Cookies, Crazy-Ass and Classic

Cranberry Omega 3 Flax Seed Cookies

By: Voortman

Suggested Retail Price: $2.75 for a 12.3-ounce package

Taste: 4stars


Marketing: 1stars

I recently interviewed a Wisconsin master cheesemaker who specializes in cheeses with various organic certifications and “green” credentials. But in terms of actual impact, he told me that the most his product labels can convey is two ideas—and optimally, just one. Anything more, and consumers’ brains grind to a halt.

The people over at Voortman have taken exactly the opposite approach. Their cookie label reads as follows:

“Cranberry (with Flax) Omega 3 Flax Seed Cookies; Zero Grams Trans Fats! 600 mg ALA OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS PER 18 GRAM SERVING NON HYDROGENATED!”

Whoa. This stuff is like Dr. Bronner’s Magic, Crazy-Ass Soap all over again. Not only is it almost completely incomprehensible; it conjures up a cookie that looks like a nasty little burlap sack stuffed with chewy whole grains and, possibly, anchovies.

And then, lo and behold: The cookies are good. They’ve got a crunchy solidity to them, like a good oatmeal cookie, and they’re definitely on the less sweet side of the aisle. But there’s an adult kind of restraint here that’s incredibly appealing. The cookies boast a nutty, spicy aftertaste and are sprinkled liberally with dried cranberries, which help perk up what might have otherwise been an overly dour dessert. And they’re absolutely spot-on when served with tea.

Fourth-graders will rightfully be appalled—these are nothing like Oreos. But adults in search of a cookie that won’t make them ashamed to eat dessert might start with Voortman. Just look for the loony-bin packaging.

Chocolate Raspberry Milano Cookies

By: Pepperidge Farm

Suggested Retail Price: $3.19 for a 6-ounce package

Taste: 2stars


Marketing: 2stars

From the buttery elegance of Chessmen to the affably fruity taste of Verona cookies to the hearty chocolate-nut flavor of Genevas, Pepperidge Farm offers a higher class of dessert product. Its cookies lead to a meal ended with a contented sigh, rather than the guttural sucking sound associated with the inhalation of marshmallow pinwheels.

On that note: It’s not a good sign that the company’s trying to mess with the classics.

To wit: What was wrong with Milanos (or Mint Milanos) that needed fixing? Those rich oval sandwiches held together by thin, relatively decent-quality smears of chocolate (or mint-chocolate paste). They’re light, they’re delicious, and they’re the closest thing Pepperidge Farm has to a killer app; they can be dangerously addictive.

And though it’s true that Milanos have long been available in an orange variety, the flavor is but a firm hint at the fruit; the raspberry flavor, by contrast, is a bullying insistence. With this new offering, the company has taken two major steps away from the secret of the cookies’ success. First of all, the appeal of Milanos is that they have a relatively small amount of very rich chocolate tastefully enfolded by relatively large, blandish cookies. The chocolate is a depth charge, a land mine, an iron fist concealed within a velvet glove. By making the cookies themselves a much more dilute form of chocolate, you take away their striking power. And then: raspberry.

Fresh from the field as an actual fruit, it’s one thing. But as a mass-distributed hyperstable cookie additive, raspberry takes on a sickly smell that makes opening one of these bags an unpleasant experience. It’s somewhat better on the palate, but it’s still not quite right; if the taste these cookies are going for is a chocolate-covered raspberry, why is the chocolate so powdery? Why is the fruit so flat yet oddly potent?

You can find worse cookies out there. But these definitely fall short of the pleasantly laid-back nobility for which Pepperidge Farm is deservedly famous.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.