Mail-Order Holiday Cookies
We look forward to baking cookies for friends and family at the holidays, but the list seems to grow every year, and shipping cookies to distant relatives never seems to work out. For gifts or parties where pretty packaging counts, can you order good cookies by mail? To find out, we ordered assortments from eight popular online food retailers and evaluated them for ease of online ordering, freshness, taste, value, appearance, and overall quality.
Ordering the cookies online was painless and easy, with one exception. One site forced us to register before we were able to place our order. Delivery was as prompt as promised, and all the companies offered reasonable rates for standard shipping. One company offered free shipping, a pleasant surprise that we considered when evaluating their cookie assortment’s overall value.
The winning cookie assortments impressed us with both cookie quality and assortment presentation. Not surprisingly, our tasters gave the highest points to the cookies made with the purest ingredients, while the cookies with the most ingredients—including hydrogenated oils and artificial flavorings—fared the worst in our tasting. Cookie breakage occurred in almost all of the assortments, either as a result of poor packaging or the delicate nature of the cookies themselves. The best presentations were subtle yet elegant, though we did appreciate the childlike charm of the lower-end assortments.
Our results are listed below in order of preference. Some of our findings were as expected—our favorite mail-order cookies were not the cheapest, and the lower-end holiday assortments did not please our tasters. We did, however, make one surprising discovery. The cookies we ordered from one purveyor were actually made and packaged by another company, which we had also ordered from for the purpose of this tasting. Although the assortments were almost identical in presentation and there was some crossover in the cookie variety, the taste and quality of the cookies themselves varied a great deal.
Our favorite premium extra-virgin olive oil from a previous tasting, Columela is composed of a blend of intense Picual, mild Hojiblanca, Ocal, and Arbequina olives. This oil took top honors for its fruity flavor and excellent balance. Tasters praised its “big olive aroma, big olive taste” with a “buttery” flavor that is “sweet” and “full,” with a “peppery finish.” One taster said: “It’s very green and fresh—like a squeezed olive.” Another simply wrote: “Fantastic.”
|Spain||$19 for 17 oz|
Tasters noted this oil’s flavor was “much deeper than the other samples,” describing it as “fruity, with a slight peppery finish,” “buttery undertones,” and a “clean, green taste” that was “aromatic, with a good balance.” “It has the flavor that some good EVOOs have,” said one admiring taster.
|Italy||$19.99 for 500 ml ($39.98 per liter)|
Virtually tied for second place, this oil was deemed “round and buttery,” with a “light body” and flavor that was “briny and fruity,” “very fine and smooth,” and “almost herbal,” with “great balance.” “Good olive flavor. I could smell it and taste it,” approved one taster. In a word, “pleasant.”
|Italy||$17.99 for 750 ml ($23.98 per liter)|
|Recommended with Reservations|
A clear step down from the top oils, tasters noted “overall mild” flavor and “very little aroma,” with only a “hint of green olive” and a “hint of spiciness at the end.” In pasta, it was initially “not complex,” but gradually “bloomed in your mouth.” Overall, it was “worthy of a second bite.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$12.49 for 750 ml ($16.65 per liter)|
While some tasters found this oil “sweet” and “buttery” with “medium body” and “slight spice at the end,” others complained that it had “zero olive flavor” and was “so floral it’s almost like eating perfume”; still others noted a “bitter” aftertaste. In pasta, it was “extremely mild” to the point of being “boring.”
|Italy, Greece, Spain, and Tunisia||$10.99 for 750 ml ($14.65 per liter)|
Comments: The best comments tasters could muster were “mild” and “neutral.” Some liked it on pasta (though one called it “Snoozeville”), but complaints were myriad: “metallic,” “soapy,” “briny,” “hints of dirt.” Carped one taster, “I can’t imagine what is in here, but they have a nerve calling it EVOO.”
|Spain||$13.99 for 1 liter|
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