Photo by Amy the Nurse from Flickr.
Torontoist’s slumber was interrupted just the other night by the jovial and raucous yells of dozens of inebriated teens. In early September this can only mean one thing—frosh. This got us to thinking of our own days in university and, being hungry at almost all times, this quickly led us to think about the food that kept our brains going through those four (or five, or six) years. The Mac N’ Cheese edition of the Great Torontoist Challenge is our homage to not only students, but to autumn, to comfort food, to powdered cheese, and to one of the most quint-essentially Canadian meals out there.
- Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner. Introduced in Canada in 1937, KD, as it is lovingly known, is the true original. You haven’t really experienced university in this country until you’ve opened your cupboard and found that all that’s left is a box of KD and maybe some baking soda.
- President’s Choice Deluxe White Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese. While some would say that mac n’ cheese isn’t proper unless it has that special tinge to it, this contestant’s loyal followers will rant and holler that PC’s more natural, less glow-in-the-dark offering is the only true path to enlightenment.
- Pastato Mac & Cheese. Made under the umbrella of Maplegrove Foods, Pastato Mac & Cheese is made with potatoes and is wheat, gluten and rennet free. If that doesn’t get your mouth watering, the fact that it’s kosher might!
- Compliments Macaroni and Cheese. Available at Price Choppers and other discount supermarkets, the Canadian owned Compliments line of food, pet, and household products is reminiscent of the President’s Choice brand when it first started.
- Visuals. Disconcerting colour? Creamy appearance?
- Sauce Quality. Does it taste and look like cheese or more like cheez? Tolerable levels of saltiness, chemically-ness?
- Noodle Quality. Mouth feel, is it firm/soggy/starchy (based on recommended cooking time)? Noodles’ ability to hold sauce, mixing hindrance—does it ‘hide’ the powder, preventing a good mix?
- Overall flavour. Is it yummy?
- Smell. Does it have an aroma that whets the appetite or makes you want to ralph?
Students, generally speaking, are pretty low on cash. Mac n’ cheese has become a staple of the undergraduate diet for just that reason, and therefore we could not ignore the cost of each contestant.
Compliments ($0.47 at Price Chopper); President’s Choice ($0.89 at No Frills); Kraft Dinner ($1.19 at Loblaws); Pastato ($1.23 at Loblaws).
What can we say? Though our panel had a general feeling of who the winner would be while judging, it was still a wee bit suprising that PC kicked such serious and unequivocal ass across the board. Well, except for that one noodle bit.
- Visuals. PC Deluxe White Cheddar—13/15. Looked creamy, and not in a weird gloopy way.
- Sauce Quality. PC Deluxe White Cheddar—14/15. PC’s sauce had just the right level of viscosity and saltiness.
- Noodle Quality. TIE: PC Deluxe White Cheddar and Compliments Macaroni and Cheese—13/15. PC’s elbow style noodle pleased our panel as being the “proper” shape for a mac n’ cheese meal, however it did cause some mixing issues. Compliments, the under-dog to say the least, had a very high quality noodle that was perfectly cooked when the package was followed.
- Overall Flavour. PC Deluxe White Cheddar—15/15. “Tops!”
- Smell. PC Deluxe White Cheddar—11.5/15. To be frank, none of these are going to smell great. That being said, PC’s offering had a relatively rich aroma that did not make us squish up our faces.
Despite potential in the sauce department, the flop of this challenge was Pastato. There were several issues with this entrant—it made barely half of what the other contestants did, it had a smell that was repugnant, and most importantly, the cook time listed of 3-4 minutes was wildly misguided. Potato based though it may be, this is no gnocchi, and the noodles turned out to be on the severe side of al dente.
Making up the middle ranks were Kraft Dinner and Compliments. Tumbling off its pedestal, Kraft Dinner would have been the loser if Pastato had a longer cook time. With a thin noodle and a runny sauce—it takes double the milk the other brands do—KD had a “hard to place” smell and was begging for some salt. It has to be pointed out, however, that the neutrality of Kraft Dinner does lend itself well to mixing with ketchup, weenies, or in a tuna casserole, if that’s your thing.
The pre-ketchupped look of Compliments was described by our judges as “rusty” and “somehow evil.” To its credit, however, it actually almost smelled like cheese! Once we got past the colour, we were surprised to discover that for $0.47 Compliments has created a product that is creamy, has a high quality noodle, a good level of salt and an overall good taste. *Huzzah*
The true winner, which was easy to surmise, was President’s Choice Deluxe White Cheddar. In the world of mac n’ cheese, PC is capital! It’s at the top of its game in every category and when it came time to part our judging panel broke out into a minor melee over the leftovers. Considering how much we all paid—or are in the midst of paying—for our fancy educations, we deserve the fancy mac n’ cheese to match. At the end of the day, it may not be the cheapest of the contestants, but it’s still deluxe under a dollar, and that sounds delicious to us.
Photos of our contestants by Julie Reitsma.