Everybody has their go-to products when they finally find a parking place at Trader Joe’s and head into the store. Here are ours.
Marcona almonds with truffles. The musky, mysterious aroma and taste of truffles is unmistakable even in tiny quantities. The Trader slathers it on like baby oil, creating a treat we can’t stop eating. According to their website, “true Marcona Almonds are grown only on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. They’re shorter and flatter than California almonds, with a distinctive sweet, buttery flavor and a light, crunchy texture.” Eat them right out of the bag, or serve on a tapas plate with sharp cheese and olives.
Thousand-Day Gouda. This reminds us of Vella Jack, an intense dried cheese that is perfect for backpacking because it provides a lot of taste in a small bite and it doesn’t get weepy in your pack like cheeses with higher moisture content. According to the Trader, “most Gouda is young, but this cheese is quite mature. It’s crafted in the traditional manner, using fresh milk from the Dutch countryside. It is allowed to ripen on untreated wooden shelves, where it is hand turned by the cheese master to ensure even flavor and consistent texture throughout each wheel. At 1000 days, it becomes a full-flavored, somewhat crumbly cheese replete with fine crystals [calcium citrate] that give it a bit of crunch.” You’ll find it in triangular sections with other cut cheeses, but you may have to look carefully because many stores are timid and stock this in very small quantities.
Oven-Baked Cheese Bites. The same reader who told us about the above Marcona almonds turned us on to these Paleo-friendly morsels. They’re made with funky Gran Padano and other aged cheeses, somehow puffed up for maximum surface area which means maximum taste. You know how good fried Parmesan is, when you let it melt in the skillet and then peel off the lacy coating and pop it in your mouth. Oven-Baked Cheese Bites are like that. They’re not cheap at $2.99 for a little bag, but many specialty cheese treats are much more. They’re usually found attached by clips to the shelves in the chip aisle.
We also like almost any chocolate item from Trader Joe’s, their small but good selection of deli meats (often prepackaged in sliced combos, very handy when you’re on the road and crave a little charcuterie plate) and their ridiculously cheap Botswain Double IPA.
Anything we don’t like? You bet. We picked up some “Italian Butter Cookies and a Few Meringues” this past holiday season and couldn’t finish them. They were tasteless and shapeless, pale forms in a box that looked nothing like the chipper package artwork, and could have use some anise extract and a few colored sugar sprinkles to compete with the Italian Christmas cookies that are so widely available in upstate New York. Also, Mandarin Orange Chicken, a freezer product that appears at the top of most fan lists. What’s up with that? It’s a lot of work to prepare and ends up tasting like Chinese takeout, making you wonder why TJ fans didn’t just order takeout in the first place.