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Monday, 28 March 2011

Waitrose Tarte Selection

Oh, Waitrose... how you amuse me. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Higgidy should surely feel flattered by your 'Tartes'. And I'm fairly sure they're called quiches, by the way...

But seriously, here we have a couple of their offerings from a range that has very basic packaging, using mainly scripty fonts to describe the contents. Had they added adorable cartoons all over the box, this could not have been a clearer homage to that little company in Shoreham-by-Sea, because it's obviously designed to look hand-written. Shame I worked in Publishing long enough to differentiate between a script font and hand-written lettering...

These are all good-sized quiches, for serving up to four with a good-sized slice (my own estimate - the packaging refrains from offering any opinion) and, while the pastry is not completely consistent between each product, all seem to be 'butter enriched'.

Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar TARTE
The full description for this is "Butter enriched cheese shortcrust pastry, blind baked for crispness. Filled with a smooth blend of cream, egg and mature Somerset Cheddar. Hand finished with sweet balsamic onions."

I must confess, I had no idea what 'balsamic onion' is when I ate this quiche... though, going by the colour, I suspected it was marinated in balsamic vinegar. Having now looked into the matter I see this is more or less the case. Sadly however, Waitrose must have done something to remove the flavour - by which I mean all of it - because there's precious little onion and certainly no balsamic-vinegariness to the casually-strewn onion pieces. The onion is noticeably sweet, but otherwise quite neutral.

That pretty much set the standard for the rest of the quiche, in fact... because not only did the onion lack flavour, but it was quite gooey in texture, almost completely liquefied in places. I would concede that the Somerset Cheddar's flavour was somewhat more distinctive than yer-average cheese additive in quiche, but the overall impression made by the filling was that it was slimy and stodgy - rather typical for a supermarket ready-made quiche, in fact.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but I would have thought that a 'Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar' quiche would have a nice balance between sharp-yet-sweet, tangy onion and sharp-yet-creamy cheese. That, and specifying Somerset Cheddar tends to suggest a stronger, more distinctive flavour should be present. I should note that I ate this one cold, and it may have been better served warm... but I'm not sure it would have elevated it out of the 'bland' zone.

The cheese shortcrust pastry was quite nice, though I'm not sure blind baking (a practice by which the pastry is baked before the filling is added) really helped a great deal. Whether it was the enrichment-by-butter or the addition of largely fluid fillings when it was prepared, I cannot know... but the pastry was soft rather than crisp. It tasted nice enough - sad to say even the pastry had more flavour than the onion - but, unlike the pastry of a certain south coast competitor, it was nothing special.

Goat's Cheese and Red Pepper Tarte
Here's where we get something that comes close to rivalling those other quiches... "Butter enriched pastry, blind baked for crispness. Filled with tangy goats cheese, peppery watercress & a hint of red chilli. Hand finished with chargrilled red peppers."

That description alone suggests a good deal more imagination has gone into making this quiche. Goat's cheese (or goats cheese - the packaging does punctuate it both ways) rather than boring old Cheddar, watercress - surely an extravagance? - and chilli... then chargrilled peppers on top. It almost reads like something Higgidy would do... Almost.

For starters, I cooked this one rather than serving it cold... but only because I fancied a hot meal when I ate it. Again, I'm not sure what difference it would/should make, so this is based entirely on my experience of eating this particular quiche... And what an experience it was.

As an aside, there was one point while I was noshing away, that I was hit by something very spicy. I'm not sure if it was a richer vein of watercress or red chilli (more likely the latter), but it was a very pleasant surprise in the middle of my meal. Sadly, it was not repeated... but it certainly livened things up briefly.

But even ignoring that gratifying anomaly, this quiche was far superior to the cheese and onion one described above. Even if it had just been 'goats cheese and red pepper', I suspect the standard of flavour and texture would have been preferable to the other quiche, but the added embellishments really bring out the flavour. The cheese is slightly bitter (or is that what they mean by 'tangy'?) but incredibly creamy and smooth. The grilling of the red pepper was very well judged, resulting in it being soft, sweet, yet still firm enough to feel like red pepper, rather than just being the sweet organic splodge it could so easily have become.

The bulk of the filling, too, was lighter and fluffier than the previous quiche, almost as if it was a completely different recipe (difficult to tell, because the ingredients breakdown is less specific on this one than on the cheese and onion quiche), as I doubt the act of cooking it changed its consistency so dramatically.

So far, it's sounding like a valid challenge from Waitrose to Higgidy... which is why it's a real shame that the pastry lets it down. It's a similarly smooth and buttery base to the cheese and onion quiche, but without the cheese component. Having been in the oven before serving, this one was crisp, so it's possible that these are really intended to be served hot, with the preparation optimised for that eventuality but, while Waitrose are saying these can be served hot or cold, I wonder if the blind-baking could have been taken a little further.

Another difference between these own-brand products is that they're all labelled as suitable for freezing, meaning there's something in their preparation that is geared toward refrigeration, and this may affect other aspects of the product. As mass-produced foodstuffs go, the latter quiche is a real winner. It's packed with flavour, with each element remaining strong and distinct. With a bit more work in the pastry, the Goats Cheese and Red Pepper quiche would be awesome, but there is a more significant flaw in the Balsamic Onion and Somerset Cheddar version that really needs to be addressed somehow.

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