The great Christmas 2016 taste test


Powered by article titled “The great Christmas 2016 taste test” was written by Fergus Henderson, Gizzi Erskine, Gary Usher, Giorgio Locatelli. Interviews by Molly Tait-Hyland, for The Observer on Sunday 11th December 2016 08.00 UTC

Party food, tested by food writer Gizzi Erskine


Smoked salmon

Inverawe S
moked Scottish Salmon
100g, £4.99,
Really good, not oily at all and loads of flavour. Cut in long strips rather than short ones, classic and neat.

Deluxe Hickory & Applewood Smoked Scottish Salmon
100g, £2.49,
Thick cut. Tastes like it’s smoked over something different.

Marks & Spencer Scottish Smoked Salmon Smoky & Robust
100g, £5,
It is so smoky it’s almost acrid. Not oily, just too smoked.

Waitrose Peat & Heather Scottish Smoked Salmon
140g, £6.99,
Thin cut. Nicely smoked but it’s got a bit of a weird flavour.

Cranberry-topped pork pies

Fortnums Cranberry Topped Pork Pie 1.35kg (3)

Marks & Spencer Cranberry Topped Pork Pie
880g, £10,
Very good pastry, well cooked. Lots of jelly so I’m happy. Well balanced filling. This is a really good pork pie.

Tesco Finest Mulled Cranberry Topped Pork Pie
860g, £5,
Perfect crisp pastry line. Lightly spiced berries – needs more jelly.

Waitrose Christmas Cranberry Topped Pork Pie
440g, £6,
Crisp, well-seasoned pastry; undercooked, sour cranberries.

Fortnum & Mason Cranberry Topped Pork Pie
1.35kg, £36.95,
Looks classic. Tastes a bit Spammy; berries are too acidic.



Irresistible Mini Pulled Pork Sliders

Marks & Spencer Mini Ultimate Cheese Burgers
10, £7,
Super cute. Lots of meat, a buttery brioche-style bun. The sauce is tasty, but you lose the cheese.

Irresistible Mini Pulled Pork Sliders
10, £4,
The bread is really soft, but the filling is too sweet, which really lets it down. Pretty grim.

Taste the Difference Chorizo Sliders with Manchego & Roasted Pepper Relish
8, £3.50,
Strong flavour of chorizo, but not in a good way; acrid. The manchego doesn’t contribute anything; the bun is dry.

Morrisons The Best Mini Beef Burger Sliders
10, £3.50,
The meat is completely overshadowed by whatever the chutney is on top. Massive fail.
No stars


Pigs in blankets

Irresistible Cocktail Sausages Wrapped in Bacon

Deluxe Freedom Foods Cocktail Sausages Wrapped in Bacon
210g, £1.99,
Really nice sausage meat. Great seasoning, herby – tastes of something.

Irresistible Cocktail Sausages Wrapped in Bacon
240g, £3.29,
Quite fatty; a very porky flavour but not much definition.

Extra Special Pigs in Blankets
210g, £2.98,
Really nice bacon on these but fairly ordinary sausage, which lets it down.

Waitrose Three Little Pigs
276g, £3.99,
I think the three sausage thing is stupid. Tastes quite ordinary. Salty. All I’m getting is salt.

Gizzi Erskine as Nancy
Gizzi Erskine as Nancy from Oliver Twist, shot at a location house in Princelet Street for OFM on 18 October. Clothes styled by Hope Lawrie. Props by Pene Parker. Hair and makeup by Martha Sitwell using Buberry. Hair by Simon Maynard Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Mini quiches

Morrisons The Best Mini Quiche Selection
12, £3.50,
Really good pastry, deeply filled. You can taste the bacon in the quiche lorraine but it’s also peppery and gooey in the middle.

Daylesford Mini Quiches
16, £12,
The stilton and caramelised onion is quite nice. Well seasoned. Good, crisp pastry.

By Sainsbury’s Mini Quiche Selection
12, £2.50,
There’s something that’s quite evocative of growing up. The quiche lorraine tastes of bacon, the other is underseasoned.

Specially Selected Mini Quiches
12, £1.99,
One seems to have poppy seeds in the pastry – weird. The quiche lorraine is OK. The orange one tastes bizarre.

Festive sausage rolls


By Sainsbury’s Turkey & Sausage Garland with Bramley Apple & Cider
630g, £7,
Looks very festive. Nicely spiced, good balance of seasoning. The cranberry is not too sweet.

Marks & Spencer Three Bird Sausage Roll
420g, £5,
Meaty, chunky. Feels like a mini pie. Underseasoned. Gamey, but not enough to stand out.

Tesco Finest Hog Roast Sausage Rolls
188g, £2.50,
Sweet. Not densely packed enough, as a good sausage roll should be. The flavour is nice.

Iceland Mulled Wine Sausage Rolls
320g, £1.50,
Oh my God, disgusting. So sweet, so mulled. Heavily spiced, underseasoned.
No stars



Chocolate, tested by Sticky Walnut chef owner Gary Usher

Marc de champagne truffles

Marc De Champagne Truffles Small, £13.50

Morrisons The Best
Milk Chocolate Marc De Champagne Truffles
140g, £4,
The chocolate tastes quite rich and it’s not too boozy. This tastes like real quality.

Thorntons Bag of Marc De Champagne Truffles
97g, £3,
Really caramelly. Not too strong, and delicious. I could nail a box of them.

Tesco Finest Marc De Champagne Boxed Truffles
140g, £5,
Not much booze coming through. The chocolate is good. Nice aftertaste.

Fortnum & Mason Marc De Champagne Truffles
125g, £13.50,
It tastes like it has the flavour of praline. Not what I want.

Salted caramel truffles

Thomas & Grace salted

Tesco Finest Salted Caramel Truffles
140g, £5,
The sparkly shell looks nice. It doesn’t taste like salted caramel. Moreish, but doesn’t taste like it’s supposed to…

Waitrose 1 Salted Caramel Truffles
200g, £5.99,
You do get caramel and salt in the dark one but it’s subtle; I prefer the milk. Not salty enough.

Harrods Sea Salt Caramel Alcohol-Free Milk Chocolate Truffles
140g, £13.95,
The chocolate tastes cheap and is too thick. Not enough salt.

Thomas & Grace Salted Caramel Truffles
130g, £4.99,
It’s offensively salty, and I like salt.
No stars


Gary Usher as the Artful Dodger
Gary Usher as the Artful Dodger. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Chocolate orange peel

The Chocolate Society Dark Chocolate Orange Peel
110g, £8.95,
Mild but moreish. A long-lasting orange flavour. The chocolate is rich and dark.

Hotel Chocolat Orangettes in Cointreau
150g, £8.50,
Heavy on the zest but the orange isn’t coming through. Not tart enough; the aftertaste is soapy rather than citrusy.

Fortnum & Mason Chocolate Lemon & Orange Peel
250g, £20,
Really subtle. The orange you can taste is quite nice, but it’s not much. Boring.

The East India Company Orange Peel Enrobed in Chocolate
150g, £8.99,
The chocolate is pretty poor. I can’t taste any orange. Quite bad.

Rose turkish delight

Fortnum & Mason Rose Turkish Delight, £8.95

Sebahat Rose Turkish Delight
500g, £5.50,
Tastes quite perfumed, but I like that and the texture is good. My favourite, really lovely, I’d eat another one straight away.

Fortnum and Mason Rose Turkish Delight Tin
125g, £8.95,
Quite fragrant but I think it’s a little bit too dense… I had to really chew to get through it.

Gama Turkish Delight Rose Flavour
200g, £1.25,
That’s not very nice; actually, that’s horrible. It’s so dense. More soapy than it is sweet.

Kahve Dünyasi Rose Turkish Delight
500g, £18.95,
That is so plain, it has no flavour. Terrible, it doesn’t even taste of turkish delight. Too subtle.
No stars

Selection boxes, £10 and under

Thorntons box

Thorntons Christmas Classic Collection
457g, £10,
Super tacky. But there’s loads in it. Good variety. Looks cheap and cheerful and that’s what it is.

Tesco Finest Safari Collection
180g, £6.50,
Eye catching. A nice mix of flavours, all quite interesting. I want to go back for another…

Irresistible Gold Collection
175g, £6,
Style over substance. Lots of packaging and the chocolates all taste the same.

Divine Chocolate Dark & Milk Belgian Collection
215g, £10,
I’ve had better chocolates from a petrol station. Give me a box of Maltesers over these.
No stars


Luxury chocolate boxes

The Chocolate Society, Luxury

Michel Cluizel No.48 Milk and Dark Chocolate Ganache
525g, £39.95,
Quite dark and rich and taste luxurious. They haven’t messed around too much. Moreish.

The Chocolate Society Christmas Chocolate Box
210g, £27.50,
A few eye-catching chocolates, classy tasting. The rest look boring. Mutton dressed as lamb.

Hotel Chocolat The Everything Luxe
545g, £35,
If you opened it up, you’d be impressed. They taste really different, but I don’t think the chocolate is great.

Marks & Spencer Ultimate Chocolate Collection
600g, £30,
Impressive looking. Soapy, overly sweet; they’ve sacrificed taste to make it look cool.

Cheese and biscuits, tested by Locanda Locatelli chef owner Giorgio Locatelli


Daylesford Cheddar

Specially Selected Handmade Cheddar Truckle
400g, £3.49,
Well balanced – continuous, deep taste. Almost a sweetness at the end.

Daylesford Organic Cheddar Cheese
250g, £7.25,
Definitely the best looking. Really deep and musky flavour. An after-dinner cheese.

Marks & Spencer 3 Year Old Cornish Cruncher
300g, £5,
Good acidity but flat. I don’t think salt crystals should be in this kind of cheese.

Irresistible Mature Cheddar
340g, £3,
Nice seasoning, not so strong. The consistency is like processed cheese.


Tesco finest Comte £3

Tesco Finest Comte
200g, £3,
I like the consistency and it has a very persistent flavour, which makes it superior to the others. I would definitely serve this.

Pong Comte AOC
Approx 250g, £6.95,
Stronger on the nose than the palate. Let down a bit by the texture. It doesn’t melt in your mouth the right way.

Marks & Spencer Comte
£4.50, 200g,
This is very good, it has a fantastic smell. It’s just more acidic than the others, so it’s less persistent.

Deluxe Comte
170g, £1.79,
I’m not too keen on the yellow colour. It doesn’t feel like a comte at all.
No stars



Giorgio Locatelli as Bill Sikes.
Giorgio Locatelli as Bill Sikes. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Societe Roquefort
150g, £4,
It’s got a very lasting flavour – it comes to your nose. If you are having one for Christmas, buy this.

Waitrose 1 Cave-aged Roquefort AOP
100g, £2.99,
I’m attracted to the blue – it’s darker, more refined. Slightly less salty and a nice creaminess.

Morrisons Roquefort
100g, £1.81,
Oof… I don’t like the smell of it compared to the other. It has a bit of a rancid smell.

Pong Roquefort AOC
Approx 100g, £4.95,
A disaster. Really soft and watery in your mouth. It’s almost like it’s a bit split. Very salty, not tasty.
No stars

Truffle brie

Specially Selected Brie with Truffle 310g, £4.99, Observer Food Monthly OFM November 2016 brie

Specially Selected Brie with Truffle
310g, £4.99,
This is a delicious brie with the right amount of truffle – there’s harmony between the two flavours.

Waitrose 1 Brie with Mushrooms & Truffle
£20 per kg,
I wouldn’t go across town to buy it, but it’s a decent cheese. The mushroom and truffle go well together.

Mons Truffled Brie
£6.50 per 100g,
Here the truffle and the cheese do help each other, they don’t fight each other. It’s a little bit too salty for me.

Maison de la Truffe Brie de Meaux
£6.20 per 100g,
This is terrible. Overpowering truffle. It hasn’t got the right consistency for a brie. It’s like a marscapone with truffle oil.
No stars

Biscuits for cheese

Paxton biscuits

Asda Extra Special Biscuits for Cheese
250g, £2,
I like the mixed box. Attractive, golden, the wholemeal look. These ones have a bit more depth. Good texture. Very nice.

Taste the Difference Biscuits for Cheese Tin
300g, £5,
Perfectly croquant. Beautiful size. Not so many added flavours, so they really are a good companion to any cheese.

Paxton & Whitfield Biscuits for Cheese
240g, £5.25,
When they are so thin, they snap as you try to put cheese on top. Wow! There is a delicious galette.

Waitrose Christmas Biscuits for Cheese
675g, £6.25,
Garlic, sage… Sometimes when the flavours are too elaborate they’re not good. The plain ones are good quality.

Fig chutney

Rosebud fig chutney

Rosebud Preserves Fig Chutney
198g, £3.60,
Definitely my favourite. I like the consistency. There’s raisin, apple – you could eat it with any cheese.

Irresistible Fig & Apple Chutney
300g, £2.19,
More like a fig jam. It needs texture. May be too sweet for cheese, I guess you would go for something salty.

Taste the Difference Sticky Fig Chutney
310g, £1.80,
A bit too much spice – it would throw you off the flavour of the cheese. Loads of character.

The Bay Tree Sticky Figgy Chutney
320g, £3.35,
I can taste the fig, but there’s something reminds me of an Indian chutney. I wouldn’t have it with cheese.

Cakes, puddings and pies, tested by St John chef owner Fergus Henderson

Mince pies


Luxury Mince Pies
6, £1.50,
Festive stars. I like this one the most, I think. It has a bit of character, a bit of singe.

Waitrose 1 All Butter Mince Pies
6, £2.50,
It isn’t the happiest thing. Really quite sweet. I’m not sure I like it.

Fortnum & Mason Traditional Mince Pies
6, £10.95,
Quite a mushy mince pie. The pastry is shorter; it is very light. Crumbly and sweet.

Morrisons The Best All Butter Deep Fill Mince Pies
4, £1.70,
Very sweet, overpowering. Shiny mincemeat … I’m worried about that.



Panettone Classico
1kg, £3.99,
Rather dense. Delightful flavour … more bom-bom-bom! This looks the nicest, the height is good. I like how it shreds.

Selfridges Selection Classico Panettone
1kg, £18.99,
Much yellower. More citrus. There’s a gentle tang. A saffron warmth? I don’t know, I’m distracted by the pillowy-ness.

Marks & Spencer The Collection Italian Panettone Classico
1kg, £15,
Tasty. A little crunch in the topping. Too many sultanas would kill it, but they’ve done well.

Waitrose Christmas Classic Panettone
750g, £9,
The dough has a strange dampness. Enough fruit, more would be too much. Quite sweet.

Gluten-free mince pies

Fergus Henderson as Mr. Bumble.
Fergus Henderson as Mr. Bumble, shot at a location house in Princelet Street for OFM on 18 October Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Marks & Spencer Classic Recipe Gluten Free Mince Pies
4, £2.50,
Quite figgy, which lifts the mincemeat a bit. The pastry is missing that perfect singe.

B-Tempted Gluten Free Mince Pies
6, £10.95,
These are cooked at least. Dry and dense, figs in the mincemeat. A stodgy stuffing.

Tesco Free From Mince Pies
4, £1.75,
Looks anaemic. The filling lacks a certain ‘wahey!’ A shame – we want coeliacs to have a nice time.
No stars

Sainsbury’s Deliciously Freefrom Iced Mince Pies
4, £2.25,
Ruined Christmas for me. The icing is not a good thing.
No stars


Chocolate yule logs

Fortnum & Mason Double Chocolate Yule Log £16

Fortnum & Mason
Double Chocolate Yule Log
Serves 8, £16,
Looks jolly. Oh dear, there’s a crunch of sugar right through it. It’s just butter, with sugar added as an afterthought.

Irresistible Amaretto Yule Log
Serves 10, £4,
The sponge is damp, squidgy. The chocolate leaves aren’t bad. Terrible sweetness.

Marks & Spencer The Collection Chocolate Buche de Noel
Serves 10, £10,
The thick milk chocolate coating makes it hard to cut. There’s a powdery texture to the sponge.

Extra Special Hand Finished Belgium Milk Chocolate Yule Log
Serves 8, £3,
A bit sad – it has a translucent glow of yucky chocolate. It tastes of sugar and nothing else.
No stars


Christmas cake

Daylesford Christmas Cake

Daylesford Organic Fruit & Nut Christmas Cake
1.4kg, £30,
Only a slight fruity sharpness. It’s reassuring that there’s fruit and nuts on the top.

Co-op Christmas Cake
907g, £6,
A big glump of fondant icing. It’s more gungey fruit than fruit cake.

Morrisons The Best Snowman Fruited Christmas Cake
900g, £10,
A child might like it; it tastes like it wouldn’t be great for their teeth.

Taste the Difference Vintage Christmas Cake
1.6kg, £16,
Looks like granny’s knickers. The look of it puts me off.

Christmas pudding

Meg Rivers pud

Specially Selected Exquisite Vintage Pudding
907g, £9.99,
That’s the colour you’re looking for – dark, sinister. It shouldn’t crumble, it’s quite bitsy.

Selfridges Selection Traditional Christmas Pudding
900g, £15.99,
Too light. It shouldn’t call itself a Christmas pudding for another year – at least.

Snowy Lodge 18 Month Matured Christmas Pudding
907g, £8.99,
Cherries… I say no to cherry. It has a dull look. A bit youthful.

Meg Rivers Large Christmas Pudding
800g, £12.99,
The ingredients haven’t really got to know each other… and yet it’s strangely like wallpaper paste.
No stars © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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