Forman & Field Luxury Hamper (by @NLi10)
We often get requests to review odd products that don't really fit under the 'snack food' umbrella, but there is usually one of the three of us that is willing to try it. I have a tendency to gravitate towards the convenience foods - proper nutrition in convenient forms - than the others, mainly because this is where my shopping list takes me. I love finding new and exciting ways to make meal times fast but tasty. When the team at FoodStuffFinds got asked by www.FormanandField.com if we'd like a hamper to review it seemed more up my street.
After-all, what could be more convenient than a little wicker basket arriving on the doorstep full of food! The problem with this is that there is such a variety in one of these that it's not really possible for one person to offer a detailed opinion on all these things - especially when the hamper contains both fish and cheese, two things I'm not usually inclined to eat voluntarily. The best reviews look at the situations you are most likely to need the products in - so today we are holding a virtual diner party! I carefully selected the people in my life who would make a b-line to the specific sections of the table with those foods on and got them to either give me mini reviews or let me watch them eat them. Like most dinner parties this review goes on a bit longer than usual.
I think I've always secretly been jealous of the people who get hampers for Christmas. I've seen them in the back of the catalogues for various shops & societies growing up, but have been convinced by more frugal members of my family that it's just cheaper to source the individual things. I think the problem with this approach is that it's fine if you just want 'some ham and a pork pie', but if you want a treat for a specific event and want the best ham and the best pork pie then these hampers could be then next step up from my now traditional Ocado delivery. The hamper we received was a 'taster' hamper and is both a scaled-down in terms of the portion sizes, but ramped up in terms of the variety of the items included compared to the versions on the website. This is perfect as giving someone 100g of salmon to try is a nice gesture, but 400g may come across as a bit odd! Opening it up was certainly a wow moment, and you keep finding extra stuff in the straw - like the ham down the side & the cheese hiding underneath the packing.
So without further ado - the contents!
Mrs King's Melton Mowbray Pork Pie (Eaten by me)
If at any point a large selection of food is placed in front of me at a family social gathering I'm probably going to go straight for the Pork Pie. Granted, I'm probably going to start piling small deserts such as profiteroles around it, but the pie is the priority. I'm not a massive expert on them, I've reviewed a few on here over the years but it's more of a special occasion thing than a normal purchase. And this pork pie certainly is special - I mean look at the meat in this!
The thickness of the pastry is making me hungry just typing this up. I took it in to work - expecting to be able to eat it in one sitting for lunch. I managed just under half! I did share little bits of that half with other colleagues who said that they really liked it. The second half was consumed on the following day, a similarly filling experience. The flavours were a little spicy, but overall well balanced. I don't think it was designed to be eaten in a single sitting and a sixth of this with a buffet lunch of left-over turkey on boxing day would be amazing. If I see these in the regular shops I'm almost certainly getting one.
Potted Lobster (eaten by Jon) & Lemon Curd (eaten by me)
With our friend the pork pie for scale we now find two little taster-jars in the hamper, one of lobster & one of lemon curd. I had absolutely zero desire to eat the lobster so my good buddy Jon volunteered to eat this. Lemon curd is great stuff, but I really didn't know what to do with it! It's a bit lower than the lobster as it leaked in transit, but the straw-like paper seemed to help mop it up.
As part of a healthy work lunch Jon said the best way to try this would be on some cracked black pepper Ryvita. The big Fentiman's D&B was deemed too overpowering compared to the nicely delicate lobster and so saved for later on.
The moment of truth!
A success! The lobster crumbled with ease and didn't fill the canteen with that fishy smell you sometimes get. It was a delicate flavour and well balanced with the crackers. The whole pot was finished in one sitting, but the ones that you get in the normal hamper are much larger so I think this was a single serving. Lobster isn't something I tend to see served at dinner parties, so I think that this would be a big hit and definitely count towards the luxury quota of the package.
The lemon curd was an odd one. I'd no idea how to sample it! Cassie, A friend from work, suggested that I should have it on toast - so I did! This worked pretty well, it was runnier than I expected and had a very natural lemon flavour and went well as a kind of lemon marmalade experience. I shall have to think how best to use the rest of the pot as it didn't require much to give it a lovely flavour.
And now we move on to the meat section of the hamper - with two kinds of salmon and one kind of ham. As the reviews for the fish would have been 'it tastes like fish' and probably involved me grilling or frying it as I really don't have a clue I gave these to other people to eat (I kept the ham. I love ham).
H. Forman & Son Scottish Wild Salmon (eaten by my neighbours)
My elderly neighbours two doors down are a very British, elderly couple. I've tried to give them foods that I've had in the post before, but they tend to eat very traditional things and most of the selections I'm sent are a little too exotic! As they are often the people receiving the food sampling parcels for me when I am out at work I was very tempted to let them have the whole hamper - but that would make for a very short review! As a nice compromise I discussed the contents with them and the lady of the house said that she does like a good bit of salmon. I chose the unsmoked as I already had a person in mind for the smoked variety.
About a week later I caught up with them to see what they thought and she had shared it with her son on one of his visits and they had really enjoyed it. She suggested that it was much posher than the usual salmon she had (co-op I think) and that it was a nice treat. The official tasting notes for the salmon suggest that its flavour is gamey and its texture creamy - I'm sure these are good things.
The smoked salmon went to my boss Nick, who has spoken on many occasions in our office about his love for these things. Here are his thoughts on it:
H. Forman & Son Scottish Smoked Salmon (eaten by Nick)
"It had been hoped, in reviewing this product, to make a direct comparison with a budget smoked salmon from a well-known ‘pile-it-high’. Until, that is, examination of the fridge revealed the budget salmon was no longer there. “Gone off” was the reason given by the lady of the house “and that cheese”. This was Tuesday, the fish had been purchased on Monday and half of it consumed immediately, along with a nice bit of brie. Apparently and allegedly, the intervening day spent at four domestic-fridge degrees centigrade had caused a spontaneous decomposition of both which resulted in the need for immediate black-bag burial in the outside bin. I felt sorry for the salmon (and brie) and jealous of the neighbourhood fox who, unlike his forbears who were pursued by smoked salmon eating aristocrats, was pigging my smoked salmon watched by the ally-cats.
In fact, this episode reflects the great conundrums of smoked salmon consumption. Smoked Salmon is still regarded as a ‘posh food’ ; despite thirty years of intense aquiculture resulting in a relatively cheap product, us plebeians still have the idea that smoked salmon is the slivery alternative to prawn cocktail that you have with brown bread before a sirloin (medium), chips and seasonable vegetable followed by a choice of ice-cream. Furthermore, and hence my previous purchase's hasty demise, it smells like fish so, ergo, it must be ‘off’. These social anthropological circumstances combined to cause myself to only eat half of the first sample (too good to eat in one go) and my better half to throw this out (it smells like fish). This despite the fact that the salmon, cheese and indeed some nice brown-bread rolls, from the pile-it-high, cost less than a salmonella kebab. Thus are ones proletarian origins revealed, and thus I resolved to scoff the new smoked salmon sample in one (so I imagined) Edward the Seventhish sitting; the budget comparison meanwhile being a mental one.
Verdict – this is the way to eat salmon and this salmon is the way to go. And the difference between Forman & Son and pile-it-high is...water. Yes, OK, so salmon and water do posses a kind-of go together inevitability; but the difference here was that Forman & Son's salmon felt as though it contained only such water as the salmon itself had found conducive to its own watery well being before its smoky demise, whereas the other had, by comparison, apparently ended the smoking process via a good dousing from the local fire brigade. Its’ good; and my advice for those who are lucky enough to be first to open a Forman & Son's hamper is to snaffle the smoked salmon and consume the contents directly, in one go, and without reference to matters of class consciousness. Though, of course, you will smell of fish (and bonfires).
And finally for the meats we have the ham.
Hand Carved Alderton Ham (eaten by me)
I'm not sure what it is about ham that's so deeply ingrained into my psyche. I know of tales from my family of me sitting in the pushchair being pushed around supermarkets happily eating the ham brought seconds ago from the butcher's resulting in my mom paying for the empty pack at the checkout - like other mothers do with chocolate or sweets. This is essentially the sample size portion of a full leg of ham that is in some of the super-deluxe hampers , and was perfect for a cold meat supper with some pasta (and a solitary leafy green).
I think that I've been spoilt with hams before as this was merely very good ham. It wasn't salty at all which was a very nice surprise, but was otherwise like top quality butcher's ham should be. It was suitably crumbly, and had the right balance of fat to meat. I'd happily eat this on a daily basis (probably not wise) but it didn't feel quite as luxury as some of the other items. I guess if the whole ham was sitting on the table and I could carve it myself then that would be the pinnacle for this particular item, and possibly it's main selling point.
A Selection of Neal's Yard Dairy Cheeses (eaten by Ms. NLi10 and her dad)
Buried under all the straw in the main picture was this little box of cheese. I'm not an expert on cheese, and am more than a little repulsed by the stuff so I passed it on to my partner who assured me that it was 'very good cheese'
I think that some of the varieties of cheese were a little too strong for her so we are taking some of those this evening for her dad - who likes the kind of cheese that you have to keep in the out-house or garage to prevent the house from smelling like some kind of mouse party. I'll see if I can get a few comments on these to add in later.
Wow - what a long review you are thinking! And you'd be right - but it isn't over yet as they also sent us puddings!
On the left we have banana loaf which was very, very nice, but not especially interesting so I shall focus on the other two. On the right we have:
Forman & Field Chocolate Brownie Loaf (eaten by me and Ms NLi10)
Note the grown-up plates. We are so classy!
The brownie looked really posh in it's little wooden box (that you can reuse to bake your own) and has a great texture which is both smooth and has crunch to it in places. As any brownie aficionado knows you should take one of them (or a slice in this case) and pop it into the microwave for a 10 count to return it to it's former squidgy glory. When you do this it elevates this to being an amazing brownie. A little more interesting than it's Gu counterpart, but I suspect harder to get hold of (although F&F do have a big patisserie section online). We'd have this again in a heartbeat!
Paul Wayne Gregory Pure Indulgence Chocolates (me & Ms NLi10)
The final thing to eat at the end of the diner party is the little chocolates. These are rectangular and decently sized with a soft centre which is tea flavoured - result! There are better pictures here as I didn't really capture the elegance of the little guys.
This leaves us with one remaining thing - the hamper itself!
Once I figured out that the straw-like paper was very off-putting for them and replaced it with a blanket this has become a very classy cat bed. Unfortunately they are still in the 'shy phase' and keep getting out of it whenever we approach. If you frequently had picnics then this is certainly robust enough to be reused, but buying a hamper for someone with cats really does add value to the deal as it's perfectly sized for them. When I get a picture I will add it.
Thanks go to Forman & Field for sending this out. We've had a great time trying it all, and really must now sleep it all off. If you want to see pictures of their food being used in it's intended environment (and pictures of the cheese still on it's wheels) then their Blog is pretty good.