Cooks end up in the supermarket. We might resent it, we might well prefer to pop on a suit of country casuals and skip straight to the gate of a farm. But, you know how it is: mouths to feed, hours to save and funds that just keep disappearing. And, work. We often do that when we’d rather be germinating cauli seeds in time for a pre-winter harvest, or planning our cauli menus for the colder months.
Let’s leave aside your reporter’s obsession with cauliflower (what can’t we do with this magnificent flower?!) and step into a supermarket. A supermarket that can tend to split shoppers into two groups. One, like my dad, loves this place and visits those bizarre Wednesday specials each week. One, like my mum, declares, “I wouldn’t go into that hell for cash money.” Yeah. It’s Aldi.
Both these Aldi responses are reasonable. It’s reasonable to gape at the Wednesday specials: low-cost electrical generators, scuba equipment or, who knows, a Build Your Own Tactical Warfare kit any day now. It’s reasonable to feel a panic in a store of such design. The “bare bones” look of the boxed-up place is not a true cost-saving measure, but a conscious branding decision that can induce real panic. A place that looks like Centrelink with cheap canned goods reminds me of lining up at Centrelink, so I could buy cheap canned goods after. A person who has never been to Centrelink, though, might think: “Ooh. Well, this is depressing. I must be really saving money.”
One, like my dad, loves this place and visits those bizarre Wednesday specials each week. One, like my mum, declares, “I wouldn’t go into that hell for cash money.”
There is no insolence intended in these observations. Every major supermarket determines its 'brand' and sometimes that means making the fruit-and-veg section look a bit like a farmers market and sometimes it means ripping out the ceiling tiles and removing the nice, warm lighting installed by a previous tenant. The hard fluorescence that makes some uneasy at Aldi is no accident.
It would be an accident not to take another view: Aldi is a place that sells things, some of which are cheap and good.
Not all, mind. The Aldi brand coffee capsule machine is a reasonable piece of machinery, but its capsules have, to my palate, the approximate taste of No-Doz and mud. Having said this, I put their product in my face-hole for three years with no ill effects. My true problem was Aldi Syndrome, that cultish belief that it’s all good.
No. No, no! The frozen pies? Goodness, no. It is better, for me, to forego savoury pies altogether. However, there are true bargains that I was able to locate after Syndrome therapy.
Veuve Monsigny Brut Champagne NV is usually $24.99 and, just a few days ago, on sale for $19.99. My tasting notes are: “Mumm NV is better, but not twice as good despite costing twice as much. Also, this thing has pictures of medals on it. Another glass? Well, heavens, if I must.”
The Aldi cheese fridge demands a visit. I will keep visiting until the Grana Padano reappears. Aldi Manchego may not be as good as the Will Studd sort I bought to cheer up a mate last Sunday. Can’t say, as Manchego never lasts long enough to permit such taste comparison, however: probably not.
Will’s cheese is brilliant. But, when available, Aldi’s is sheepy and nutty with that candle mouthfeel and is priced per kg like Costco’s – also good, but also sold at Costco in wedges as big as my head.
Aldi’s milk choc has the smooth texture and middle-Europe taste of Milka’s, yet is cheap enough – if you are a timid milk choc cook – to use in desserts. As for Aldi cereals, chips and snack bars? Shoppers I know swear by them. My mum installed a fear of these foods in me decades ago.
But, no longer the fear of Aldi, which has a place in my pantry. If it has one in yours: spill the discount beans, shopper. Can’t keep a bargain to yourself.
Helen Razer is your frugal food enthusiast, guiding you to the good eats, minus the pretension and price tag in her weekly Friday column, Cheap Tart. Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.
Don't miss her next instalment, follow her on Twitter @HelenRazer.