- it was too good to be true.
But given how good the pulled pork was, and how good their stocks and demi are, I figrue there must be other great things worth the price.
The lasagna looks really good and the package seems to make it clear that it is properly made with bechamel and ragu -- but at $17 for a tray that would only just feed our family of three, I'd like to hear from anyone who has tried it. I'm also curious about their spreads, patés, and pot-pies.
I can vouch for the smoked pork tenderloin - fabulous when flaked onto a toasted english muffin, topped with a poached egg and smokey paprika hollandaise, for weekend brunches. Their bacon is heavenly. Have also tried their pies and tortiere with great satisfaction.
Their stuff isn't ALL extremely expensive. Indeed, some of the prepared food - things without really pretentious ingredients - though not cheap, are very reasonable. For example, some dishes are so rich that the small size serves two amply.
We haven't liked everything We've tried, but there have been some real winners. The polentas are in a different league from the hard, sausage-shaped tubes I see everywhere else. Many of the pastas are hearty and delicious. I think the large lasagne might feed more than 3 -- it's much richer than, say, the quite decent President's Choice version and should go further. We have enjoyed some meat pies, scalloped potatoes, and roasted squash. The prepared lamb shanks are $7 something each, but cooking these from scratch wouldn't be cheaper.
We have found some interesting sounding things that didn't deliver. Sauces have disappointed consistently, which is surprising given the quality of their stocks. Parsnip/apple/champagne sauce was blah, as was something with lemongrass that we tried. Pates have disappointed - to my taste, Antoine's are much better.
Last night, we tried a lamb & white bean sauce with a rack of lamb. It was lovely once goosed with some madeira and cream and then reduced, but very disappointing out of the container. I don't mind adding herbs and cheese to a frozen supermarket pizza, but would expect Cumbrae's stuff to be usable as is.
One thing that bugs me is their failure to list ingredients on any of their labels. There is no excuse for them not to provide this information. It is only possible to learn what's in a prepared item when the person who made it is there. Often this person isn't. I also feel they put "double smoked bacon" into far too many things (though this obviously represents my tastes rather than a deficiency).
Nothing with "truffles" has been worth the price. Better to add some white truffle oil yourself.
Shepherds pie doesn't lead to salivating anticipation of a taste thrill, but this one looked like good solid comfort food with a beautiful potato top. It was apparently very low fat (the lovely mashed potato top didn't brown even a little) and was utterly tasteless. Don't bother with this one.
I too look forward to trying their lasagne, though I am suspicious of recs which incidentally praise the PC version. As a fan of PC products, I find their lasagne an exception: cardboardy, blah bland sauce, insufficient meat and cheese - a dank commercial taste which only foolish hostesses try to replate and pass off as home-made ! (yes it has happened...)
Am I being unkind ? Is Cumbrae's A LOT better ?
I'll be trying it before the end of the week and will post a reply. As for the PC version, here are the things I find attractive about it:
1. It has very little sauce and lots of pasta. I hate over-sauced lasagna.
2. That sauce is not too sweet, and does not have too many dried herbs.
3. The whole edges will brown enough that it gets cripspy and has some flavour in the browned/crisp areas.
The things not to like are: the soggy dough that leads to a doughiness of the whole dish. It certainly isn't fooling anyone that it is homemade. However, it is the best frozen lasagna I've had (which, I admit, isn't saying much). I'm willing to stand behind embee's 'quite decent'.
Anyways, what made me optimistic about the Cumbrae's version is that it was described as containing "pasta with bechamel and meat sauces". My preference is for a the really rich lasagna traditional to Bologne that is made with a bechamel and with a Ragu Bolognese and not for versions including a ricotta or cottage chese layer instead of the bechemel and a marinara, or other 'brighter' sauce for the Ragu.
I shop Cumbrae's regularly and love the meat, service and friendly energy. But the beef stock they prepare and sell, I find, is horrible. Too much salt(!) and a medicinal, metallic flavour. Same with the demi. Its easy to make mistakes with these products because of the lack of labels... I'm not asking for details... just a ingredients list. I ruined a braise once and will never repeat the mistake.
As for other prepared foods I find a lot are quite good. These days, I'm really enjoying the slow cooked beans with bacon.