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Club Milk

Friday 15 Aug 2008

This summer has been fairly bereft of any summery weather. Especially when like team NCOTAASD you head off to Ireland before the brief heat wave of July only to return again some three weeks later safely accompanied across the Irish sea by downpours of torrential rain. So yes three weeks of camping around the emerald isle is now well and truly under our belts. To put this into perspective when we next bleat on about some charity event that we have become embroiled in and are looking for sponsorship, perhaps you might want to retrospectively sponsor the putting up and down of one large family tent in the rain four times. In between times we did manage to finally track down that pinnacle of Irish biscuit bar excellence the Club Milk, ancestor of the UK's Club biscuit and recently restored back to its proper configuration and glory.

For some biscuits Ireland is rapidly becoming what Madagascar is to lemurs, the last place on earth to see them in the wild. The sadly missed Lincoln biscuit now but a memory in the aisles of UK supermarkets still gambols amongst the other dunkers in Irish shops. The Mikado or Mallow as it was called in the UK still occupies its rightful place at aisle ends. And such is the position of importance of the fig roll in Irish culture that McVities have created a fig roll specifically for the Irish market and are boasting about its 30% fig content to the educated Irish fig roll consumer. Wifey feigned brief interest in such earth shattering discoveries up the biscuit aisle and then beat a hasty retreat to the car park. I, however continued with the last great Irish biscuit quest to find the legendary Club Milk, which Wifey had failed to turn up on her last girls outing to Dublin.

The history of the Club Milk goes back about 100 years to just before the first world war. Introduced into Ireland by Jacobs it quickly became a firmly established part of Irish tea time. Two plain oblong marie style biscuits sandwiching a cocoa flavoured cream filling and enrobed in thick milk chocolate, it led a simple and pure existence. Indeed the many variants produced for the UK market by Jacobs in Liverpool, orange, mint, fruit etc were unknown in the Irish market. Generations of of Club Milk wrappers were decorated drawing on imagery from the club suit in playing cards. This too was repeated in the UK market on the chocolate only club.

Now much of what follows in this paragraph is what I've pieced together of the recent history of the Club, building on what I've already expounded in the UK Orange Club review of some years back. Jacobs at the time spanned the Irish sea with manufacturing and distribution based in Dublin and Liverpool. It appears many finished products crossed the Irish sea, and it seems reasonable that at some point Liverpool took over production on the Club Milk for the Irish Market. The extravagant use of good quality chocolate on the Club meant that profits were tight in a competitive market and when Danone took over Jacobs in the 1990s it set about redesigning the product. Consumers abandoned the product in droves as two biscuits became one raft format biscuit, chocolate dwindled and wrappers gave way to flow pack. This remains the case in the UK market under United Biscuits who took over ownership of the UK half of Jacobs. In Ireland, however, faced with a clean slate new owners Fruitfield now Jacob Fruitfield have decided to go back to basics and start making proper Club biscuits, and let the increasing affluent Irish simply pay a little bit more to get a better biscuit.

As we moved ever westwards across Ireland there was still no sign of the Club Milk. Finally we reached the far west coast in Co Mayo deep in the Gealtecht (Gaelic speaking areas), we came to a high headland composed of sparkling pyrite rocks half a billion years old and looked out across the Atlantic breakers. With the distant mountains of Donegal and Connemarra smokey blue silhouettes over each shoulder we had by now been clean across Ireland. As we left this magical place behind and headed back into the town of Bellmullet I felt we couldn't really get more Irish than this. A trip to the supermarket to get bread and milk, and my customary reko of the biscuit aisle turned good. Club Milks in abundance, plus wafer ones and dark chocolate ones too. Wrapped in yellow and red I now had my eye in and grabbed some packs.

I have to admit to some trepidation in opening up and sampling the precious chocy bic. Would it be an anticlimax, nothing like pre-Danone Clubs or in some way deficient? I thought it best to put off such a moment till it fell in with natural order of our day. To dignify such a noble biscuit with a proper occasion for its eating rather than some tawdry ripping open of wrappers in some car park next to the skips. Unfortunately the moment coincided with Nanny Nicey's late evening master class on instant Horlicks camping style. Still despite such a possible set back the Club Milk showed its class and breeding and performed immaculately. The chocolate was excellent and could be bitten away in large and discrete chunks. The biscuits within didn't have the exact profile I recall but were crisp and lively. Overall the flavour was that of a fine milk chocolate and not some make do approximation. A few days later when a follow up pack suffered greatly at the hands of the rare Irish sunshine in a stifling hot tent we found that once they had cooled and hardened they tasted just as good.

Although we were buying six packs I soon spotted 18 packs to join the other wafer and dark clubs and broaden the range. So all in all it appears the Club biscuit is alive and very well indeed back in its native land, providing another excellent reason to visit Ireland apart from all that Guinness and scenery.

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Fox's Whipped Creams

Friday 27 Jun 2008

I've been trudging through some fairly dismal biscuits recently. Strictly I should have reviewed them and shared their bleak and un-stimulating selves with you, but really where's the fun in that? So two packs of McVities Organic Yumbles, which were Digestives and Hobnobs by another name, only much smaller and more expensive and in need of more packaging to make them seem bigger, passed by without comment. These were followed by a pack of Burton's Bingo acquired in the often left-field Morrisons biscuit aisle. They were a first and also a last for Wifey and I. A small and troubled dollop of 'chocolate' recumbent on a small slab of gritty biscuit which was more of an autopsy to find out what killed it than a snack. Sad too, as Nanny Nicey has lots of excellent Bingo stories, like the time a fight broke out and they had to get South Wales Police in to break it up. So like a ray of sunlight Fox's new range of Whipped Creams have arrived at NCOTAASD HQ to restore our faith in biscuit innovation.

Now its not going unnoticed that Fox's are using a state of the art computer generated Italian American Gangster Armchair bound Panda to extoll the virtues of their biscuits. Since Pixar made Monsters Inc and developed all the gubbins for doing fur and hair inside computers such things have become possible. Hence all the movies involving hair and fur over the last the last seven years and of course adverts too. I have to say like or loath him, the panda drinks milk and can't say biscuit properly, he does look very expensive. Burton's on the other hand have gone for a large rubbery looking glove puppet of a Maryland cookie sat on wall telling what I assume are jokes. McVities have decided to bring us little domestic tableaus from a family of CGI wheat ears, who individually don't look as expensive as Vinny the Panda, but live in a photo realistic wheat field as opposed to his minimalist white room. As one of the wheat ears is clearly Vernon Kaye we can be conveniently distracted from all the problems of how one wheat ear can apparently be the father of another adjacent one. As a parting shot to all of this Vinny does partake of a Chocolate Viennese finger, which being the product shot probably required huge attention to detail to get it looking right.

So down to business. Fox's tell me their new biscuits are aimed at the adult indulgent but "we've had enough of chocolate" sector. Yes the oh so obvious chocolate can actually be off putting to many who are after a something a bit fancy. Those who dream of the ultimate custard cream rather than a bar of chocolate passing itself off as a biscuit are the target audience. The pack does the work of positioning these as adult items. Two biscuits indulge in a bit of mild bondage with a black gauze ribbon the end of which caresses a third voyeur which has been opened to reveal its jam and cream. Just in case you think I'm over doing it a bit the strap lines on the pack are "Buttery shortcake biscuit caressed with cream and sinfully strawberry conserve. Naughty!" the lemon ones have "lustfully lemon curd" in them. I shall touch base with NCOTAASD chaplain The Rev Stephen Day to see if one could safely serve these to the Vicar with out getting into trouble.

The biscuits are already in ASDA and should be arriving at the other big four supermarkets through out July, in order Morrisons, Tescos and finally Sainsburys. Eight biscuits to a pack and in genuine need of some support the box contains a cellophane wrapped insert tray with four stacks of two biscuits. At 26mm high these are some of the tallest biscuits we have seen and definitely evoke comparison with a Mr Kipling Viennese Whirl. The biscuit does contain butter and some cornflour which makes for a very soft and crumbly texture with good flavour. The whipped cream filling (note the whipped has a little red heart to dot its i on the pack), is placed in six blobs towards the sides of the hexagonal biscuit. This creates a well in the center to hold the sinful strawberry jam or lustful lemon curd, either of which accounts for 9% of the biscuit. The occasional gap between the cream blobs lets some jam seep out ever so slightly. Unlike most biscuit jam Fox's have elected to use the genuine article, with the a 45% fruit content in their strawberry jam and no need to resort to colours or flavours. The lemon curd has a few odds and ends to make it suitable for biscuit use such as pectin and uses natural flavourings and colour to get the lemon effect.

With so much on offer it's perfectly possible to enjoy these biscuits individually, not a bad plan as they're packing 141 calories each. Personally I couldn't really imagine wanting more than two in a sitting as all that indulgence can be a bit much. In this case I would see that as a bonus, treat yourself but don't get hopelessly out of control and wind up regretting the whole thing. Yes the adult themes continue as we move from lust and sin to guilt and the mature use of self restraint.

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Blue Riband

Tuesday 6 May 2008

The Wife has called an end to this madness declaring it a disgrace that I haven't done a Biscuit of the Week since last year. With summer finally here and the prospect of lots and lots of cycling the natural processes that keep my midriff in equilibrium stand a chance, that is eating biscuits and getting from A to B. So with out further ado lets take a look at a wafer biscuit that we've inexplicably managed to pass over for many a year the Blue Riband.

What do you know I set my self up for a well earned biscuit only to find the Blue Riband has positioned itself as some form of calorie counting biscuit. Yes this assemblage of wafers milk chocolate, wafers and some nameless brown stuff between the wafers, bills itself at 99 calories per biscuit. Fine, but we'll come back to that. Right now let's rip into one and see what's going on before we start picking through the details.

Well no sooner have we started and its over, blink and you could have missed the whole thing. Casting my mind back a few seconds I realise that the Blue Riband does have a distinctive and overriding flavour. You are going to be underwhelmed when I say it tastes strongly of wafer, but it really does. Perhaps more so than any other wafer based biscuit I can think of. With distinct notes of well toasted bread crusts the wafer here is providing much more than a simple carcass on which to pour milk chocolate, its an equal partner in the taste. Of course all that wafer disappears at the slightest munch causing the Blue Riband to do a vanishing act in our mouths.

Whilst wondering about why its called a Blue Riband it transpires that the biscuit was launched in 1936 one year after the creation of the Blue Riband trophy awarded to ships that made the transatlantic crossing in the fastest average time. So maybe the speed at which these things go is captured in the name.

At 99 calories each they reckon each provides 5% of the daily intake, that's twenty a day then! Also I think as an adult male I get another 200 calories on top of that so I could have another one pretend we are still on 2000 and it would be like it never even happened. Nestle have anticipated this with a cunning scam, they only put 9 in a pack. Check my maths but I make that you are forced to buy 20 packs and eat nothing else for ten days solid if you wanted to live on Blue Ribands and not have any left over. Whether that is physically possible, or happens routinely I don't know.

For the sake of a sanity check lets compare the Blue Riband to a proper wafer, something you can consider eating one at a time and not feel that you missed something, the mighty Tunnocks Caramel. Not only is it considerably bigger but our Tunnocks tipped the scales at 34g whilst the Blue Riband managed a paltry 18g. There you have it the are only about half the weight of a proper wafer.

Not only can I justify having another but I've just proven that I've only really had half a normal wafer.

Actually I've got a Tunnocks here, kettle on, I think I'l have that instead. I know, I know that makes 1 and a half wafers or something..

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