Risotto with a Cheesy Name

Lundberg Eco-Farmed Risotto

Lundberg Eco-Farmed Risotto

I Paid: $2.85 per 5.5-ounce box (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 3 stars

Marketing: 4 stars

When you pick up a box of Lundberg Eco-Farmed Risotto, the first question that comes to mind is, “What the heck is eco-farming?” The answer, not surprisingly, resembles the answer to questions such as, “What does sustainable mean?” or “What is a free-range chicken?” Sustainable largely refers to stated good intentions; free-range doesn’t necessarily mean a lifetime of green fields and sunny spring afternoons. And eco-farming, well … lacking independent auditing, it means whatever you’d like it to, but it generally means nonorganic farming that incorporates ecologically sensitive concepts.

Lundberg explains it as follows: “Sustainable farming practices used to produce Lundberg’s healthy, Eco-Farmed rice include straw incorporation, sensible pest control, cover crops, and fallow seasons.” It sounds good, and the language is backed up with further information on the Lundberg website—supporting details such as the company’s opposition to genetic modification and its high rating with the EPA, family history of environmentally sensitive farming, etc., etc.

Of course, all of this raises the question: What does the stuff taste like? I sampled both the Creamy Parmesan and the Italian Herb varieties. Prepared stovetop, each takes about 25 minutes of cooking, perhaps 5 minutes of which is active work. The process is simple, but the side of the box loses a couple of points for asking the home cook to “saute rice with 1/2 tbsp olive oil in a 2-qt. heavy saucepan over medium heat” without specifying how long to do so, or to what end. Other than that, the bulk of the cooking is simply a matter of simmering rice in water with the contents of the seasoning packet.

Both boxes fell a little short of “classic,” with a taste that was not as rich or creamy as traditional risotto and a starchier texture than what I was expecting. Creamy Parmesan had a relatively clean taste that was not gooey with cheese, nor overly salted—for a boxed risotto, it had a welcome sense of balance. Italian Herb was aggressively herby, with black pepper and parsley providing the bulk of the kick and an odd, vaguely pepperminty finish that didn’t entirely complement the rest of the dish.

As a risotto stand-in or weeknight side dish, Eco-Farmed Risotto works just fine, but it may work even better as a conversation starter about what in the world eco-farming means.

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.